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Key to Sixers Success

Fri, 01/20/2012 - 6:00pm

You may have noticed the Eastern Conference is something of a mess. If the playoffs were to start today the Cavs would be the #7 seed. The Cavs are 6-7. However, the there are some Eastern Conference story lines that don’t involve horrific play. Foremost among these is the maturation of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 76ers are currently sitting at 10-4 and have a chance to move into the #2 slot in the East with a win at home against the Atlanta tonight. For a team that looked to be a #5-8 seed coming into the year, early returns have caught many off guard. But this may be more than simply having hot start, there are signs that the Sixers ceiling this year might be higher than anyone expected.

Jrue HolidayJrue HolidayFor starters the Atlantic Division is trash. While the New Jersey and Toronto are living up to expectations as two of the league’s worst teams, the New York and Boston have gone from presumed high-seed playoff locks to clubs that will have to the probable #7 and #8 seeds in the East respectively (and that’s only because the other eight Eastern teams are damn near hopeless). This Atlantic disaster has left the Sixers sitting pretty. In a shortened season, Philly has already managed to build a 4 game division lead, the largest of any team in the league. There’s simply no competition. You can pencil the 76rs into a top three seed already and it wouldn’t be too brazen to write it in ink.

The 76ers losses have been nothing to scoff at so far. Three of the four losses have come on the road (Portland, Utah, and New York). Three of the four losses have come by 4 points or less (including an OT loss at home to Denver).

But perhaps the most telling aspect of the 76ers early success is the way Doug Collins and his team have made lesser opponents look foolish. The Sixers have already amassed a handful blowout wins (@Phoenix by 20, @Golden State by 28, Detriot by 23, Toronto by 35, Sacramento by 27, and Washington by 21). In fact, only one of their ten wins has come by less than double digits (an 8 point win at New Orleans). And while the schedule has been no murderer’s row (beating Indiana by 10 being their best win), teams simply don’t win by 20+ every other night, even if it is against sub-par opponents. That kind of spread is the mark of dominance.

So where did this team come from? The draft.

While the Pacers drew rave reviews this off-season for having their long-term rebuilding project finally reach the cusp of paying off, the Sixers were in the same position sans the hype. The 76ers run out a core rotation of nine players, eight of which get over 20 minutes a night. The team drafted six of them. While it might not be the flashiest run of picks, the past eight years of drafting have netted the Philly faithful a team that won’t go down without a fight.

Here’s the breakdown of the draft night work the led the 76ers to where they are today:

The Lottery Picks

Andre Iguodala – 9th pick (2004)

At the time many draft prognosticators thought Iguodala would be a valuable NBA player because of the way his game, especially his commitment to D, allowed him to can impact every game without volume shooting. Eight years into his career, Iggy has proven to be exactly that. He’s been the stalwart face of the franchise ever since the end of the Iverson era in Philly. Some of those years were rough so you’ve got to feel good for him that he’s finally leading an exciting, winning club.

Thaddeus Young – 12th pick (2007)

Young has a combination of power and speed that few can match in the NBA. As a result, Young led the league FGs at the rim per 40 mins last season (5.78) despite not being a true post player or having a shot that defenders need to jump out to cover. That said, Young is the rare player whose question marks on draft day still remain even in his fifth year in the league. Will he ever develop a consistent jump shot? Will he be able to play the 3 or 4 full-time or is he doomed to tweener purgatory? While there’s clear room for growth with his athletic gifts, it’s unclear exactly how much he can really improve. Even as is, no opponents want to see young barreling down the lane.

Evan Turner – 2nd pick (2010)

While Turner hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire so far in his pro career, he hasn’t been the disaster some made him out to be last season and it’s still too early to render any final judgments. Turner has a little bit of everything in his game, but no individual trait blows you away. While that’s not what you want from a #2 pick, it’s an alright piece for a balanced playoff club like the Sixers. Besides, it’s not like rest of 2010’s lottery picks are lighting up the league either. Turner still has an excellent chance to justify his #2 selection.

The Other First Rounders

Jrue Holiday – 17th pick (2009)

Would you believe me if I told you Jrue Holiday gets more minutes per game than Andre Iguodala? The Sixers grabbed Holiday 17th overall in the PG heavy 2009 draft. Holiday had played very little PG in his high school and college career, but the Sixers recognized Holiday as a smart decision maker who could transition to the position while providing excellent defense at the position. His assists are down this year, but he remains one of the league's up and coming PG talents.

Nikola Vucevic – 16th pick (2011)

As the ninth man in the rotation (13.3 mpg), Vucevic and has been as effective as the 76ers could realistically hope for this early on (4.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg) in his limited role. With Spencer Hawes blowing up like he is, Vucevic won’t get a chance to really showcase anything soon, but expect him to get more minutes as the grind of the shortened season begins to wear on guys.

