Archives For Philadelphia 76ers

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With the likelihood of a swap with Love-for-Wiggins at its core looking more likely, a lot of fans have apparently shifted their focus for the time being onto what else will come along with this trade exchanging proven superstar for potential superstar. The big problem with moving Love for a swingman is the enormous hole left at the power forward position, especially given Dante Cunningham’s expiring deal (and whether or not the team exercises its option for him, he isn’t a viable starter). Sure, there’s the potential for Gorgui Dieng to get some minutes at the four as a supersized PF next to Pekovic, which could surely create some excellent and interesting high-low action given the passing skills that Dieng showed off in college, but Dieng is also not an every-game starter at power forward.

So the question becomes who the Wolves can get back in the trade to man the four spot, and it seems like people are waffling over the still-raw-but-possibly-better-than-we-thought-last-year Anthony Bennett or the largely unsung and in some cases unknown Thaddeus Young, who could be routed from Philadelphia should they be brought into the deal.

Now if you know me, you know I like Thad Young. I wrote about him for the New York Times and HoopChalk prior to last season, essentially lauding his evolution into a true smallball power forward and noting that if he could add the 3-pointer back into his game — he shot ~35% in his second and third seasons — he could become even better. (Also worth noting that he was most successful from 3-point range on the left wing — Love’s favorite spot.)

This past season he did re-introduce the 3-pointer, but it didn’t go super well. He only shot 31% from 3-point range, but I think it’s worth remembering that he more or less hadn’t taken a 3-point shot in a game for three years (34 3PA in those three years combined) and that he was on an atrocious Sixers team where the offense wasn’t designed to get him 3-point looks. With seven years of experience but still just 26 years old, I still think Thaddeus Young can be a tremendous player in the league, if not a marquee star.

That veteran experience is what I’m more interested in talking about than his specific game, though. It’s true that Bennett looked much better in Summer League than he did at any point last year, and it’s true that he was dealing with a host of physical issues from rehabilitating an injury to his shoulder to sleep apnea (for which he’s since had surgery to remove his tonsils and adenoids). There’s every reasonable expectation that, given the right environment, he can evolve into a very good basketball player.

But that’s the sticking point: environment. There’s a natural tendency to look at a player’s skillset and potential and believe it will blossom one way or another, but it’s more complicated than that. Simply put, if the Wolves are already going to be giving heavy minutes to Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, it’s going to be very difficult to also give heavy minutes to Bennett. Three years down the line, a starting lineup with LaVine, Wiggins and Bennett could be great, but I just don’t think they get there if they’re all having to start this season, or even just play heavy minutes.

First and second year players simply need to be surrounded by veterans to reach their full potential. If this trade goes down and if it involves Kevin Martin and if the Wolves feel they need to start Wiggins over Brewer, that means the longest tenured starter would be Pekovic, with four years of NBA experience. Rubio has three, and just barely given that he’s played 180 games in those three years. Young more than doubles Rubio’s experience and nearly doubles Pekovic’s.

Now obviously the kind of veteran leader he can be matters, but so far he’s shown himself to be quiet and steady, plus he hasn’t needed the team to be designed around getting him looks for him still to be the best player on the floor for the Sixers the last two years.

You need balance on a team, not just to be successful, but to grow. Young versus Bennett probably won’t change the win total of next year’s Wolves very much — and I don’t expect them to be good in the sense of making the playoffs either way — but a team on which Wiggins, LaVine and Bennett are all getting heavy minutes would not only be not very good next year, but it would stunt all of their development. It’s better for LaVine and Wiggins to be finding their feet next to a veteran like Young, even if he leaves after next season by not picking up his player option. If he does leave, that’s nearly $10 million in cap space.

The bottom line here is that playing a bunch of potentially great rookies might work in NBA 2K15, but doing so in the real world not only hurts the team’s present prospects but also their future ones. The Baby Bulls of the early 2000s are instructive here. They were not only a 21-win team in 2002 when they had Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry as rookies plus Jamal Crawford and Marcus Fizer as sophomores, but they stayed bad for years.

No matter a player’s potential, growth curves are not inevitable. Developing one rookie is ideal. Two simultaneously is a challenge but possibly worth the payoff if it works. Giving three young players big minutes is likely to compromise all of their development and hamstring the team for years.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves

How bad a team is — in linear terms — is relatively easy to measure. The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers are the sine qua non of awful by most standard measurements; their 9-73 win-loss record earned them the nickname the “Nine and 73ers” (which is pretty good, as far as nicknames go). But although their season was shortened by the lockout, the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats were demonstrably worse than those Sixers with a winning percentage of .106 to Philly’s .110.

But Charlotte that year was awful by design. Whether or not you want to label it tanking, the roster was not built to win games, having lost its best players from the previous season in Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson and leaning heavily on Kemba Walker in his rookie year. So they were terrible, but were they disappointing? Continue Reading…

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Maybe the Wolves shouldn’t explore the Mozgov/Pek backup plan after all?

In a game that was incredibly fast in the first half because of a lack of calls and completely bogged down in the fourth quarter because of 23 foul calls and 38 free throw attempts, the Wolves had to power through their first game back from the All-Star break. Luckily for them, they have the most powerful guy in the NBA with Nikola Pekovic. It’s amazing how a guy with so much brute strength can have such a feathery touch when it comes to scoring with hooks and push-shots around the basket.

