By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The idea of rebuilding in the NBA is certainly more fun in theory than it is in reality. Tanking, as many call it, even at its most pure, is the practice of knowingly putting an inferior product on the court in the short-term, in exchange for the possibility of long-term success.
The Sixers are tanking. The Sixers are rebuilding. The Sixers are not going to win many games this season. It's all part of the plan, but a lot of the games are going to be very hard to watch. Just know it's all part of the plan, and the best plan they could have.
The good news about the way the Sixers are tanking, is that they're doing it with young players. Instead of trading for awful players with big, expiring contracts, in an attempt to lose and get a good draft pick, the Sixers are doing it with young players, with small contracts, who all have the chance of discovering in Philadelphia what they were unable to discover with other teams; a way to stay on the court.
Instead of a team full of Eddy Currys and Hedo Turkoglus, we've got a team full of James Andersons and Tony Wrotens. If just one or two of the players the Sixers are giving the chance to show what they've got, show enough to become solid rotation players, this year will be a success (as long as they lose a lot).
Just how many games the Sixers lose this year is a tough number to come up with, and we'll get to that later. Just know that you'll enjoy yourself more if you focus on the development of the young players, and the potential trades the Sixers could be involved in, rather than losing more games than the Suns.
What To Watch For
Can Michael Carter-Williams Play?
If everything else this year is a failure, if the answer to the above questions is "yes," then I think this season is a success for the Sixers. Michael Carter-Williams, is raw, and is a project. The road for him to become a plus player at his position is a long one, even in the best case scenario. But if he can, and he should get enough playing time to at least provide a preliminary answer to that question, it makes the trade of Jrue Holiday a lot easier to swallow.
There have been some good signs so far from MCW during the preseason, so there is cause for at least a little optimism. His jump shot, while not going in the hoop at any record rate, at least looks like a shot that can eventually be consistent. Aside from the very first game in Spain, he hasn't looked intimidated. And for a guy who we all expect to turn the ball over a lot, he hasn't turned it over a whole lot.
He's also shown an ability to get to the hoop, and if you've watched very much Sixers basketball the last few years, you'll know that's a welcome sight.
Will Nerlens Noel Play?
I don't know. I don't think he knows. I don't think anyone knows.
Here's what you should know: Noel's rehab is going well, and he seems intent on getting his health back to a place that will allow him to play. I don't believe, regardless of Brett Brown's statements, that the Sixers have made any formal decision whether or not Noel will play this year.
Noel will play when the following is true: he feels 100%, the doctor says he's 100%, and the team says he's 100%. That's the way it should be, and the team is in position to let that happen. If it's January, March, or October of next year, that's what it is. Keep yourself updated on his condition, but don't obsess over it.
Will Evan Turner Figure "It" Out?
I guess it depends on what you think "it" is.
I believe the thing preventing Evan Turner from becoming a productive NBA player is Evan Turner. He believes he's a point guard, he believes he can be a #1 option on a team. Neither of these things are true. Though Turner can handle the point for stretches, he is not a point guard. He is also not a top-three option on a championship level team. He's pretty good at a bunch of things, and as far as a guard goes, he's a borderline elite rebounder. I don't think he will figure all of this "it" out.
But the second "it," and perhaps more beneficial to the Sixers, is if Turner figures out that he needs to get to the basket and get to the free throw line more than settling for that 17 foot jumper in transition or after 22 dribbles. If he can do this, he'll become a more efficient player, and more likely to bring back some sort of value in a trade.
Will Thaddeus Young's Three-Point Shot Return?
Young is one of the players that improved during Doug Collins' reign as head coach. Unfortunately, the player he became under Collins has a ceiling, and Thad seemed to hit it.
The way he can push past where he currently is, and go above that ceiling is doing something he did at a somewhat efficient rate early in his career, and that's shoot three point shots. In his second and third years in the NBA, Young shot over two three point shots per game (compared to 0.1 and 0.3 the last two years), and made 34.1% and 34.8% respectively. If Young can develop that corner three point shot, it will raise his value as a player, and help spread the floor and make the Sixers a better team, giving guys like MCW and Wroten room to operate.
Will Spencer Hawes Lead The Team In Three Point Shooting?
This is a real thing. I asked Sam Hinkie this question and he didn't deny it was possible. Spencer Hawes is seven feet tall and the starting center. Sixers!
What Will Kwame Brown Eat During Practice?
Probably a lot. I'm putting 2-1 odds on him ordering nachos or a hot dog during a game.
Which Of The "Potential Upside Guys" Will Be Keepers?
Here's who we have on Team Potential Upside: Tony Wroten, James Anderson, Hollis Thompson, Daniel Orton, Arnett Moultrie (eventually), and Darius Morris (sort of).
Anderson, in his short time with the Sixers, already looks like a keeper, and a guy whose three-point shooting can probably keep him in the NBA for a decade if he can stay healthy. He'll be the starting shooting guard, and not a horrible option.
Wroten looks like he'll have the Lou Williams role on the team, of the guy who can come off the bench and be instant offense. The difference here is that Wroten is nowhere near the shooter Williams is. If Wroten can stay under control, and continue to get to the basket, his energy on both offense and defense should be a welcome bench addition.
