Sixers first-half review: Bynum's absence felt in big way

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Sixers first-half review: Bynum's absence felt in big way

Yeah, the waiting is the hardest part …
--Tom Petty

Undoubtedly, one single player and one solitary story have dominated the Sixers’ season.

No, we don’t need a road map to figure this out …

So as we sit and wait for Andrew Bynum’s knees to cooperate and give us a proper basketball season in Philadelphia, let’s contemplate the lost first half in which the Sixers limped to a 22-29 record that was defined by those pesky injuries and a dysfunctional roster.

Deep breath now …

Obviously, the Sixers were built with Bynum in mind. In a mediocre world -- forget perfect -- the Sixers’ offense and defense would all flow through the dominant big man. More importantly, the trickle-down effect that Bynum would create was supposed to be incredible. With a center demanding all of the attention, point guard Jrue Holiday wouldn’t face so many double-teams on offense, nor would he be the focus of every team’s pick-and-roll on defense.

Imagine Holiday with his quickness and passing savvy negotiating the offense without being held back by the total focus of the opposition’s game plan. Averaging nearly 19 points and nine assists per game, Holiday just might have been able to improve upon those statistics with a bona fide big man.

Bynum’s presence would have done wonders for the Sixers’ perimeter game, too. Remember during the exhibition season when the Sixers had a knack for drilling those transition and kick-out three-pointers? Wonder why that went away when the regular season began?

Nope, no need to think too hard. The reason why Nick Young, Jason Richardson and Evan Turner haven’t had those unfettered looks at the basket has been sitting on the bench in a stylish sport coat all season long.

So what do we make of the Sixers’ first half? Doug Collins said it has been his most difficult as a coach, which is understandable given the injuries and the frustration that manifested from them. But then again, injuries are a part of it. Every team has injuries, though maybe not to players as important as Bynum was to the Sixers. Still, it’s one thing to negotiate through injuries and hold the fort until the team is full strength again, and it’s yet another to be caught with your pants down when the injury bug bites.

Clearly, the Sixers got caught with their pants down.

How so? Well, aside from last year’s compressed, 66-game schedule and the 2006-07 season when a 19-year old Bynum played 82 games, the big fella has missed a significant portion of nearly every season of his career for injuries. In other words, Bynum is prone to getting hurt.

Without Bynum the Sixers have had second-year, 6-foot-9 big man Lavoy Allen starting at center for a majority of the season. Allen has been good in flashes, but he never has to look over his shoulder to worry about playing time because he sees Kwame Brown standing there.

Thad Young, clearly the Sixers’ most important player, has been dynamite as an undersized power forward, and again makes one wonder just how good he’d be playing alongside a true big man like Bynum.

The same goes for Spencer Hawes, who is solid with his high-post game, but sometimes has trouble when he wanders deep into the paint.

Indeed, the Sixers are game and giving an effort, but they clearly have been overmatched at times.

Sigh …

“I put a lot of responsibility on myself and I don’t ever want to use injuries as an excuse,” Collins told reporters on Wednesday. “I think excuses are for losers, for people who want to take a step back and say, ‘Woe is me, look what’s happened.’ I’ve never done that. If I did, I’ve never be where I am today. It’s not like I’ve been some great champion, but I think I’ve been a guy who’s sort of hung around for 40 years who’s using that mentality.”

But it can only get better, right?

Right?

The Sixers have to hope so.

First-half awards
MVP: Thad Young

Holiday seems like the obvious choice here since he’s the Sixers’ lone All-Star and could become the first player in team history to average more than 18 points and eight assists per game since Wilt Chamberlain did it in 1968. That’s some pretty heady stuff.

But just where would the Sixers be without Young?

This season, Young has thrived despite the fact that he’s been playing out of position. He took over the starting power forward spot out of training camp and never looked back. Along the way he has turned in 12 double-doubles, averaged 36 minutes per game, shot 52.2 percent from the field and averaged a career-best 7.4 rebounds and 15 points per game.

