The 76ers have a shot. An outside shot. And another outside shot. And another outside shot.
New additions Jason Richardson, Nick Young and Dorell Wright average between 34 and 38 percent from 3-point range during their respective careers. Their ability to make outside shots should improve the Sixers’ offense, both on the fastbreak and in a halfcourt set.
Whether or not the improved outside shooting gives the Sixers a legitimate shot at reaching the NBA Finals is another matter. Their championship aspirations may depend on the fragile health of center Andrew Bynum, the centerpiece of their extensive offseason makeover.
Bynum has not practiced yet this season due to soreness in his right knee. How many games he misses before he makes his Sixers debut is undetermined. How many games he’ll play this season is open to speculation. The Sixers will likely need Bynum in order to advance beyond where they finished last season, one game short of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Despite the attention being given to the numerous offseason acquisitions, the Sixers’ success may depend upon their core of returning players. One school of thought suggests that Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner could not fully blossom while Andre Iguodala was occupying the top-player role. With Iguodala sent to Denver in the four-team deal that brought Bynum and Richardson to the Sixers, Holiday and Turner should have the opportunity to flourish.
Head coach Doug Collins’ job is to mix and match all the new and old pieces to find the best combinations. If all the pieces come together, the Sixers could develop into championship contenders. If they pieces don’t fit, the Sixers could take a step backward.
The following is a preview of the Sixers’ 2012-13 season, which kicks off Wednesday against Iguodala and the Denver Nuggets:
Collins is in charge of putting the pieces together, but Holiday is responsible for making the pieces work together in an efficient fashion. At times last season, the Sixers were better with Turner or Iguodala running the point and Holiday moving into shooting position on the wing.
This season Holiday will have to become more of a traditional point guard. That doesn’t mean he can’t score a lot of points. It does mean, however, that the offense will usually start with Holiday possessing the ball. Holiday’s ability to adjust to a more central role could be the key to the Sixers’ fortunes. As I wrote in last season’s preview, the Sixers will be a better team if Holiday develops into their best player.
In contrast to the 22-year-old Holiday (left), who is starting his fourth NBA season, the 31-year-old Richardson is starting his 12th NBA season. He’s a far cry from the player who averaged more than 20 points three times in a four-year span. Last season (11.6 points per game) was the first time he averaged fewer than 15 points per game since his rookie season (2001-02), when he averaged 14.4 points with Golden State. But Richardson should help the Sixers with his experience and, yes, his sharpshooting from beyond the 3-point arc.
The starting tandem of Richardson (6-6) and Holiday (6-4) also gives the Sixers a big backcourt. This could lead to matchup problems for opposing teams.
Nick Young comes to the Sixers with a reputation. He has a reputation for being a good shooter from 3-point range (37.8 percent career average), and he has a reputation for doing very little except shooting. In essence, he’s a taller version (6-7) of Lou Williams. The difference is that he won’t be counted upon to do as much of the scoring as Williams was last season.
One of the surprises of training camp was point guard Maalik Wayns. His scoring wasn’t surprising to anyone who saw him play at Villanova, but his ability to distribute the ball opened some eyes. Wayns is expected to be Holiday’s main backup. He appears particularly adept at pushing the ball on the fastbreak, drawing defenders as he drives down the lane then kicking it out to players such as Young or Wright on the perimeter.
Veterans Royal Ivey and Damien Wilkins, each entering his ninth NBA season, provide depth and experience.
Lavoy Allen won’t have the element of surprise on his side this season. Allen was a revelation last season. After playing in just 41 games during the regular season, he became a consistent contributor during the playoffs, averaging 6.3 points and 4.9 rebounds in a shade under 20 minutes per game. He was effective defensively against Celtics center Kevin Garnett during the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
With Bynum sidelined, Allen is expected to begin this season as the starting center. He may shift to starting power forward when Bynum returns, giving the Sixers a physically imposing front line, or he may be a top reserve at either position.
Anything Allen gave the Sixers last year was considered icing on the cake. Much more will be expected of him this season.
Much used to be expected of Kwame Brown. He was selected No. 1 overall in the 2001 NBA draft. But the jump from high school (Glynn Academy in Georgia) to the NBA was too much for Brown, whose only season in double figures (10.9 points) was 2003-04, his third season with the Wizards. Not much will be expected of Brown, although he could see decent minutes at center while Bynum is sidelined.
Bynum, of course, is the biggest question mark entering the season. He is the key to the Sixers’ change in style. Their biggest weakness last season was their halfcourt offense. With Bynum, they hope to transform that into a strength.