Thompson is an interesting case. He hasn't showed it yet during the preseason, but Thompson was an incredible three-point shooter at Georgetown. If he can find his shot, and be at least an average player in other aspects (he's been a decent rebounder), he'll get minutes.
Will Brett Brown Go Crazy?
What a nice, genuine, smart guy Brown is. He's spent a lot of time winning over the last decade, and there's not going to be a lot of winning here. I just hope we don't find Brown leaving his car alone in an I-76 traffic jam, holding a baseball bat like Michael Douglas in Falling Down.
What's The System?
Though the Sixers may not be able to execute the offense and defensive philosophies that Brown and Hinkie preach, it will be interesting to see what those offense and defense philosophies are.
Last season, Houston was a ton of fun to watch, not just because they had James Harden and Chandler Parsons, but because the offense was wide open, and not in the run and gun sense. They were wide open in the half court, with a ton of space, and it was exciting to watch.
Don't judge every possession on whether the Sixers get the ball to go in the basket. Judge it on what shot they take.
Hopefully, the talent will come. Let's get the system in place.
Does Brett Brown Run Through His Sneakers? Was He Ever Booed As A Player?
My last Doug Collins reference of this entire post.
Who Gets Traded?
This is an interesting question on a lot of levels. Of course, there's the obvious question of which Sixers veterans get traded. We're taking of course about Evan Turner, Kwame Brown (LOL!), Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes. Turner, Brown and Hawes are on expiring contracts, and depending on the team they're getting traded do, that can be seen as an asset (Brown's only asset). Thaddeus Young is still young, on a fair contract, and could be a very nice addition to a contending team.
I don't think Hinkie will trade Turner, Young or Hawes for just anything. Both Turner and Hawes are gone after this season anyway, and it's cap space they could hold on to. As far as Young goes, I'll repeat, he is a good player on a fair contract. There's no reason to just dump him for nothing.
The other very interesting part of the trade equation is the amount of cap space the Sixers have. This could make them an optimal third-team into a big trade, because they're able to take on salary in exchange for draft picks or young assets. While everyone was having a heart attack of the non-existent salary floor issue, Hinkie was giving himself the ability to become a part of whatever sweepstakes (Melo, for instance) become a storyline later in the year.
Attendance Updates (or WHO CAREZZZZ)
Constant photos on Twitter of an empty arena or tweets about Sixers attendance figures. This is not something to look forward to, it's something to expect.
Look, don't let anyone make you feel bad for liking the Sixers and being curious about what's going on here. The team is doing what fans have been begging them to do for a decade. They didn't create the system in the NBA, they're trying to work within it. People will tell you, "nobody cares," but this is not true, because if you've read this far, YOU care.
We are a city that prides ourselves on not being front-runners, so that very same city seems hypocritical for bailing on a team when they're losing and rebuilding. It's ok for anyone to watch whatever they want, but if you want to watch this that's ok too. At least the tickets are cheap.
Look, here's the deal:
Even if the Sixers have the worst record in the NBA, odds are, they will not get the first pick in the NBA draft. The team with the worst record has only a 25% chance of getting the first pick, and has a better chance of getting the third or fourth pick than they do the first. This is not to depress you, it's just reality.
So would it be nice if they have the BEST chance at getting the first pick? Sure. But if they have the second worst record in the NBA, it's not the end of the world.
Also, make sure to keep an eye on the New Orleans Pelicans as well. The Sixers have their 2014 first round pick, as long as it doesn't fall in the top five.
Stop Asking Me About Royce White
But Don't You Think He Had Enough Upside And He Was Interesting And...
Will The Sixers Bring Mac Koshwal Back?
Now we're talking.
We have the smartest GM in the city! Hinkie! Hinkie! Hinkie!
Predicting how many games the Sixers will win is an exercise in futility. Sort of like the season will be. HA!
But anyway, I predicted the season last year, and added the caveat that if Andrew Bynum does not play, it renders the entire thing moot. We all know how that ended up.
Predicting how many games the Sixers win means that I'll be able to tell you how well each of these young players will play, whether and when Young, Turner and Hawes get traded, and for whom, when and if Nerlens Noel gets back, if Jason Richardson plays, how well MCW progresses and whether or not Brett Brown goes crazy. It's not an easy task.
So everyone that tells you that the Sixers will break the NBA record for losses in a season, realize that those people do not have answers to any of those questions either. Are they going to lose a lot of games? Yes. More than any other team in the history of the NBA? I'm not sure how you can predict that without seeing most of these guys play meaningful NBA minutes. When the Sixers went 9-72, there was a higher concentration of talent, fewer teams, and the Sixers didn't have any of said talent.
Think about it, the worst team in the NBA last year, the Orlando Magic, won 20 games. The Charlotte Bobcats won 21 games. They were BAD, BAD, BAD teams. As well, though the top of the Eastern Conference is very good, that's just about where the good ends.
So though I won't be surprised at anything between 10-20 wins, my final prediction:
Sixers finish 18-64, 5th in the Atlantic Division
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