State of the Franchise: Philadelphia 76ers

This Season: 36-34 (sixth in Eastern Conference)
Last Season: 27-55 (missed playoffs)

After the signing of forward Elton Brand, expectations in Philadelphia were high in 2009-10 under then-coach Eddie Jordan. However, Brand battled injuries all season long, the team never got hot, and Jordan ended up losing his job in favor to veteran coach Doug Collins. Under Collins, the 76ers have righted the ship.

The 76ers have bought into the concept of “team first” and a more balanced offensive attack that incorporates each individual piece and doesn’t try to play towards one play in particular. One of the biggest reasons for the Sixers turnaround belongs to star swingman Andre Igoudala. Igoudala spent the summer playing for Team USA in the World Cup of Basketball, and the experience playing alongside the likes of Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose and Lamar Odom drastically changed the way he approached how the game should be played. No longer is Igoudala looking to be “The Man” in Philadelphia. Instead, he’s bought into the team-first approach USA coach Mike Krzyzewski preaches, and it shows on his stat line. Having averaged anywhere between 17 and 20 points per game the last three seasons, Igoudala has toned it back to 14.3, but averaging a career-best 6.5 assists per game. Though he’s battled injuries throughout the season, most recently a knee injury that has him listed as day-to-day, Igoudala has been the vocal leader on and off the court the Sixers have desperately needed.

The 76ers maintain a rotation that sees six regulars averaging 10+ points per game, led the way by a healthy Elton Brand. Brand is no longer the star that was selected first overall by the Chicago Bulls thanks to the years of having to carry bad teams in Chicago then Los Angeles with the Clippers. But, Brand is the perfect power forward for Doug Collins’ system, averaging a team-high 14.9 points along with 8.5 rebounds. Another important piece to the development of the Sixers has been the improvement in starting point guard Jrue Holiday from his rookie season to this year. Playing as a raw 19-year old with only one year of college experience at UCLA under his belt, Holiday struggled in his transition to the pro game with the spotlight of being a first round pick on him. He averaged only 8.0 points and 3.8 assists while starting 51 games.

This year, we’re seeing the Holiday that was a top high school talent and equally valuable NBA talent. In year two, Holiday is up to 13.6 points and 6.2 assists while starting in every game for the team this year and playing shy of 36 minutes a game. His emergence has also allowed Coach Collins to use guard Louis Williams exclusively off the bench, where he has excelled. Williams is averaging 13.8 points per game in only 24 minutes of action a night, and providing pop from the pine along with Thaddeus Young, who continues to develop his dynamic game each day, now averaging 12.2 points and 5.3 rebounds.

The position that has been in flux for the 76ers has been the starting two-guard slot. The team had hoped that second overall selection in last year’s draft, Evan Turner, would be ready for full-time starting duty in the NBA fresh out of his junior year at Ohio State. However, Turner has been a little slow in his development, averging just 7.3 points per game in his rookie season. However, that has allowed Doug Collins to give former University of Kentucky sharp-shooter Jodie Meeks a legitimate chance to start, and he’s responded. On the year, Meeks’ line is up to 10.4 points. But, since being placed in the starting line-up exclusively after the All-Star break, Meeks has been up to 13.6 points (14.5 https://ahomefieldadvantage.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=548&action=editin March), along with 3.4 rebounds and shooting 47.6% from the field (49% in March).

The clear position where the 76ers are at a disadvantage is the starting center spot. Spencer Hawes has started 69 games at center for the club, and has served as merely a body in the middle that takes the jump ball. He averages only 20.2 minutes a night, which is incredibly low for a starting player, and, despite his massive 7’1″ frame, averages 5.9 rebounds. His back-up, Marreese Speights, who seemed to be on the cusp of being a productive starter last season, as faded in Collins’ system, down to 11 minutes a night and 3.4 rebounds. With the trade deadline passed, the 76ers are going to have to continue to win despite what they have in the middle, and Collins will look towards improving his current product.

The great news for the 76ers, however: they’re hot at exactly the right time. The team went 9-3 in February and are currently 6-5 in March, with critical games against the Hawks, Heat and Bulls left in this month. The team has leaped ahead of the New York Knicks for sixth in the conference, a full game ahead of the Knicks coming into play today.

As it stands today, the 76ers would be matched with the Miami Heat in the first round. So, their game later this month will serve as a potential playoff preview. And, of the top four teams the Sixers would have to play, the Heat may be their best match-up. Neither team has an inside presence, but the Heat may have too many offensive options along the wing in LeBron James and Dwayne Wade for the young Sixers to defend. Regardless, Doug Collins and company has this organization heading back in the right direction.

When Allen “The Answer” Iverson left, all there was in Philly were questions. Now? Not the case.

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About Home Field Advantage
We are two senior Sports Communication majors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We have launched this blog as part of our senior year capping project, with the goal of creating a comparative analysis and multimedia approach to the differing sports cultures in America.

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