By Kyle McKeown
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Expectations were high for the Sixers last year after signing Elton Brand
to a five-year contract in the offseason, but they had trouble getting out of the gate and the Sixers' new general manager, Ed Stefanski, fired head coach Maurice Cheeks after a 9-14 start. Tom DiLeo was installed as the interim head coach and was able to lead the team back to the playoffs despite injuries to Brand and inconsistent play at the center position from Samuel Dalembert
. Their offseason wasn't as dramatic this year, but they made some important moves.
DiLeo returned to his post as assistant general manager after the Sixers' first-round playoff loss to the Magic, which left a vacancy at the head coach position for the second time in five months. Former Wizards head coach Eddie Jordan was hired in May to fill the role. Jordan runs a (pro style) Princeton offense, which emphasizes movement and the ability of every player to initiate offensive sets. The implementation of Jordan's new offense impacted some of the team's offseason moves. Their first was to trade Reggie Evans, a rebounding specialist, to Toronto for Jason Kapono, a three-point specialist. Marreese Speights' fluid transition to the NBA last year gave the Sixers depth in the frontcourt that made Evans expendable, while the addition of Kapono gives the Sixers the consistent three-point threat they had tried to acquire the previous offseason. Their second major move of the offseason was to let veteran point guard Andre Miller walk via free agency, putting the ball in the hands of Louis Williams and occasionally even Andre Iguodala.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Jordan was often criticized for his inconsistent rotation during his last year in Washington. Inconsistent rotations make fantasy prognosticating a difficult business, but a great number of Jordan's rotation shakeups were easy to explain. Two years without a perpetually rehabbing Gilbert Arenas
made the guard spots in Jordan's rotation tentative at best. Immaturity, fistfights and injuries shook up his center position just as dramatically. While unable to solve many of his team's problems in the past, Jordan was not the root of the problem. Whether it proves to be due to a lack of depth or a wealth of starting talent, the Sixers' roster should prove to be less volatile than the Wizards' was. Iguodala, Brand, and Louis Williams
are locked in for at least 35 minutes per game, while Thaddeus Young
should enjoy similar minutes, and Dalembert should hover around 30 minutes per game. Speights and Kapono are expected to be the first two players off the bench, earning slightly over 20 minutes per game apiece. As for the rest of the roster, there will be less than 15 minutes left to disperse among the non-top-7. Willie Green
and Royal Ivey
should receive a timeshare of the remaining 14-plus minutes behind the main cast. That leaves Jason Smith
, Primoz Brezec
, Jrue Holiday
, and Rodney Carney
to fight for minutes when the rotation is lengthened due to injuries, foul trouble, suspensions or inconsistent play. While trying to predict precisely what changes the rotation will see throughout the year is absurd, it is worth mentioning a few possible storylines. Any inconsistent play from Dalembert could open minutes for Speights (possibly moving him into the starting lineup), Brezec, and Smith. On the off chance that Young is asked to come off the bench, Iguodala would start at small forward and Green or Kapono would start at shooting guard.
Dalembert started all 82 games for the Sixers last year but struggled to earn consistent minutes and was often benched late in games. Coach Jordan hasn't named his starting lineup yet, but it would be surprising if Dalembert didn't retain his spot at center. In just 25 minutes per game last season, Dalembert was able to record 6.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks. He can't be counted on for offense, but he's a consistent rebounder (8.1 career) and shot blocker (2.0 career) with respectable career percentages on his field goal (52 percent) and free throw (69 percent) attempts. Much of Dalembert's production will be dependent upon the floor time he receives from his new head coach. Jordan had a contentious relationship with his centers in Washington that resulted in a timeshare at the position. Speights could push for minutes here, but that would cause the Sixers to run with a small lineup. Jordan has avoided such lineup configurations in the past.
Primoz Brezec: Brezec is a non-entity on defense, but his size and offense could help him carve out a significant role on the team. Dalembert's performance will affect his minutes more than anything else.
He's the team's starting power forward, but he should also see some time at center this season. The Sixers had trouble integrating Brand into their run-and-gun offense last year, and his per game averages showed significant decline from the 20/10/2 lines we're used to seeing from him. A shoulder injury limited him to 29 games last year, but the time off gave his Achilles injury from the 2007-08 season more time to fully heal. All reports about his health have been positive this summer. Iguodala and Brand will be the team's leaders and go-to scorers. Brand may not return to his days of putting up nightly first-round fantasy lines, but Brand's shoulder and Achilles injuries appear to be behind him. Brand should flourish in Jordan's Princeton offense.
