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Is It Time For The Sixers To Bench Thaddeus Young?

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 26:  Thaddeus Young #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts against the Orlando Magic during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at the Wachovia Center on April 26, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Orlando defeated Philadelphia 84-81 to even the series at 2 games each. 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 Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

As someone who picked Thaddeus Young as a 10th-round steal in a fantasy basketball league, believe me when I say that it pains me to even float this question.

But as a fond owner and fan of Thad, I noticed a trend of inconsistent performances coming from No. 21 in the past few weeks.

And that's before I started looking more deeply at the stats.

While coach Eddie Jordan's been plagued with questionable lineup decisions for most of the season, one of the only ones he likely hasn't considered may be his best hope of all to save the struggling Sixers from fading out of serious playoff contention before the All-Star break.

That is: move Thaddeus Young to the bench, for the first time since his rookie season.

Before you jump down my throat screaming, "He's the future of the franchise!", "It's all Allen Iverson's fault!" or "You're an idiot!," hear me out.  I've come armed with statistics...some pretty alarming ones.

Towards the beginning of the season, I noticed that young Thad seemed to be having struggles with Jordan's Princeton offense out of the gate.  (And this wasn't altogether unexpected—Jordan himself expected the team to struggle early.)  But he quickly righted the ship, at one point scoring in double digits for 13 straight games (including seven 20+ point performances.)

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Yea, the Thad fantasy owner was happy.

And while his season averages look relatively normal (thanks to that 13-game spurt), his most recent 10 games should be giving Sixers fans and management some cause for concern.

Ever since Jordan moved Brand back to the bench and put Young in his spot as the starting power forward, his play has become extremely up-and-down.  He'll go from scoring 20 points one game to four points the next.  

In fact, after only scoring in the single digits four times in the Sixers' first 25 games, he's recorded a single-digit point total in five of the Sixers' past 11 games.  

"He had a tough time early in the season, and then he got it going," Jordan said to the Philadelphia Inquirer . "He's got to work through it. The NBA is a roller-coaster. Physically, sometimes your body feels good, sometimes it doesn't. Emotionally, sometimes you're feeling good, sometimes you're not feeling good. Mentally, sometimes you think this, and sometimes you're just playing. You get yourself involved in defense and running the floor. You do that, and you make your own breaks.'

During the Sixers' first 25 games of the season (six wins), Young averaged 15.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, a steal, a three-pointer and 2.2 turnovers on 37.2 minutes per game.  He shot 46.9 percent from the field, 38.8 percent from three, and 67.6 percent from the free throw line.

In the past 11 contests, he's averaging 11.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, an assist, 1.3 steals and 1.7 turnovers in 29.4 minutes.  He shot 38 percent overall, only hitting two of 23 three-pointers and 62 percent from the charity stripe.

Nay, Young's fantasy owners have frowned lately.

The drop in scoring can likely be attributed to his decreasing minutes, but his plummeting shooting percentages (especially from behind the three-point line) raise cause for concern.

Thad's gone from a Player Efficiency Rating of 16.5 in his 2007-08 rookie season to a career-low 13.1 currently, according to basketball-reference.com.  (Keep in mind, the average NBA player is expected to have a 15.0 PER.)

And his performance during crunch time, where the Sixers have lost a number of games this season, is downright alarming.

Young's got an effective field goal percentage of .390 within the final five minutes of the fourth quarter with neither team up more than five points, according to 82games.com. (eFG is generally a more accurate measure of a shooter's true shooting percentage, accounting for his three-point attempts.)

There's also a surprising disparity in his offensive/defensive ratings in crunch time: He scores 90.4 points per 100 possessions while allowing 114.5 points per 100 possessions to opponents.  In the final five minutes of close games, a huge imbalance like that can easily sway the tide for the Sixers' opponents.

With Young shooting less than 10 percent from downtown lately, one would have to hope that he would start driving inside more.

Instead, he's only drawn four and-one plays all season, yet he's managed to have 31 of his shots blocked according to Hoopdata.com

And when he does drive to the rim, he's had a surprisingly difficult time converting on the "bunny" shots.  He's only knocked down 31 of his 59 shots from around the rim lately, an area on the court where players should be able to drain nearly everything.

He's also been averaging 2.2 shots from 16-22 feet out and 2.4 three-pointers per game this season, while trying less than one shot per game from 11-15 feet (a much easier shot).

A team's starting small forward/power forward should be expected to knock down close-range jumpers and layups, and Thad's difficulty doing so lately has hurt the Sixers down the stretch.

Is it time for Jordan to consider yet another lineup change?

One suggestion: The Sixers were reportedly floating the idea of benching Elton Brand for Marreese Speights before Speights got knocked out back in late November.   Why not put Speights as the starting power forward?  (Besides the fact that Brand would probably have an aneurysm.)  

Speights' biggest liability is his defense, and center Sam Dalembert's biggest liability is his offense...if Speights allows his man to get through, 7-foot Sam will be there to help out.

Then the Sixers have Thad, Brand, and Holiday ready to come off the bench.  Paired with some combination of Iverson, Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala, and the two guys mentioned above, the Sixers have a solid eight-man rotation and guys can rotate in-and-out much more interchangeably than they currently can.  Just a thought, though.

Thad acknowledged he's been slumping lately, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer : "Every player goes through it," Young said, he then acknowledged that he's been "slumping."

"Right now, you have other guys that are playing well. We're just going with the flow. I'm just going out there doing the things I normally do. I'm going out there taking the same shots, and doing the same things. It's just not falling right now."

Well, if Thad's "slump" doesn't warrant a temporary benching, at least keep him on the bench in crunch time.  That offensive/defensive rating disparity is atrocious.  (Almost as atrocious as the Eagles' performance against the Dallas Cowboys these past two weeks.)

Or they can keep playing him in crunch time...as long as the Sixers have decided to throw in the towel this season, and they're getting ready to battle the Nets for the rights to John Wall.

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