COMMENTARY | Philadelphia 76ers fans suddenly find themselves in possession of something they haven't had in years: hope. You'd think hope would be a strange thing to have if you're a fanbase whose team is poised to have one of the worst records in the NBA next season, but it's true. This is because in the NBA, it's better to be really good or really terrible.
The Sixers were in no man's land. Not quite good enough for a No. 8 seed, and not bad enough for a top draft pick. They now find themselves in an enviable situation. So I've narrowed down five questions for the Philadelphia 76ers that will be important going forward.
5. Is new GM Sam Hinkie a wizard?
We can't rule this out…okay fine.
5. Will the 76ers continue to embrace analytics?
The Sixers seem to have done a 180 on the "Moneyball" revolution. When asked if he was an analytics guy, Doug Collins said, "If I did that, I'd blow my brains out." So needless to say, the 76ers weren't on the advanced stats bandwagon under his regime, even after hiring former Memphis Grizzlies analytics consultant Aaron Barzilai. This past season the 76ers led the league in shots from 15-19 feet, which according to advanced stats are the least efficient shots in all of basketball. Unsurprisingly, the Sixers were tied for the worst per game scoring average in the NBA. The hiring of Sam Hinkie signals an embrace of change, and the former VP of basketball operations for the stat geek Rockets wasted no time in implementing his vision. Jrue Holiday seemed to have been regarded as the guy the Sixers would build around after getting a $41 million extension and making his first All-Star team during a breakout season.
However, Hinkie dealt him on draft night for the No. 6 pick Nerlens Noel, and a protected first-round selection in next years' loaded draft. This was a classic Rockets move. Despite what appeared to be a great year, Holiday did not check off the boxes that Hinkie looks for in a player. Holiday takes a lot of mid-range jumpers and is one of the worst in the league among perimeter players at getting to the foul line. This trade got Philly out from under his salary, and netted them two great assets: Noel, who was hailed as the next Tyson Chandler and was the consensus first overall pick until he tore his ACL, and a top-5 protected pick in an unusually deep draft. They also drafted 6-7 point guard Michael Carter-Williams, a player who projects to be a great slasher, and D-league star Glen Rice Jr who has the potential to be a "3-and-D" guy, a player adept at knocking down spot-up threes and defending multiple positions, which has become extremely valuable in today's NBA. The analytics experiment is going great so far. It'll be interesting to see if the owner has the patience to see the plan through.
4. Will Nerlens Noel bounce back from his injury?
It was assumed Noel would go first overall leading up to draft night despite his knee injury, but slid all the way to No. 6. He's projected to return by December. There's no reason to worry about him though. Noel was a project to begin with. A gifted rebounder and shot blocker without an offensive game. He's also young so he should have a full recovery. The 76ers need not be concerned as they aren't contending and can patiently bring him along. Heck, Noel being out will make them worse which increases their odds of landing Andrew Wiggins. Nerlens Noel has all the time in the world to get back into form.
3. Was it smart to acquire Royce White?
If you recall, Royce White was a projected lottery pick that slipped to the middle of the first round after reports came out about his anxiety disorder. He then had a rather disastrous season in Houston that included a public feud with the organization over their treatment of his condition. Well Hinkie saw something and decided to grab White since he wasn't being used. I think it's a great idea. Royce White has Boris Diaw 2.0 potential. A gifted, undersized big that excels as a distributor and can crash the boards. They risk nothing here.
2. Who else on the roster will be let go?
With Andrew Bynum allowed to walk, who else on the Sixers will be packing their bags? My money is on Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young. Turner will likely be on the way out after the drafting of Glen Rice Jr, and the fact that Turner hasn't really gotten better since being selected second overall. He struggles playing without the ball, still can't reliably space the floor, and isn't a good enough defender to cover for his other shortcomings. Young actually has favorable advanced stats, particularly on the defensive end. However he's only 6'7, not very strong, and can't shoot at all. This makes him a liability on both ends of the floor when he's out there as a small ball power forward. He's also set to make about $9.4 million next season. I expect Hinkie to move him to clear even more cap space since 2014 will arguably have the most star studded free agent crop in NBA history.
1. Who will be the next coach?
Sam Hinkie is still in no hurry to replace Doug Collins. Brian Shaw was a possible target, but he's gone to Denver. Big names still on the board include the Van Gundy brothers, George Karl, and Nate McMillan. We saw Boston dig into the college ranks for their coach. I wonder if Philadelphia will do the same. I think Stan Van Gundy would be ideal for Hinkie's philosophy. Whatever the decision, I'm sure a lot of thought and numbers went into it. Based on the results so far, I think fans should rest easy.
Ian White is a Yahoo! contributor and freelance copy editor living in Philadelphia, PA. He's been cheering and cringing at Philadelphia 76ers games for nearly 20 years.
Follow Ian on Twitter @ATrueCynic.
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