Better yet, Young has done all of this while routinely taking on the opposition’s best offensive player every night. In back-to-back games this month, Young held All-Star Carmelo Anthony to 8-for-28 shooting and then returned the next game to hold All-Star Zach Randolph to just four points, with two of them coming on a tip in late in the game.

Best game: Sixers 106, Celtics 100
Nov. 9, 2012 at the TD Garden, Boston

Clinging to a scant lead in the fourth quarter, the Sixers stood up to three late-game rallies by the veteran Celtics to win at TD Garden. The teams traded haymakers until there were 25.7 seconds left in the game when Turner sank a pair of foul shots.

With 21 seconds left, Dorell Wright forced a turnover from Jason Terry and fed Turner for another bucket with 17 seconds left.

Turner finished the game with 25 points and 11 rebounds while Jrue Holiday turned in 21 points and 14 assists to withstand a 20-assists performance from Rajon Rondo.

Worst game: Pistons 94. Sixers 76
Nov. 14, 2012 at the Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia

There are a number of games that could have fit this bill, but the loss at home to Detroit stands out the most. Not only did the Sixers shoot a season-worst 29.8 percent in this one, but also they lost to a team that went into the game with an 0-8 record.

Greg Monroe had 19 points and 18 rebounds in this one, while the Sixers were led by 14 points from Allen.

Notable performances
Lavoy Allen -- 14 points and 22 rebounds vs. Charlotte on Feb. 9, 2013
Spencer Hawes -- 21 points and 14 rebounds vs. Orlando on Feb. 4, 2013
Jrue Holiday -- 33 points and 14 assists vs. Toronto on Jan. 18, 2013
Jason Richardson -- 20 points and eight rebounds vs. Utah on Nov. 16, 2012
Evan Turner -- 22 points and 13 rebounds vs. LA Lakers on Jan. 1, 2013
Dorell Wright -- 28 points and six rebounds vs. Memphis on Dec. 26, 2012
Nick Young -- 30 points and five assists vs. LA Lakers on Dec. 16, 2012
Thad Young -- 29 points and 15 rebounds vs. Oklahoma City on Nov. 24, 2012

Sixers have hurdles to clear with draft picks before summer league

Sixers have hurdles to clear with draft picks before summer league

Summer league action begins on July 4 and the Sixers are working through constructing their roster for both Utah and Las Vegas. 

The Sixers expect first overall pick Ben Simmons to participate, but formalities have to be taken care of first. First-round picks cannot sign their NBA contract until July 1. After the paperwork is finalized, he can take the court for his new team.

“We just need to work out all the details and try to get that all taken care of,” president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said Friday. “Once that is addressed and discussed and taken care of, there shouldn’t be anything that would hold that process up. We’ll get the ink on paper as soon as possible. I think it’ll be a clear path at that point.”

Simmons deferred to his agent, Rich Paul, when asked about his participation. 

“You would like for a guy to step in there, but obviously there are some things that, me personally, I’m going to have to protect him with,” Paul said. “If everything is good, then we look forward to it. Until then, we’ll see what happens.” 

Paul added, “I think we’ll be OK, but you just never know.”

The Sixers will compete in summer leagues in both Utah and Las Vegas. They will begin practicing in Utah on July 1 and play games July 4-7. The team will then travel to Las Vegas for the Samsung NBA Summer League, where their first game is July 9 against the Los Angeles Lakers and No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram. The summer league in Las Vegas is tournament-style, with the championship game on July 18. 

There is more work involved for the Sixers’ 24th pick, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, because of his international contract with Mega Leks in Serbia. 

“I believe Luwawu is subject to playing,” Colangelo said. “The only thing that would stop him from being available and able to sign a contract is that process of the three-party agreement, the buyout and the FIBA clearance before he can sign a contract.”

Furkan Korkmaz, the 26th overall pick, is not expected to play as he is participating with the Turkish national team. 