Like Brown, Bynum went directly from high school (St. Joseph in New Jersey) to the NBA. Like Brown, he didn’t average in double figures until his third NBA season. The difference is that Bynum continued to get better, averaging double figures in points in his next four seasons as well.
Bynum averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds last season for the Lakers. If he can produce similar numbers with the Sixers, he will provide their first low-post scoring threat in many years, drawing defenders to the paint and creating space for the sharpshooters on the perimeter. The 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum also provides a defensive presence in the lane, discouraging drives to the hoop and grabbing rebounds which trigger the Sixers’ fastbreak.
The biggest question about Bynum is his health. Other than his second NBA season, when he played 82 games, he has only played more than 60 games in a season once. Injuries have plagued Bynum, who turned 25 over the weekend. With knee problems at such a young age, one wonders if Bynum will became the centerpiece of the Sixers franchise or a one-year option whose salary is dumped after this season.
It remains to be seen how Bynum will adjust to being the center of attention. With the Lakers, Kobe Bryant was always the star, and there were usually at least one or two other players who attracted significant attention. Bynum won’t be able to hide in Philadelphia.
The Sixers’ starting forwards will both be new to their roles. Turner (left, No. 12) moves from off-guard to small forward. Thaddeus Young (left, No. 21) moves from the bench into the starting lineup, at least while Bynum is sidelined.
Turner struggled at times last season when he didn’t have the ball in his hands. Later in the year, he frequently was the one who started the offense rolling. This season, with Holiday and Richardson starting in the backcourt, Turner will likely return to not having the ball in his hands very much. Given that he’s not a better-than-average shooter, it will be interesting to see if Turner has time to create his own offense.
Another change for Turner (6-7) is he won’t have a size advantage at forward, as he did at guard. Posting up down low will be more difficult. Without Iguodala, the responsibility for guarding the other team’s best scorer will often fall upon Turner. It will be interesting to see how the third-year pro handles his new role.
Young’s challenge is to bring the energy and spark he provided off the bench during the first five years of his career to the starting lineup. Young will also need to develop in a better scorer in the halfcourt offense by using the same speed that gives him an advantage in fastbreak situations.
Spencer Hawes, the Sixers’ starting center for most of last season, should be the top substitute at both power forward and center. Don’t be surprised if Hawes (7-1), who is a better outside shooter than both Young and Turner, makes his way back into the starting lineup.
Speaking of shooters, Wright is yet another of the Sixers’ new acquisitions who was drafted out of high school. It took him until his seventh season to average in double figures, but he broke out for a 16.4 average in 2010-11. His average dipped to 10.3 last season, but he’s a 36.6 percent career shooter from 3-point range.
Rookie Arnett Moultrie provides depth and potential at forward. At 6-10, 245 pounds, Moultrie could work his way into the rotation as the season progresses.
Collins has much more to work with this season. The Sixers have tremendous depth. They certainly have more “quality depth” than they did last year.
With Bynum healthy, the Sixers should have a much stronger inside presence at both ends of the court. With the addition or Richardson, Young and Wright, they should also have a much better outside shooting game.
The challenge for Collins is to put all these pieces together. The Sixers should absolutely score more points this season, but can Collins achieve that without losing some of the defensive intensity that was the Sixers’ trademark the past two seasons? In other words, can he get Nick Young to play defense?
Collins’ task is changing the Sixers’ style to one that includes the halfcourt offense that is necessary for playoff success. The difficulty is making that change without, thus far, the main component in creating that change: Andrew Bynum, the supposed franchise center.
The intensity and spirit the Sixers displayed during the preseason is a positive sign. The Sixers seemed to impose their will on opponents during the preseason, just as they did at times last season.
But the Sixers seem to have concluded, rightly so, that sheer will is not always enough to overcome superior talent. The Sixers knew they needed to develop a halfcourt offense. They acquired a trio of sharpshooters and Bynum to help that transition.
Their success also depends on the development of players such as Holiday, Turner, Thaddeus Young and Allen. How well these young players develop into their new roles may determine the Sixers’ success as much as the contributions from the new additions.
Bynum’s health is the wild card. Even if he’s sidelined for a significant portion of the season, the Sixers should still produce a winning record.
With the Nets considerably improved with their move to Brooklyn, the Celtics still a good team and the Knicks supposedly improved, the Atlantic Division will provide plenty of competition.
The danger is that the Sixers once again end up as the seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and don’t get the good fortune of having their first-round opponent’s star player tear his ACL in the opening game of their series. With a healthy Bynum, however, the Sixers could be a particularly dangerous opponent that the top seeds would want to avoid.
Prediction: The “if” surrounding Bynum’s health is a fairly big “if.” Let’s call it 47 wins during the regular season and a first- or second-round playoff exit.