There was one shot in particular in the second half when he used about four or five bounces on the rim and backboard before the shot dropped in which I thought he was practicing for Plinko on The Price Is Right (Actually, how awesome would Pek be on The Price Is Right?). The thing with Pek is he’s a rare breed of center now. In the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s, the NBA was ruled by powerful guys on the low block who could move mountains with a drop-step. Because we have such a faster and more athletic game now, guys like Pek just don’t come around anymore.  Continue Reading…

The Wolves, as we had sensed all season long and as Zach meticulously charted earlier today, have been a monumentally poor three-point shooting team this season. Poor enough to be mentioned along the worst three point shooting teams of the post-Rockets era; poor enough to evoke the memory of Nikoloz Tskitishvili. But though the phenomenon was all too real, you had to have the feeling that it couldn’t last. Chase Budinger would return; Kevin Love would find his stroke; the market would self-correct (as it always does, right?). It just seemed statistically improbable that the insane specter of competent NBA players bricking open jumper after open jumper could sustain itself over the course of an entire season.

Likewise, though, we should not delude ourselves into believing that Wolves’ transcendent shooting display in Philly will become their new standard. 13-25 from behind the stripe is simply not something you’re going to see every day. Instead, as Rick Adelman has been reminding us all season, in both cases–hot or hopelessly cold–we should be examining the kinds of shots the Wolves are taking and the precision and creativity with which they create those shots.

Continue Reading…

Taking care of business

Zach Harper —  January 18, 2012 — 2 Comments

The Philadelphia 76ers are a model franchise for the Timberwolves right now.

Their best player isn’t widely regarded as a franchise guy but he is a player that sets the tone for everybody else. They’re fairly deep in terms of role players who can be effective on any given night. They’re playing great defense, explosive offense and there isn’t a single ego disrupting that team right now.

People want to blow them off because their schedule thus far has been pretty weak. And to be fair, it really has been pretty easy. They have the lowest strength of schedule in the NBA at 37.2%. They’ve played 10 games against teams under .500 and won nine of them. Their point differential this season is currently over six points per game better than the Bulls, who have the second best point differential in the NBA with +8.53. The Sixers are blowing bad teams out of the water, and it’s helped propel them up nearly every team metric measurement there is.

The only quality win they’ve had is against Indiana. The rest of the wins are against bad teams. However, there is no reason to overlook what they’re doing. I don’t care that they’re blowing out bad teams left and right because that’s exactly what you want them to do. I’ve never been impressed by improving teams hanging with the big dogs in the NBA. It’s a nice story to show you can hang, but playing to your competition isn’t necessarily a sign of future success to me. I want to see the good teams destroy the bad teams to show just how serious they are about taking the next step.

It shows a certain level of readiness that you want to experience with a young team. It doesn’t mean the Sixers are going to eventually win a title with this squad. It doesn’t mean they won’t fall apart next season with Pat Riley’s “Theory of More” potentially trying to kick the door down. It just means they’re maturing as a unit.

The Wolves have a similar situation. Whether Kevin Love is truly a franchise guy or not in terms of the traditional, go-to scorer we all worship, he’s definitely the guy you want leading this organization because he sets the tone in every way, shape and form. The talent pool of role players on the team is deep and you expect almost anybody to be capable of stepping up on any given night. They’re currently a top 10 defense in the NBA (8th in defensive rating at 100.2, according to Basketball-reference.com) and the offense with Rubio on the court is capable of drowning any opponent in the league. Looking around the locker room, there isn’t one unlikable guy on the team that would submarine his teammates with a subversive attitude.

When they walk into a game like tonight against the Pistons, there is no reason to think they shouldn’t run away with this victory. Despite a couple of bright spots with Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko, and Brandon Knight, this is a very bad Detroit team with little reason to give you a game on the road.

According to the mySynergy numbers, you can score against the Pistons quite easily on isolation plays (23rd), with the pick-and-roll ball handler (21st), in the post (19th), with the PnR roller (21st), spot-up shooters (27th) and in transition (30th). Other than transition situations, the Wolves are in the top half in points per possession on all of those other situations. They are perfectly set up to run this team off the court with Kevin Love’s versatile scoring and Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour picking the defense apart with dribble penetration, shooting and passing.

It’s not really reasonable to expect the Wolves to be the type of team that runs bad teams off the court like Philadelphia is doing. This is essentially the first season together (thanks to Rubio addition and Adelman’s hiring) for this entire team, so there are going to be plenty of ups-and-downs. And while the game against the Kings Monday night was ugly for the majority of it, the way they closed out such a bad team gave me hope they were understanding how to win a lot more than I would have expected.

This isn’t a must-win game by any means for Minnesota. It’s just another game against a really bad team. The Wolves struggled to dominate the Hornets last week in New Orleans, despite being a much more talented team. After blowing a big road lead to a good but inconsistent Hawks squad, they rallied back and ended up running the Kings out of the building in the fourth quarter. It showed growth from the win in New Orleans and hopefully is a prelude of what is to come tonight and moving forward.

It’s not essential for the Wolves to win by a wide margin. Any win at this point is a good lesson in some way. But it would show this team becoming ready to take care of business against the lesser teams in the league. That’s what good, improving teams learn how to do.

Branded

Benjamin Polk —  May 22, 2010 — 3 Comments

See, this is what we’re talking about. Back at Truehoop, Chad Ford reports that the Sixers are willing to discuss moving that second pick, but only in exchange for taking on Elton Brand and his ridiculous contract.

“As much as teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves, for instance, love Evan Turner,” says Ford, “I don’t think they love him that much.”

Let’s hope not, anyway.