“I would just put that as a no, highly unlikely because of the circumstances,” Colangelo said. 

Dario Saric has until July 17 to notify his team in Turkey if he will play for them next season or join the Sixers. Even if Saric makes his decision during the summer league period, Colangelo said it would be “highly or not likely” that he participates because he recently completed his season. There is no new update on Saric’s impending decision. 

The Sixers will round out their summer league rosters with current players and free-agent signings. T.J. McConnell, Richaun Holmes and Christian Wood are expected to play. James Webb III, who participated in a pre-draft workout for the Sixers, signed a deal with the team following the draft and is expected to participate in summer league (see story)

'The Process' still reigns in Bryan Colangelo's first Sixers draft

'The Process' still reigns in Bryan Colangelo's first Sixers draft

If you didn’t know who was saying the words, if you simply closed your eyes and listened — absent any inflection or accent that might give away the speaker’s identity — the remarks would have sounded awfully consistent with other statements given in similar situations over the last few years. The words “patience” and “process” were employed, which is standard stuff considering the organization. And yet it was a bit jarring, because the man who uttered all those things this time around is decidedly different than the man who preceded him.

When the first round of the 2016 NBA draft was finished, Bryan Colangelo addressed the media assembly at PCOM. The Sixers took Ben Simmons with the first overall pick, as expected. But despite ceaseless reports and rumors, they did not unload Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor to move back into the lottery, nor did they jettison the 24th or 26th picks. Those decisions were somewhat less expected. What followed was a rather remarkable explanation given the organization’s open desire to advance the rebuild and regain relevance in the league (or some semblance of it).

“This is a work in progress that will continue throughout the summer,” Colangelo said. “We have free agency on the horizon. There were numerous trade scenarios that we looked at. We didn’t feel like any of those trade scenarios would put us in a position where we want to be moving forward. So we took a patient approach. We passed on a few opportunities where we could have reached. We decided that, whether it was retaining assets, particularly future assets, future picks, we still feel like this was the right process to follow.”

Draft night could have gone sideways for the Sixers, and fast. An initial report had the Sixers offering Noel, Robert Covington and the 24th and 26th picks to the Celtics for the third pick, ostensibly so they could annex Kris Dunn. A subsequent report had the Sixers offering the same package to the Timberwolves for the fifth pick, ostensibly so they could annex Kris Dunn. None of it came to fruition, and afterward Colangelo called the trade rumors false and insisted that those rumors didn’t come from the Sixers. You can believe that or dismiss it as post-draft propaganda and damage control. Who leaked what for which purposes matters less than the ultimate outcome — the fact the Sixers, under new management, chose to keep building rather than pressing the detonation plunger on their still on-going construction project.

Whether the Sixers stay committed to the slow-and-steady, asset-accumulation approach is still very much in doubt. As everyone knows, and as Colangelo admitted, they have a clogged frontcourt that needs to be addressed. That’s tricky stuff. But while we wait to see how Colangelo solves that problem, he should be commended for not simply taking a sledgehammer to the issue. That’s what the Noel/Covington/24/26 deal would have been: a big blow to a situation that requires a more delicate solution. The Sixers must move either Noel or Okafor in time, but as Colangelo rightly pointed out, they shouldn’t do it just for the sake of it. Better to keep everyone in house, awkward fit and all, and retain valuable assets until a more useful resolution presents itself.

Beyond that, the Sixers made two fascinating picks at the end of the first round, taking French wing Timothe Luwawu 24th and Turkish guard Furkan Korkmaz 26th. Both guys are the kinds of young, raw players with future potential that might have been favored by the previous administration (and both got rave reviews from the Trust the Process/Rights to Ricky Sanchez crowd). It’s uncertain whether their respective buyouts will permit them to play for the Sixers this coming season or whether one or both will be stamped with draft-and-stash status. Either way, they were smart picks with upside that make sense for a team that wants to add as much talent as possible while avoiding moves that would rush the roster back to the NBA’s dreaded mediocre middle.

