As the 2012-2013 season approached, Sixers fans were more excited for the upcoming campaign than at any time in the post-Iverson era. The acquisition of Andrew Bynum provided Philadelphia with its first legitimate post presence since the world’s most entertaining basketball analyst donned the red, white, and blue (that’s Charles Barkley for those of you who don’t watch basketball on TNT). However, disaster quickly struck as Bynum experienced a pre-season knee injury and the Sixers’ high hopes for the season went down the gutter (sorry, too easy).
Now, sitting at 22-29 following the All-Star break, the Sixers find themselves 4 games back of the Milwaukee Bucks for the 8th and final playoff spot. An optimistic Sixers fan (does such a person exist?) would have hoped the season-ending injury to Rajon Rondo would have triggered a tailspin for the 7th place Celtics and a possible sell-off of key players. Instead, the opposite has happened in a well-documented turnaround that has seen Boston go 8-1 since losing Rondo. Unless a Celtics trade does come to fruition, Philadelphia’s best bet at earning a playoff spot is catching Milwaukee.
Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the remaining schedules favor the Bucks as the Sixers have a 12/19 home-road split including 10 back-to-backs, while Milwaukee has a 15/16 home-road split with 9 back-to-backs. Although your grandfather’s days of going to the game for a nickel are still alive and well (thanks to $0.04 tickets on Stubhub) and the team wouldn’t appear to gain much of a home court advanatage playing in front of an empty arena, the Sixers have historically performed much better at home and this season is no exception. Also, Milwaukee has already secured the tiebreaker having won all three meetings thus far with only one match-up remaining. Bynum recently reported he was still feeling pain in his knee, so those fans hoping a quick return from the big man will lead to a torrid Philadelphia comeback should properly temper their expectations. Hollinger’s playoff odds currently have the Sixers with a 12% chance of making the playoffs, with even Toronto given a better chance following the Rudy Gay trade despite being behind the Sixers in the standings. It’s never a good sign when a team named after a popular Jurassic Park character is given more respect than you. But given the current deficit and the remaining schedule, I hate to say I agree with those odds.
Despite meager odds at avoiding the lottery, Sixers fans do have positives to look forward to the rest of the season. First, Jrue Holiday has made the proverbial jump and the 4 year, $44 million contract the Sixers signed him to before the season looks like a steal. He and Russell Westbrook are the only two players in the league currently averaging at least 19 ppg and over 8 apg with Jrue accomplishing the feat in spite of opposing defenses entirely geared to stop him (and while not having Sally Jesse Raphael’s fashion sense). Now, he obviously still has things he needs to work on. He needs to cut down on his 4 turnover per game average, although his turnover rate of 12.71% is not much above the league average of 11.20% per www.hoopdata.com. He would also benefit from taking less long twos and getting to the free throw line more often. However, Holiday is still only 22 years old and has improved his game each season, so no need to think he won’t continue to do so, which is very encouraging considering he’s already the youngest all-star in Sixers history.
Second, prior to his hamstring injury, Thaddeus Young was proving he could handle the increased minutes and role as a starting power forward. Young’s season totals sit at a very respectable 14.9 ppg and 7.4 rpg and his player efficiency rating ranks top 30 in the NBA out of all forwards. Additionally, Thad was still providing the type of all-over-the-court hustle and energy Sixers fans have come to expect despite the jump from 27.9 mpg to 35.5 mpg. He almost certainly leads the league in turning garbage into gold. If nothing else, this season has proved to the Sixers that they have two key building blocks already in place.
But finally, the most intriguing aspect of the season going forward is an increased opportunity for Arnett Moultrie. The Young injury has opened the door for the rookie who has run with the chance. Moultrie appears to have great athleticism and the ability to be a strong finisher at the rim in the pick-and-roll game (rare attributes in a Sixers big man), as well as being a solid rebounder and defender. I’d like to see Moutlrie continue to carve himself a bigger place in the rotation as the season goes on.
What are your expectations for the rest of the season? Anything you would like to see Collins do differently from a strategic or rotational standpoint? Though the odds aren’t in their favor, let’s hope the Sixers can climb out of this deficit and back into the playoff picture.