(Editor’s note: Dante Nelson from The Sixer Sense was generous enough to answer a couple of questions on a Philadelphia 76ers team that he follows very closely. I thought you would prefer a more insightful perspective than my half-assed vantage point. Enjoy.)
The Sixers are No. 1 in defensive efficiency and opponent eFG%. Why is their philosophy conducive to a solid defense?
DN: Well the Sixers are a team that likes to run on the fast break. If they are able to cause their opponents to miss, then they can get the job done. One thing the Sixers keep hurting themselves with is the rebounding. They give up too many offensive rebounds for my liking and it can waste a very good defensive possession. Also, getting out the break can result in easy buckets and the Sixers are not very good in half-court scoring so they need to get their points in any way they can get them.
The Sixers are a very interesting team. They don’t have that one elite player that can carry them. Rather they have a multitude of guys that contribute across the board. Why is that depth an asset? And, conversely, are you worried about the lack of a star player?
DN: It just so happens that this season is really the season of depth. Sixers have had one of the best benches last and this season. And so, the bench, known locally as the Night Shift, can already step in for what has been a season of keeping extra care of player rotations. Sixers don’t have to worry so much about losing the lead when reserves come in. In fact, lots of times the Night Shift comes in to save the day from the starter’s slow starts. But, in a league that has superstars run the show, it’s nice to see Sixers work on the balance attack. You never know who to guard with this team. It seems like the front office is sold on this balance and will probably stick with it for the long haul. I don’t think this team needs a star player but they need a true go-to scorer, especially in late game situations. In recent games, Evan Turner has shown he can be this guy we need. I have also mentioned that a solid big man is sorely needed too, but again, doesn’t have to be star level.
Andre Iguodala’s name has been involved in a lot of trade talks. Do you think Iggy has a future with Philly or will he a) decline his player option in two years or b) be traded to another team?
DN: Oh boy. Well, with the current success this team is having, Sixers may not be looking to trade him. He’s very valuable to this team but since he doesn’t score so much, fans don’t think too highly of him. His relationship with the fans isn’t so great. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him decline his option unless he wants to stay or thinks that a better option would be available in next off-season. I’m not sure he would stay beyond his current contract though. During the lockout, Andre was in rumors but he made his stance as wanting to be a Sixer. But it’s more likely that Andre leaves team on his own terms than being traded. Andre deserves better than what the fans have given him.
With an average age of 24.9, the Sixers are the sixth youngest team in the league. Who is the most promising young player and what do fans feel about the future of this team?
DN: To me, Evan Turner is the most promising player but Jrue Holiday is there too. When Turner was drafted, the team and some NBA experts saw Holiday and Turner as what could be one of the best back-court duos in 8 years. I think it can still be a possibility so long as they are being used correctly. And recently, it doesn’t seem like they are being used right. Still, this team’s future success is focused on how well those two players can improve. In recent games, it has seemed like all hope was lost for this team. Overall, I think fans see a bright future ahead for this team. And with all of this youth, there has to be improvement coming. How much improvement is uncertain at this point though.
What is the weakness of this team? I vividly remember Tiago Splitter destroying Lavoy Allen in pick-and-rolls and down low in our last game so my guess would be your frontcourt. Keep in mind that Spencer Hawes missed that game.
DN: Clutch play. I don’t feel right saying that since it doesn’t seem like it can be a weakness. Defensive rebounding is a problem too. Lack of inside scoring. Combine the rebounding and inside scoring and you could basically say our frontcourt needs improvement since those two needs can be solved by one player. I saw Elton Brand’s best and last good season last year. When I say good, I mean that he could be traded somehow. At this point, I really don’t think anybody will take him even when he’s got one year left on contract. Even with Hawes playing, it doesn’t make things much better. Vucevic has been a nice surprise from the start but has seemed to maybe hit a rookie wall. Lavoy Allen was a surprise too but he probably only got a chance on the court from Hawes’ injuries. Upgrade is sorely needed at C or PF. Of course, it won’t come easy.
Lou Williams is averaging 37.4 points per 48 minutes during clutch moments (five minutes left in game and less than five point deficit) on 37.5 percent shooting. The fact that he is a 6th man but essentially doubles as the crunch time go-to man is unique in the NBA. How important is his perimeter shooting to this team?
DN: I have a personal on-the-court hate of Lou so I have to put that to the side and respond with a neutral tone. Again, Sixers seem to be a different team in clutch situations. I see coaching as the problem. They go from team ball to Lou Williams iso’s which would explain why he has the 3rd most 4th quarter points. At the same time, Sixers are 0-8 in games decided 5 points or less. They are 2-14 in games 7 points or less. So I’m not a fan of the Lou Iso thing. Time to shake things up. His shooting is not common as he willingly selects these long 3′s with plenty of time left on shot clock. Sure, it could help the team if it goes in but a miss really hurts the Sixers’ offense. To me, the shots are not valuable. Must admit though, Lou coming off the bench leading team in scoring as well as somewhat leading in clutch is special. And with a balanced team like this, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
How far do you predict Philly going into the playoffs? Can they contend with Chicago and Miami?
DN: It all matters on where they finish the season in ranking. If the Sixers win their division, they will be in top four of conference. And I think they can beat any of the teams that are below them. So, I would say a second round exit. This would be a large improvement for this team as they haven’t been out of 1st round in almost a decade. If they fall from 1st in division, it could result in a match-up with Heat or Bulls. So then I would see 1st round exit. They could win a game or two on Bulls, but they seem to stand no chance on the Heat. So no they wouldn’t contend with them but Sixers are a team that will make you work so Bulls and Heat won’t just walk all over this team.
Predict the outcome of tonight’s game. Ugh, this will be the Spurs third consecutive game in three nights and Tim Duncan probably won’t play.
DN: Never been good at the score predicting game. But, with Spurs on the 3rd game in 3rd night, Sixers actually could win. But, as you have mentioned, Spurs do a good job of monitoring the player’s game time so I wouldn’t really expect the Spurs to be that tired. But when watching the Sixers play that 3rd game in 3rd night I realized that it can take a toll. Things could be close in the beginning as I have mentioned Sixers have slow starts. Spurs have a solid bench so I would think that the Night Shift would have some work to do too. I do expect the Sixers to come in the game ready to pounce on the Spurs though considering their recent schedule. One problem the Sixers will have is containing Tony Parker. As good of a defensive team that the Sixers are, their penetration defense seems like it’s nothing against even just good PG’s. I would expect Jrue Holiday to slow him down as he is a solid man-man defender but Tony on the pick and roll will be something to look out for. Jrue’s not a very good defender in those situations. Could be a defensive struggle though. I don’t expect 100 points from either team. I want to go with a game ending in the 80′s (for at least the winning team). Gotta give the win to the Sixers 87-78.
Head over to The Sixer Sense for more of his insight and you can read my responses to his questions here. Be sure to follow him on twitter @DanteWrites. Nelson is the author of Spiritual Interpretations and he also writes for Skyword and Hardcourt Mayhem.