As Colangelo said, the roster is far from set. The Sixers have lots of decisions still to make. It’s possible they scrap the patience and process approach in the coming weeks/months and overreach in an attempt to supercharge the rebuild. But for now, what they did on draft night gets full marks. They resisted the urge to do something for the sake of it and at the expense of the future. That’s encouraging.

What is Ben Simmons? No. 1 pick's position 'hard to measure'

What is Ben Simmons? No. 1 pick's position 'hard to measure'

The Sixers on Thursday selected Ben Simmons out of LSU with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.

Now the question is: What is Simmons?

We know the basics. He's 6-foot-10, 242 pounds and an excellent rebounder. He also has the ball skills and court vision of a guard. So where does head coach Brett Brown plan on using his newest weapon? He said who Simmons defends will determine his position more than anything.

"I feel like he is going to be able to guard [the four]," Brown said. "He is going to be able to switch out on pick-and-rolls if we choose to do that. It's his history and his instinct to play that spot. Call it a point forward, we all have different names that we would use as an example."

The last time the Sixers had the first overall pick in 1996, they drafted Allen Iverson. Iverson started his career as a point guard out of Georgetown before moving to the off guard. Simmons will start his career as a point forward, but who knows what he'll develop into.

With Simmons' draft status will come some lofty expectations. Add that to what the Sixers' fan base has endured: a combined 47-199 record in the last three seasons preceded by 12 seasons of mediocrity or worse. That's a lot of pressure for a 19-year-old kid.

Brown recognizes that and doesn't want to put too much on Simmons' plate. At least not right away.

"We've known about this pick for a while," Brown said. "There were times that if you caught me I would think that I just want to treat him as a true point guard. Just give him the ball.

"You can go back and forth but I think it's the hardest position to play in the NBA. I think to just give him the ball in that capacity is borderline cruel. He needs to feel NBA basketball. And maybe he evolves there."

Versatility is huge in today's NBA. Luckily for Simmons, his dad Dave, a professional player for Brown in Australia, developed him like a guard despite his size. He's on board with Brown's vision.

"I think I'll be a point forward," Simmons said. "Anywhere where I'm grabbing the ball, setting up plays or pushing the ball on the break. ... At a young age, my dad put the ball in my hands and told me to dribble, so at a young age I had that mentality of being a point guard while I was bigger than most kids."

Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo didn't want to get into labels when discussing Simmons. 

He's discussed with Brown how best to utilize Simmons, but said ultimately it doesn't matter what position he plays. Just that he's in the lineup.

"We talk all the time, debating how to best characterize him as a player," Colangelo said of Simmons. "The best way to characterize him is just as a basketball player. He's a facilitator, he's a distributor, he's a scorer, he's a rebounder."

Players with Simmons' skill set are rare but not completely new to the NBA. We've watched the Golden State Warriors use Draymond Green as a point forward. Green was utilized at the five on occasion in head coach Steve Kerr's "death lineup."

A more favorable comparison may be to the Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The "Greek Freak" is listed at 6-11 with a 7-3 wingspan. He's crazy athletic and handles the ball much better than a typical player of his stature.

Brown said that Simmons will be used similarly to both players, but it's difficult to define roles so early in the process.

"If you look at Antetokounmpo," Brown said, "he came in this gangly, long player and the second part of (last season) after the All-Star break [Bucks head coach Jason Kidd] played him as a point guard. And I don't know [what Simmons' position will ultimately be]. I just know that he is that versatile and that it's a good problem to figure out. "

Simmons is ready to assume whatever role he's asked to play, including point guard duties.

"You can really put me at any position on the court and it could work," Simmons said. "I think taking my time (will allow me to develop into a point guard). It's going to take time, but I'm willing to put that work in so I think anything's really possible."

"You're talking about a 6-10, versatile, skilled player that's going to affect the game in so many ways," Colangelo said. "It's hard to measure."