Better Know: Philadelphia 76ers

Sam Hinkie, Nerlens Noel
Philadelphia: all about the future. (AP)
Philadelphia: all about the future. (AP)

Today’s installment of Better Know An Opponent focuses on the Philadelphia 76ers. Let’s take a look.

Projected Starting 5

Michael Carter-Williams Philadelphia 76ers

Michael Carter-Williams (Stats)

Tony Wroten Jr. Philadelphia 76ers

Tony Wroten Jr. (Stats)

Spencer Hawes Philadelphia 76ers

Spencer Hawes (Stats)

Thaddeus Young Philadelphia 76ers

Thaddeus Young (Stats)

Evan Turner Philadelphia 76ers

Evan Turner (Stats)

Key bench players: Nerlens Noel (injured), Jason Richardson (injured), Arnett Moultrie, Kwame Brown, Lavoy Allen

2012-13 Philadelphia 76ers By The Numbers:

Philadelphia 76ers LogoW-L: 34-48
Playoffs: DNP
Offense: 99.5 points per 100 possessions (26th)
Defense: 103.0 points allowed per 100 possessions (15th)
Net: -3.4 points per 100 possessions (22nd)
Pace: 93.31 possessions per game (21st)

Games vs. the Brooklyn Nets:

December 16th — Philadelphia 76ers @ Brooklyn Nets (StubHub)
December 20th — Brooklyn Nets @ Philadelphia 76ers
February 3rd — Philadelphia 76ers @ Brooklyn Nets (StubHub)
April 5th — Brooklyn Nets @ Philadelphia 76ers

Key Additions: Brett Brown (head coach), Michael Carter-Williams (draft), Nerlens Noel (draft-day trade), James Anderson

Key Subtractions: Doug Collins (head coach), Jrue Holiday, Andrew Bynum, Nick Young, Royal Ivey, Damien Wilkins, Dorell Wright

Strengths: Philadelphia is a cool city.

Weaknesses: OH GOD THE BLOOD. Where do I start? Their best player is Thaddeus Young, who would be an ideal fourth man in a good starting five. Their projected starting backcourt of rookie Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten Jr. may be the worst shooting tandem of all time. Their bench is filled with players that resemble a D-League lineup. They employ Kwame Brown, presumably by accident. Rookie Nerlens Noel, their most intriguing player, is out until at least December. This is the 12-70 apocalyptic hellscape franchise New Jersey dealt with in 2010, just with less Yi Jianlian and a better draft class ahead. Worst of all, Philadelphia isn’t even that cool of a city.

But seriously: Philadelphia’s tank job isn’t without vision. They’ll be awful this year, which gives them a shot at a top pick in this year’s stacked draft class. They’ve got another pick that’s top-5 protected, which they’ll probably use. They haven’t even hit the NBA salary floor, and probably won’t, which doesn’t really matter. They’ll be awful this year, because that’s how you get better in this weird league.

Why You Should Watch: Because if the Nets lose any of these games, everyone gets fired.

Asking The Other Side: Philadelphia 76ers blogger Tom Sunnergren of ESPN TrueHoop’s Philadelphia 76ers blog Hoop76.

Most important move: The draft-day trade of Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans for the rights to Nerlens Noel and a top-5 protected pick in the 2014 draft. The Sixers, the instant the trade was announced, transformed from a positively doomed, meandering franchise — mediocrity a foregone conclusion — into one of the most interesting organizations in the sport. 

Pre-trade, they were going to win 35-40 games this season, and next season, and the season after that: no end in sight. Now they’re chockablock full of assets (Michael Carter-Williams can’t shoot, but has enormous upside; Nerlens Noel is a ludicrously talented defensive big who was the consensus No. 1 player in the 2013 draft until Stern said “Anthony Bennett”), appear as well-positioned as any team in the league to land the best prospect to enter the Association since LeBron James (fine, since Greg Oden), then, in all likelihood, will get a SECOND lottery pick from a silly stacked, once-in-a-decade draft class. The future is bright in Philadelphia, which is a strange thing to type. 

