Philadelphia 76ers

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

Give and Go: Who will be the Sixers' sixth man?

Give and Go: Who will be the Sixers' sixth man?

With training camp starting next week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers Insider Jessica Camerato and producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we discuss who should be the Sixers' sixth man going into the 2017-18 season.

Camerato
This role has become a hot topic since the Sixers finally have the pieces to put together a consistent starting five and establish a go-to sixth man. This summer I wrote an article on the starting lineup in which I projected Robert Covington to start and Dario Saric to come off the bench as the sixth man. The Sixers need Covington’s defensive presence at small forward and Ben Simmons likely will start at power forward while running the floor. Not every reader agreed in the comments section and the Saric-as-a-starter sentiment was echoed on social media. 

I still see Saric as the best fit for sixth man. This role is often filled by a starting-caliber player. Saric had 36 starts as a rookie, including all 25 games in which he played after the All-Star Break. Brett Brown wants the Sixers’ sixth man to be on the court to end games. Saric averaged more minutes (7.1) in the fourth than any other quarter last season. 

The key would be getting Saric to buy in to being the sixth man. Saric worked his entire career to be the best player he could be. He is his own toughest critic and became visibly disappointed when he had letdowns last season. There is a shift in mindset going from a starter to the first player off the bench. Saric can thrive in this role, but first he has to embrace it and not looking at it as a demotion. The sixth man can be just as valuable, if not more, than a starter. 

Haughton
With a widely projected starting lineup of Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, JJ Redick, Markelle Fultz and Simmons, the Sixers’ sixth man would appear to be a lock as Dario Saric. After all, Saric is a strong all-around player and coming off an impressive rookie season.

However, that starting five may force Brett Brown to go in a different direction with his first man off the bench.

Sure, Brown’s opening group may have a lot of firepower, but it lacks a necessity of legitimate NBA teams: a proven floor general. With Fultz and Simmons in the backcourt, the Sixers have two players that have yet to take part in an NBA regular-season game. They also will be trying to adjust to playing off the ball (Fultz) and running the team as a full-time point guard (Simmons).

That’s why I believe Brown may opt to go with Jerryd Bayless as his first reserve to combat the expected growing pains of his rookie backcourt. Bayless didn’t exactly wow Sixers fans by playing in just three contests a season ago because of torn ligaments in his wrist, but the veteran still has 513 career games under his belt (29 in the postseason) and knows how to play both guard positions.

It may not be the preferred pick, but Bayless may be the necessary choice as sixth man if the Sixers hope to achieve their goals in the upcoming campaign.

Hudrick
I know it doesn't please some Sixers fans that Saric seems destined to come off the bench, but really, it's a great sign.

Saric has proven to be a good NBA player after a strong rookie campaign, but think about it. This roster suddenly has talent. People are getting giddy and talking playoffs. Do you know what playoff teams have? Good players coming off the bench. It's not a knock on Saric as much as it's a testament to how talented this roster has become.

I will say that Matt's idea of using Bayless as the team's sixth man is interesting. Brown puts such a heavy emphasis on the point guard position. He's referred to it as the hardest position to play in the NBA. And now he's turning the keys over to a 6-foot-10 player that's never truly played the position. 

In the end, I'm going Saric. He should come in and dominate most team's second units offensively. Plus his grit and energy are perfect for the role. The Sixers just have to hope he embraces it.

Sixers Mailbag: Playoffs, winning records and restrictions

Sixers Mailbag: Playoffs, winning records and restrictions

Guess what time it is … just over a week until the start of training camp. Playoffs, winning records and restrictions are on the minds of a lot of Sixers fans. Thanks to everyone who submitted their questions with #CSNSixersMailbag. 

My prediction for this season is 43 wins. That being said, the win total has so much to do with health and restrictions.

The Sixers finished 28-54 last season. Reaching 43 wins would be a significant jump. I heavily considered their 10-5 month of January for this projection. That was the small window last season when the Sixers (finally) had a healthy group to work with and Brett Brown could coach a team, not just a revolving door of players. Based on the potential they showed during that month, a 15-win improvement is not out of the question.

I did factor in the fact the Sixers have 14 sets of back-to-backs. It remains to be seen in how many of those Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will be cleared to compete. I would expect restrictions to be heavier at the start of the season, when the Sixers’ schedule is stacked with playoff-contending opponents. Even if the team starts out below .500, they will have the opportunity to catch up in the standings in the second half of the season when their schedule is much more Eastern Conference-heavy. 

And if you’re thinking playoffs, the Bulls grabbed the eighth seed last season with a 41-41 record. The competition in the conference has lessened and teams may be able to get into the postseason under .500. 

Good question, and one that will be a hot topic for Simmons and Embiid this season.

The team has not announced minute restrictions for Simmons, who has yet to play in an NBA game because of a right Jones fracture. That will be further evaluated during training camp and into the season. 

I would expect the Sixers to place some type of restriction on Simmons and monitor him carefully as they did with Embiid. Whether that is a limitation on minutes or consecutive games is to be determined. 

Simmons is a key piece for the Sixers’ future, not just the 2017-18 season. They will not rush into playing time just because he is cleared for game action. 

From lottery picks to postseason seedings, yes, we are talking about the playoffs before the season even begins.

The Eastern Conference is wide open for teams to move up in the standings. Trades by the Pacers, Bulls and Hawks have created the opportunity to shake up last season’s top eight. 

I made this prediction earlier in the summer and I’ll stick with it in mid-September: I am projecting the Sixers as the seventh seed in the East. That’s behind the usual five, the Cavaliers, Celtics, Wizards, Raptors and Bucks and … the Hornets jumping back into the playoffs at six. 

Of course, playoff predictions for any team, especially the Sixers, depends on health, player availability and future trades. 

Feels like a while since last season ended, right? Here are some dates to look forward to before Opening Night on Oct. 18 against the Wizards in Washington, D.C.:

Sept. 25 - Media Day

Sept. 26 - Start of training camp

Oct. 4 - First preseason home game against the Grizzlies