Why Spencer Hawes Is the Key to the Philadelphia 76ers' Season

Roy Burton@thebslineContributor IJanuary 21, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Jarrett Jack #2 of the New Orleans Hornets makes a shot over Spencer Hawes #0 of the Philadelphia 76ers at New Orleans Arena on January 4, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Philadelphia 76ers center Spencer Hawes is his team's most valuable player.

The above statement would have been completely dismissed a year ago, or even a month ago for that matter. After all, heading into this season, expectations for Hawes were pretty much in line with his production from last year.

During his first season in Philadelphia, Hawes averaged a pedestrian 7.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in 2010-11, but was relegated to only 21.2 minutes per night due to his deficiencies on the defensive end.

What a difference a year makes.

In 12 games this season, Hawes is averaging 10.4 points, and leads the 76ers in rebounds (8.8 RPG) and blocks (1.67 BPG). Not only is he shooting an impressive 58.8 percent from the field, but in terms of points per possession, Hawes is one of the most efficient players in the entire league (1.04 PPP—35th-best in the NBA, according to Synergy Sports).

Most importantly, much of the Philadelphia offense runs through Hawes—an offense that often becomes stagnant whenever he's not on the court.

Hawes' value to his team was clearly evident when the 76ers squared off against the New York Knicks on January 11. Hawes missed the game with a lower back strain that he suffered against the Sacramento Kings the previous night, and his absence was felt from the opening tip.

With Tony Battie starting at center, 76ers head coach Doug Collins tried to run the same sets the team ran with a healthy Hawes in the lineup. By the end of the end of the first quarter, the Sixers had only scored 15 points.

For the night, Philadelphia shot 39.5 percent from the field and had their worst offensive performance of the season in an 85-79 loss. And in a game in which Hawes didn't even play, 76ers fans learned just how vital their starting center is to the success of their team.

Simply put, Hawes is an adept passer who is more than willing to create opportunities for his teammates from the pivot position. Once he receives the entry pass from the point guard, Hawes has a number of options, most of which don't result in a shot for himself.

And he seems to be perfectly fine with that.

Whether he hands the ball off back to the point guard, kicks it out to a spot-up shooter, or finds a cutting wing player, Hawes typically makes the proper decision that keeps the 76ers' offense flowing. Moreover, Hawes' proficiency at knocking down the long-range jumper—he's shooting 57 percent from 16 to 23 feet this season—creates space for his teammates to operate in the team's half-court sets.

While compensating for his back injury, Hawes recently strained his left Achilles tendon, and won't suit up until next week at the earliest. Battie, starting power forward Elton Brand and rookie center Nikola Vucevic have done their best to fill Hawes' role as a facilitator, but the results have been uneven at best. Through the team's first 15 games, the 76ers are 10-2 with Hawes in the starting lineup, and 1-2 when he doesn't suit up.

"We've got to be very careful with this," Collins said when referring to Hawes' latest injury. "This is an injury that if you come back too soon, you can be right back to where you were."

The 76ers know that they have to be extra cautious with their starting center, especially during this condensed season. As crazy as it may sound, Hawes is the one player that they can least afford to lose for an extended period of time.


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