For the past several years, the 76ers have been stuck in the NBA’s version of “no man’s land.” This is a stagnant place where a team makes the playoffs just about every year, yet never has a chance to win a championship simply because they are not good enough. However, because of their playoff status, they do not receive a spot in the NBA raffle for a draft pick. Now leading the Atlantic division of the Eastern Conference, they are far from “no man’s land.”
Doug Collins, after his inaugural season last year, has his cast playing exceptional defense, 2nd best in the league. This fact can simply not be stressed enough. In a league where scores over a 100 are a commonplace and scorers such a Kobe, LeBron and Kevin Durant exist holding an opponent to a staggering 86 points a game is quite impressive. Collins has coached the likes of Michael Jordan, twice, and is a fantastic coach. He has young talent in Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, and J’rue Holiday, as well as veteran leadership in Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala. Combined he has inspired them to intense defense regardless of the opponent and team basketball.
Six players on the 76ers average double figures with their leading scorer, Lou Williams, coming off the bench. Two additional players average nine points a game. That is a true example of team basketball, especially when the superstar past Elton Brand has had combined with the unrecognized ability of Andre Iguodala. The 76ers bench plays a huge roll in their success. The amount of talent drop off when the starters are sitting is always a concern to any team. However, when you can replace Jodie Meeks with Evan Turner, J’rue Holiday with Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala with Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes with Nikola Vucevic that is hardly a concern. The 76ers may never have the 40 point scorer with this squad, but when your bench players such as Young and Williams score 20 and 23 points, respectively, as they did against Charlotte, there really is no need to rely on one player to produce such a large amount of the team’s offense.
Evan Turner is among 20 players in the NBA averaging at least nine points, five rebounds and two and a half assists, yet he is the only non-starter. His shooting percentage too has gone up from last year’s 42% to 47% and has recently been invited to the NBA’s All-Star Freshman/Sophomore challenge. Iguodala and Young have also been invited to that event; Iguodala his freshman and sophomore year in the league and Young in his sophomore year. J’rue Holiday is only in his third year in the league, however Collins thinks he has the ability to be a top five point guard before it’s over. While the numbers suggest otherwise, Holiday has still shown improvement. He is not a traditional pass first shoot later point guard, but he is no ace either. His athleticism makes him dangerous in the open court and he has the ability to drive to the hoop where he then has the option to go up and draw a foul, or dish it off to another unguarded player. Iguodala was hurt a large part of last year, but had a healthy off-season and is playing ferocious defense, leading the team in steals per game at 1.7. He has also been playing above his career averages in assists and rebounds. Young has been averaging 12 points coming off the bench and offers an athletic back-up for Iguodala, who is also averaging 12 points a game. Despite missing some games due to injury, Spencer Hawes, in his 5th year in the league is almost averaging a double-double at ten points and eight rebounds a game. Elton Brand has not been playing at the level he once played at with the Clippers, but believe it or not this is a good thing. Remember the Clippers? They were bad. Brand was all they had, but now with an extremely talented cast around him, there is no need for him to carry the team. That, along with his recent knee surgery, has put Brand in a good position with the 76ers, and let’s not forget that he leads the team in blocks.
The 76ers improved greatly from last season to the current season. They made the bare minimum in terms of personal changes, but they excelled by improving what they have. Doug Collins has a done a fantastic job thus far with the raw talent on this roster. Maturing and adjusting to the league, improving their shot and turning up the intensity on defense has resulted in their current position as number one in the Atlantic division. While room for growth and improvement still exists, this is a dangerous team come playoffs in a seven-game series.