Thaddeus Young: He should be their starting small forward this year, but it's hard to know what Jordan will do with his wing players. Whether he's starting or not, Young will receive big minutes this season at both forward positions. Jordan had Young practice initiating the offense during the summer, so any extra touches should result in increased scoring and assist opportunities for the third year forward. The Sixers could elect to start Iguodala at small forward and bring Young off the bench. Such a development would limit Young's minutes and production this season as his stats took a noticeable hit during his four games as a sub last season.
Marreesse Speights: Speights showed a great deal of promise in his rookie season. He should see an increased role this season as the primary backup at the center and power forward positions. Any injury to the increasingly fragile Brand would open large minutes for the second-year forward. Speights was an average rebounder and above average scorer, and converted both field goals and free throws with high percentages last year. While he averaged less than a block per game last season, he also recorded 13 multi-block games, which shows he has the ability to average at least a block per game with an increased role this season.
Jason Smith: Smith missed all of last season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. The Sixers love his upside, but the 7-footer showed little in the way of fantasy production during his 2007-08 rookie season.
Rodney Carney: Carney returned to the Sixers as a free agent this offseason. He spent his first two years with the Sixers before being shipped to the Timberwolves during the 2008 offseason to create extra cap room so the Sixers could sign Brand in free agency. The Sixers have plenty of depth on the wings; making it unlikely Carney will develop a significant role without someone suffering a major injury.
Andre Iguodala: Andre Miller
's departure will give Iguodala increased ball-handling opportunities this season. As a result, his scoring and assists should improve. Iguodala has been the Sixers' primary playmaker since they traded away Allen Iverson
in December of 2006. He was already averaging nearly 40 minutes per game the last two seasons, a trend that isn't likely to change under Jordan, and while it's fair to say that the departure of Miller will give him new opportunities, those same touches will also be shared with Brand. Iguodala is expected to start at shooting guard this year, and though his split stats last year showed he was more successful as a starting forward, his career stats show he can put up similar production at both positions. Owners shouldn't focus on the position move, as it won't affect his style of play significantly.
Louis Williams: Williams will start for the Sixers at point guard after spending the last four years as a role player off the bench. He's drawn comparisons to Iverson due to his speed, score-first mentality, slight of build and their connection to the Sixers, but all comparisons stop there. He won't lead the league in scoring; however, he could be a steal in the later rounds of drafts. Jordan's offense doesn't rely on a pass-first point guard, which makes Williams a good fit for the system in the same way that Arenas was used in Washington. He should develop into the team's third scoring option behind Iguodala and Brand. In just 23.7 minutes per game last season, Williams recorded 12.8 points, three assists, two rebounds, one steal, 0.8 treys and 1.9 turnovers. His assist-to-turnover ratio was poor last season, but that should level out with his new role as the starting point guard and the departure of Miller.
Jason Kapono: Kapono will serve as the team's primary three-point threat, but will most likely see his minutes coming off the bench behind Iguodala and Young.
Willie Green: It's hard to write off Green's fantasy impact, as he always seems to play significant minutes for his team while deftly muting the potential of other fantasy contributors.
Jrue Holiday: Possessing tremendous natural ability, Holiday lacks a polished offensive game, which will limit his chances to contribute to fantasy teams in his rookie season. An injury to Williams would open big minutes for him at the point guard position due to the Sixers' lack of depth at the position.
Royal Ivey: At 6-4 Ivey can defend both guard positions. He'll be an intimidator off the bench, but he won't earn enough floor time to contribute in most leagues.
After spending his first four years providing a spark off the Sixers' bench, Williams has been given the keys to the offense. He's inherited Miller's minutes as the starting point guard and, having a score-first mentality ala Gilbert Arenas
and Larry Hughes
, is a perfect fit for Jordan's offense.
There's a lot of uncertainty about how Jordan will divide the minutes in his rotation, and Dalembert's role is one of the biggest mysteries. The Sixers' new Princeton offense under Jordan doesn't fit well with Dalembert's skill set.
Article first appeared on 9/16/09