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Enemy Lines: 76ers

SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines
Philadelphia 76ers
 
An opposing team's scout sizes up the 76ers

Doug Collins is a proven basketball guy who has had success at multiple places, and things will be done the right way with him. Bringing in Rod Thorn as team president only adds to the credibility. But will they be there long enough to see through the rebuilding process? They're not going to turn Philly around overnight, so what is the long-term plan?

You may not see a lot wins with Philly's young players, but you will see a team that competes. Evan Turner will fit perfectly into the culture Collins will be promoting. Turner wasn't the most dynamic player in the draft, but he might have been the most polished. He gives them hope of developing him alongside Andre Iguodala for a pair of very good wings.

Turner not only can handle ball but also play some point if necessary. Considering the poor state of their point-guard play, he could allow a guy like Lou Williams or Jrue Holiday to play off the ball at times and be a scorer, which is a more natural role.

Down the line, Turner should also be able to take pressure off Iguodala to be the guy who initiates, creates and finishes the offense. Iguodala should be able to play off ball more and have plays run for him off screens, and even play in the post sometimes.

Iguodala is terrific, but he shouldn't be the No. 1 player on any team. The 76ers would be so much better if he was their No. 2 or even their No. 3 guy. But that doesn't mean there isn't a lot to like. USA Basketball appreciates his versatility as a guy who can score and pass while doing so many things at a pretty high level. That's a profile that a lot of teams would love to have.

But he's not going to come through at the end of the game and carry the team. Philly was much better off when Andre Miller was there as the primary ball-handler who sparked their transition -- which is their best style -- and provided leadership. I still don't understand why they let Miller go; he was clearly the difference-maker. As much as they'll want to focus on the strength they can develop with Iguodala and Turner, the 76ers' talent on the wing is also an indictment of the rest of their roster. The two most important positions are point guard and center, and those are weaknesses for this team.

They'll have to make the best of their commitment to Elton Brand; unless he undergoes a major rejuvenation, I don't see how they'll be able to move him. He has been a monumental bust, but Collins will be good for him. Collins will run more traditional NBA stuff to get Brand into the game, much more so than when Eddie Jordan was coach.

The most alarming deficiency has been Brand's rebounding. His shot-blocking numbers have gone down the past couple of years as well. He was always a thick-legged, physical guy who was never really known for his athleticism, but he had great hands, strength, agility and timing. It's hard to understand because he's only 31, but his skills have eroded.

If he could get back some of those skills, he could help in the half-court. That's been a big need for a long time in Philadelphia. I don't buy the idea that he doesn't fit their style because he could have been -- and maybe still could be -- the guy they turn to on the possessions or the nights they aren't running. The fast teams need a secondary option like him.

With Samuel Dalembert gone to Sacramento, they no longer have a lot of bigs. So maybe we'll see Brand at center; their only other options are Spencer Hawes and Marreese Speights. Maybe at center Brand won't be exposed so badly by the young, athletic guys, and in the East he can get away with the size disadvantage against everybody except Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal. I'm looking at this as a make-or-break year for Brand now that he has a new coach who needs production from him.

I'm thinking their best lineup will eventually be Turner at the 2, Iguodala at 3, Thaddeus Young at 4 and Brand at 5. Young has to be viewed mainly as a 4-man because of their roster. His natural position is probably at the 3, even though he has the skills of a power forward. His shooting has improved out to the three-point line, but shooting is still not a strength and he isn't especially adept as a ball-handler and passer, which are skills you're seeking from your small forward. He won't have so many problems at power forward because teams are tending to play smaller. Having Young at power forward is partly a matter of getting your best five guys on floor as often as you can, but it's also because he's such a good offensive rebounder for his size.

Should their point guard be Holiday or Williams? It's hard for Williams to play a lot of minutes at 2-guard because he's only 6-1. The best thing for them would be for Holiday to emerge as their starter and then bring Williams off the bench as a combo guard and scorer. They definitely need Williams' scoring, and creates for others off his drives.

I saw flashes last year from Holiday, and I know the 76ers think he's going to be good. But right now, if he's their starting point guard, he's going to lose his matchup most nights. They have to hope he makes a big leap in order for them to become a reliable playoff contender. I didn't see anything from him last year that told me, "Wow, this guy is going to be really good." It was more like, "OK, so far he looks like he can be adequate." But he's only 20, so we'll see.

I've always thought of Speights as more of a power forward than a center. He's another one of those guys who looks better with the second unit, as their first big off the bench. He's a good per-minute rebounder, especially on the offensive boards, and he's an impressive per-minute scorer too.

I'd probably choose Hawes over Speights because I see Hawes as having more potential. Hawes needs maturity. Hawes is 22 and still not close to being what he could be. He's two to three years away from approaching his prime. So it's a low-risk investment for Philly to get him back in the trade for Dalembert.

There's no doubt Hawes tends to take the easy way out and shoot jumpers rather than mix it up inside. The good news is he has the skills to step out, but he shouldn't use it as a shortcut. That perimeter skill will be a strength if he's also doing the work inside.

Andres Nocioni could end up being a wild card because Collins is going to love his hustle. He will endear himself as long as he's healthy, probably along the same lines that he had his most successful years while he was playing for Scott Skiles in Chicago. The demands of those two coaches are much the same.

They filled out their front line by trading for Darius Songaila, who is serviceable, and rookie big man Craig Brackins.

Jason Kapono is a role player who can stretch the defense with his three-point shooting. He's a better all-around player than he gets credit for. For team that shoots the three as poorly as they have, he could find a niche.

 

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