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

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Nerlens Noel’s recent comments on the logjam of big men on the Sixers' roster did not come as news to head coach Brett Brown. While Noel had not been this publicly outspoken on the issue, he and Brown have been having open discussions about it. 

“I have been talking to Nerlens a lot and I have a fondness for him,” Brown said Tuesday on the first day of training camp. “I don’t begrudge Nerlens Noel at all for what he said. I don’t have any problems with it.”

The Sixers' crowded frontcourt this season is a continuation of last season’s conundrum in which Brown was tasked with playing Noel and Jahlil Okafor, two natural centers, together. The depth has increased with the return of Joel Embiid and additions of Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. 

So when Noel doubled down on Monday by saying, "I don't see a way it can work,” Brown recognized where the center's opinions were coming from as he enters his fourth season in the NBA. 

“I feel if we do anything well, we communicate with our players freely,” Brown said. “It is one hundred percent transparent — hard conversations ahead, easy conversations ahead. I have spoken with Nerlens about this a lot. 

“My messaging and my mood and attitude and things that come out of my mouth haven’t changed once. I feel very confident that I’m giving him the advice that he should hear from me and it still allows me to do my job. 

“We have talked about it freely, like I have talked about it with Jahlil and Joel. Those situations are part of pro sports. They’re ever-present with me and us right now.”

Noel has been a rare mainstay among a revolving door of players over the past three years. He is in a unique situation with Brown in that the two have experienced a long list of the team’s ups and downs together. Noel feels comfortable talking honestly with Brown about his viewpoints. 

“I’ve known Brett probably longer than most guys here and we’ve built a different type of relationship,” Noel said. “It’s been very front and forward and we talk and we keep it real. That’s what he’s been doing with me and that’s why I’m able to continue to talk to him about myself and him just telling me what position I’ll be in — he’ll try to put me in — to succeed.”

With Brown having an understanding of Noel, his focus is on what Noel can bring to the team this season. He believes Noel has an edge over Embiid and Okafor for minutes early on because Noel is the only one among the trio starting camp without restrictions from previous injuries. 

There is a tough competition for playing time among the bigs, and camp is about proving oneself through basketball, not through personal opinions. Brown was impressed on the first day of camp by the manner in which Noel approached the morning practice amid the comments.

“He has handled it with me and in the training session today like a pro,” Brown said. “He came to mean it. He didn’t back down at all. There was no moping or sulking or him being stubborn. He played. That’s what he has to do. I think that’s a real reflection of anybody of how you handle adversity. Today he handled it like a true pro and a true competitor.”

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

The Sixers finished in the basement of the NBA standings last season with a league-low 10 wins. But with the influx of young talent and addition of a couple veterans to the roster, the Las Vegas oddsmakers are betting on the Sixers to make some strides upward in the 2016-17 standings.  

Last week, the WestGate Superbook in Las Vegas set the Sixers' over/under for wins this season at an optimistic 27½, which was the fourth-lowest projection in the league.

Similarly, while Bovada is projecting another season of basketball filled with mostly losses in Philadelphia, the sportsbook doesn't view the Sixers as a shoo-in to finish as the league's worst team for the second consecutive year.

Per Bovada, the Sixers have the fourth-longest odds (125/1) to capture the Atlantic Divison title for the first time since 2001-02, beating out the Nets (250/1) by a considerable margin.

The favorite to win the division is the Celtics at 20/21, trailed closely by the defending division champion Raptors (21/20). The Knicks are between the Raptors and Sixers at 10/1.

The Sixers (150/1) also edged out the Nets (200/1) in odds to win the Eastern Conference championship. The two teams in the conference directly ahead of the Sixers in that futures bet are the Hornets (100/1) and Magic (50/1).

The Cavaliers are the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference at 5/11, followed by the Celtics (5/1) and Raptors (14/1).

Least surprising of all futures odds, Bovada has the Sixers tied with four other teams for the longest odds to win the NBA title. The Nuggets, Kings, Nets and Suns were tied with the Sixers at 500/1 odds to win the Larry O'Brien trophy.

The early favorites to win it all are the same two teams that met in the 2016 NBA Finals. The Warriors are alone at top with the shortest odds at 4/5 trailed by the Cavaliers at 3/1.