Like many Philadelphia athletes before him, 76ers' center Spencer Hawes has never really been given a fair chance to establish himself in the City of Brotherly Love. On paper, Hawes is the complete package: he's quite athletic, he possesses impressive coordination for a player of his size, he's mobile (again, for a seven-footer) and he actually has basketball skills.
However, like many young big men in the NBA, Hawes has struggled to become a consistent force in the paint. He has yet to develop the dominant low-post game that serves as the backbone of a center's all-around game. He has yet to acquire the knowledge and savvy that come with playing the game at the highest level for a long period of time.
It is not unusual for fans of any sport to ignore the potential and the positives of a young player's game and focus solely on the shortcomings and failures. In most major sports markets—Philadelphia included—the stakes are higher and the level of scrutiny greater. Young talents such as Hawes are rarely, if ever, given a fair chance to make good on their perceived potential. The career of Spencer Hawes in Philadelphia is yet another example of this phenomenon.
All of this leads to the question: can Spencer Hawes be the center for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011-12?
In terms of potential, the answer is a resounding "yes". Hawes has the talent to develop into an above-average to excellent NBA center—he has the size (7'1", 250 lbs.), the athleticism, the mobility and the basketball skill to be a very solid big man for years to come.
In terms of production, the answer is "maybe, but don't bet anything you don't want to lose on it." For a player of Hawes' size and skill, he should have produced at a much greater clip than he did in 2010-11. Part of the blame here must go to Hawes' inability to avoid foul trouble and his tendency to lose focus in the middle of the game.
Part of the blame here must go Hawes' fundamentals and technique, both of which are in desperate need of some help. But regardless of where the blame for Hawes' less-than-stellar performance ultimately lies, the fact remains that he did not produce at an acceptable level last season.
For Hawes to be the 76ers' center going forward, he will need to demonstrate considerable improvement in his fundamentals, focus and offensive approach. The improvements in fundamentals should add more consistency at both ends of the floor. If Hawes is able to improve his on-court focus, he should be able to consistently be in the proper defensive position, which in turn should allow him to avoid unnecessary fouls. The more Hawes can remain in the game, the more likely he is to find a rhythm and corresponding increase in productivity.
Finally, Hawes must improve his offensive awareness and technique. An above-average NBA center must have a solid repertoire of low-post moves he can go to against quality big men. To be blunt: Hawes needs to become more of an offensive threat with and without the basketball. He needs to be able to force opposing players to foul him in order to prevent baskets. And when he's at the charity stripe, he needs to knock down more than 53 percent of his free throws. That is simply unacceptable for an NBA player.
Contrary to popular belief, Spencer Hawes does have the talent to be a legitimate NBA center. All of the tools necessary for him to succeed (and even star) are there—he just needs to put in the time and the work necessary to hone them. However, until he proves he is willing to make the commitment necessary to take his game to the next level, Hawes will continue to be a mediocre center with a great upside.
He could be the answer at center for the 76ers next season. He could be the problem at center for the 76ers next season. Ultimately, the choice is his.