I’m sure someday I’ll beg you to delete this paragraph, but here goes: the trade actually reminds me of the Herschel Walker heist Jimmy Johnson swung when he took over the Cowboys in the early ’90s. Walker was regarded as the best back in football, but Johnson looked at him and saw a trade chip. He flipped the back to the Vikings for a king’s ransom in draft picks, and proceeded to use those picks to build a dynasty. 
(Hmm. Can you delete this.) (Ed. note: No.)

Expectations? Well, right now, I’m not sure the team is quite as bad as people think. In short: Jrue Holiday is probably more than a little overrated, so his loss won’t sting as bad as is expected (he’s a really inefficient scorer with a crummy assist/TO ratio, liabilities that are not quite offset by his stellar D), while the switch from Doug Collins’ deeply stupid, jumper-heavy offensive system to Hinkie’s Rockets East approach might be a huge upgrade.

That said: with all it stands to gain by drafting early in 2014, I don’t think Sam Hinkie will allow this team to succeed this season. If the Sixers get off to a hotter than expected start, he’ll trade the catalysts. Evan Turner improves on last season’s uptick in corner-3 efficiency, thrives with the ball in his hands more, and starts rebounding at a world-beating rate again? Hinkie will flip him to whoever is most impressed. Thad Young is a monster in transition, successfully restarts his perimeter game, and stakes his claim as one of the top defenders in the league? Enjoy Cleveland, Thad. Given all the franchise stands to gain from a clunker, and their acute awareness of these potential gains, 25 wins sounds about right.  

What’s the team system? Okay. I mentioned “Rockets East” above, and while it would be fun to see the Sixers completely eschew the long two in favor of a cavalcade of 3s and dunks–at the very least, it would be a tremendously satisfying “f— you” to Doug Collins — I don’t think the transition in year one will be quite that extreme. My logic here is reductive, but, I think, unassailable: the Sixers want to be bad in 2013-14, and shooting a bunch of 3-pointers and dive-bombing the rim like Kamikaze pilots will make them less bad.

So what I expect is less a coherent, systematic offensive philosophy than a bunch of individual players learning, in individual games, to shore up their strengths. Michael Carter-Williams can’t shoot, and, to be an effective NBA point guard, he has to learn how to shoot a little. So he’s going to shoot this season. Nerlens Noel is a terrifyingly athletic and instinctive defender, but his offensive game is a shambles. When he (eventually) takes the floor, expect to see him rep in the low post. The offense will be run like the team itself has been since Hinkie took over: both eyes squarely on the future, 2013-14 an afterthought. 

Matching up with Brooklyn: I have my doubts about the Nets, but this is a poor matchup for the Sixers. No one on the roster can do anything with Deron Williams or Brook Lopez, and Andrei Kirilenko, who doesn’t even start for Brooklyn, would arguably be the Sixers best player. It will mark an interesting stylistic clash though: the Nets are old, the Sixers young. The Nets play at a snail’s pace, the Sixers (probably) prefer to run. The Nets are almost obscenely famous, the Sixers anonymous. And while the Nets pushed all the chips into the center of the table — no other team, save maybe the Heat, is as fully committed to the now — the Sixers are biding their time. 

The Philadelphia 76ers in under 100 words:

The 2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers, strictly speaking, are not compelling. MCW and Noel are intriguing, Thaddeus Young is admirably energetic, and Brett Brown has an interesting accent, but beyond that–which, in the context of a league that’s bursting at the seams with superstars, isn’t much–the Sixers aren’t going to give us a lot this year. But when you zoom out a little and see the two lottery picks they’re likely to land, the picture brightens. And when you pull back further and admire the scaffolding owner Josh Harris has built–Sam Hinkie, a D-League team, a full embrace of the SportVU technology–you can’t help but think: this team might be headed somewhere.