The Second Round Steal

Lou Williams – 45th pick (2005)

With 2005 being the last drafts to include high schoolers, at the time Williams was pointed to as another example of a guy who made a bad decision to skip college. After all, he fell to the 2nd round and wasn’t even guaranteed and NBA contract. Funny thing is though, unlike most of his chastised high school peers who ended up slipping then disappearing, Williams worked his tail off to prove he belonged. Part of the panning of Williams came from the idea that he was only a SG and an undersized on at that. Well Williams went to work to improve his PG skills in order to be a more natural size fit and it paid off. While he may need to be a volume shooter to get his team-leading points, Williams gets them consistently and the Sixers feed on the energy and quickness he brings off the bench, making him one of the key cogs to their winning ways.

Identifying Talent

The team was unable to draft shooting guard Jodie Meeks out of Kentucky, a player they identified as an underrated talent during the 2009 draft (41st overall). They were able to swing a deal with Milwaukee during his rookie season to land the mid-second round pick. Meeks has been a starter for Philly and a key member of their rotation. Meeks is able to drop 20+ points any night, but remains streaky.

As for the other two rotation spots, those belong to Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes. Brand is a known commodity at this point; overpaid but effective.

Hawes, on the other hand, has been key for the Sixers so far. It is really hard to explain how the Sixers were able to retain him at the bargain-basement RFA tender price (one-year, $4 million). With so many teams always desperate for good bigs it’s baffling that no one even tried to pry him away. While his play coming into this year had always been inconsistent, his skills were never really in question. Remember, this is the league where Amir Johnson landed a five-year, $34 million deal a year ago based on nothing but upside. For the Sixers Hawes has been a beast this year, one that won’t come nearly as cheap next off-season.

Sixers scout Mike VandeGarde had this to say about the team's success, "Our whole organization from the top to the bottom has been on the same page regarding the draft since I first started with the 76ers about 12 years ago. We try to draft the most talented players but they have to have what we think is a great work ethic as well. Adding a few pieces through trades and signings, and the hiring of an energizing coach, we have a young exciting team that should continue to get better for the next few years as we fight for a high playoff seed."

While the Sixers are by no means world-beaters, the team has a solid core that none of the big dogs in the East are going to want to play. They’re fighters. More importantly, they’re an example of how a solid team can be built without hitting it big in the draft lottery. It just takes years of effective, patient drafting.

PrecociousNeophyte
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Doug Collins is one of my

Doug Collins is one of my favorite coaches, he is a enthusiastic coach and really seems to love his job.

I think Evan Turner will turn (no pun intended) out to be a very good player and the 76ers will end up using him like the Thunder are using James Harden. Both these players were top 3 picks, and although they might not be all-stars, they are very valuable to their teams success.

So raspy
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Hawes

It's really interesting to see a highly touted 7 footer like Hawes enter the league as a high draft pick, and be so overlooked up til this year. He can play I'm suprised the kings let him go so quickly.

justlaxin13
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Talent

As an avid hometown sixers fan, I like that their drafting and talent accmulation has started to work out this season. However, looking at our draft history the way it's layed out here makes me think we did more mediocre than good. Out of those 3 lottery pick, how many all-star appearences does anyone really think we'll get from that group as a collective? maybe 2? That't not great, especially considering some of the other players in those drafts and our relative position. Lou Williams was a great steal but I don't think the guys we've gotten are really that great for what we could have done.

JunkYardDog
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Very agree with

Very agree with justlaxin13

even if it's great to see the sixers back I think their drafting process is not very successfull :

in 2006 : bobby Jones, Bavcic in the 2nd round and rodney Carney (sepholasha at 13 traded away... and rondo, lowry, farmar still on board)

in 2007 : Cook at 21 (initially jason Smith at 20 but traded) without thinking of still available afflalo, chandler, dudley, fernandez, brooks or even splitter !!!!

then koponen at 30 (traded against byars....) landry, big baby davis, mcroberts, marc GASOL, sessions were still available.

in 2008 : at 16 speights just before.... roy HIBBERT, mcgee, hickson, ryan anderson, serge ibaka, deandre jordan

in 2010 : turner at 2 is a good player but drafted before monroe, favors....

2009 seems to be the only really good draft with the steal Holiday at 17, all the other choices (except vucevic at 16 in 2011 and young at 12 in 2007 which were 2 good but not exceptionnal choices) are not clever choices. Moreover you can notice they drafted very few quality players in the 2nd round (except lou williams at 45 in 2005) whereas this is a good way of landing good role players. Some choices are very very BAD : speights before hibbert in 2008 seems unreal now but I remember the draft day feeling the same. Exactly the same thing for 2007 and affalo snobed to get jason smith and then koponen (finally byars) before landry who played great with purdue against noah and horford (florida) during the tournament.

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