The Philadelphia 76ers have descended upon the Philadelphia Center for Osteopathic Medicine, meaning training camp is officially underway. The new-look Sixers will play their first pre-season game on Oct. 6th (though they'll be going all the way to Bilbao, Spain for that one) and will debut at the Wells Fargo Center about a week after that. In the meantime, however, we're treated to transmissions from the first couple days of practice, including the team's first scrimmages and those scrimmages' first lineup implications.
First off came the revelation a couple days ago that the Sixers' off-season acquisition James Anderson was getting looks with the squad's first team during scrimmages, leading reporters to conclude that he will begin the season as the team's starting two-guard. Anderson has started just six games thusfar in his three-year NBA career, and the numbers have not been pretty--about eight points and four rebounds a game on 35% shooting, with nearly as many turnovers as assists.
So why Anderson? Well first and foremost, it's a general paucity of options. There was previously some thought that Arnett Moultrie would crack the starting lineup at the four, which would slide Thaddeus Young down to the three, while Evan Turner would start at shooting guard. But Moultrie's season-delaying surgery has Thad once again the likely starting power forward, and ET the small. The team's only other options for a backcourt partner to Michael Carter-Williams would be Khalif Wyatt and Darius Morris, both of whom would give up a good deal of size at the position, or Tony Wroten, whose terrible outside shooting would make him a poor fit with the already brick-happy MCW.
James Anderson does have himself some size--he's a hearty 6'6", 210 pounds--and the reputation of being a shooter and scorer, even if that hasn't really translated to the pros yet. When asked at a recent media scrum about what he could bring to the Sixers, Anderson mentioned his three-point stroke, but that hasn't been a real weapon for him yet at this level, where he's been a career 33% shooter from deep--though it was a more reliable weapon for him in college, where he shot 38% from three (with high volume) over three years.
At the very least, Anderson does bring decent athleticism to the position, with a potential to be a weapon in the open court. More than anything else than camp started, new coach Brett Brown has preached pace as a priority of the new Sixers administration (as well as the fitness required to maintain such a pace), and the 24-year-old Anderson certainly fits into that. Observe this footage of him dunking on Nuggets guard Evan Fournier in the open court last year, possibly the season's most underrated slam:
If he can defend competently, shoot a little bit and give that kind of effort running the floor, there's a pretty good chance James Anderson will end up getting serious minutes on this team. They'll likely be filler minutes, as it's unlikely that Anderson will blossom into a serious piece on this team four years into his career after washing out with model organizations like the Rockets and Spurs (twice!), but they'll help make the team coherent, which is important for the team's watchability, if nothing else.
The real story of training camp, however, has been combo guard Tony Wroten, who was the star of the team's most recent scrimmage, the only one open to reporters thusfar. Wroten impressed media and coaches alike with his athleticism and play-making, with Coach Brown even going so far as to call Wroten the "star of the day" and say that he "resurrected the gym" after Spencer Hawes tweaked his ankle earlier in the practice. (He'll be fine, presumably.) You can see a couple of Wroten's highlight plays in this post-scrimmage video interview with the Washington native, including a perfectly executed 2-on-1 break and a just lovely baseline dish to a plunging teammate for an easy layup.
Like Anderson, Wroten is sure to get a fair deal of opportunity with this team based on the style Coach Brown evidently wants to play with his young team. In fact, more than maybe any other player on the team besides the injured Nerlens Noel, the sublimely athletic T-Wrote looks the ideal fit for Brown--an up-and-down player with passing smarts, finishing ability, and practically unlimited defensive potential.
Of course, the downside of this is the dreaded potential quarterback controversy, which may be coming somewhere down the line between Wroten and MCW. It's tempting to consider playing them together, since both players have the size and athleticism to guard either points or twos--Coach Brown even compared Wroten to former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, who has spent plenty of time at the one, two and three--and they would likely be a deadly defensive combo.
But as previously mentioned, the shooting woes the two would have alongside one another would likely be too considerable to ignore. Wroten's lack of an outside stroke has earned unflattering comparisons to Rajon Rondo, shooting just 38% from the field and 25% from deep in his rookie season with the Grizzlies. (Perhaps even more discouragingly, Tony shot just 9-56--16%--behind a shorter three-point line in his one season in college). Considering that Carter-Williams is pretty damn far from a marksman himself, as anyone who watched him in Summer League can attest to, it's hard to imagine how the two could play together for extended stretches without totally annihilating the team's floor spacing.
He'll get the start at season's outset regardless, but it's not hard to envision a scenario in which MCW struggles badly from the floor to begin the season, while Wroten has himself a couple highlight plays as the primary playmaker of the second unit, and fans start calling for T-Wrote--who also has first-round pedigree, and is actually a solid year-and-a-half than the rookie Carter-Williams--to start in his stead. Dealing with such matters will likely rank among the biggest challenges for Coach Brown in his first season at the helm of this young team, though he'll have the advantage of impossibly low expectations to give him room to do whatever experimenting is necessary with this roster.
In any event, this is all just off one scrimmage, and perhaps Wroten struggles in the next one while MCW has himself a couple nice alley-oops and layup finishes to be the gym-resurrector of the afternoon. Long way to go with this bunch, and it's entirely probable that the rotation the team starts the season with bears little or no resemblance to the one they end with.
One other, less familiar name to take note of from these early scrimmages: Hollis Thompson. The undrafted 22-year-old Georgetown product signed with the Sixers for training camp after spending last season with the Tulsa 66ers of the D-League, and though his stats there weren't great--eight points and four boards on about 45% FG, 29% from deep--he does have the athleticism and motor Brown is looking for, and did convert at 44% from beyond over three years at Georgetown, which might be enough for the shooting-starved Sixers to give him an extended look this year. (Reports also say that Thompson impressed at the practice, for whatever that's worth.)
Finally--yes, enigmatic power forward Royce White did actually play in the scrimmage, which means that his legs are indeed still attached to his torso and it's possible that he'll actually get a chance to crack the team's injury-depleted frontcourt rotation. However, those getting overly excited at the prospect of White triple-doubling it up in the post for the Ballers should take a quick read of Michael Levin's fine column wisely advising against putting any sort of stock in the Iowa State alum's performance this year, or even remembering that he's on the team in the first place. Until we see him out there on the court during actual NBA action, he's the Sixers' heavily tattooed unicorn--like Andrew Bynum with slightly saner follicle mood swings.