The Philadelphia 76ers didn't have Andrew Bynum around to patrol the paint on Oct. 31 against the Denver Nuggets. Sixers fans like myself have been promised that Bynum is the big man of the future who will put this team over the top. Few other teams have a seven-foot game changer like Bynum - yet Philadelphia technically has two of them already.
Before Bynum came along, Spencer Hawes looked like the seven-foot center of the future for the Sixers, as he made a big difference in their hot start last year. Injuries derailed him and the Sixers as a whole, yet he clearly showed himself on the mend in this season's opener. While Bynum's absence was still notable, Hawes made sure the Sixers didn't miss him that much in an 84-75 win.
In the first half, Philadelphia did much of its damage outside the paint, while Denver got most of its points on the inside. But as time went on, Hawes began to impose his will - both inside and outside. He got the Wells Fargo Center crowd fired up with two first-half three-pointers, which helped him total 12 first-half points overall. Although he didn't have as much offense in the second half, he made a statement with his defense anyway.
Hawes ended the game with five blocks, including two in the final minute of the third quarter alone. In fact, with five more blocks, Hawes would have had a triple-double. Instead, he settled for a 16-point, 12-rebound double-double that made him the star of the night.
For the last several weeks, Philadelphia fans figured that a big man would be the star of opening night. Thr only difference was that it was the big man of the past, instead of the one of the future. Yet if Bynum struggles and continues to have injury problems, the Sixers can very well stay afloat if Hawes keeps coming through. However, if he succumbs to injuries and comes down from a hot start again this season, then Philadelphia will have to worry.
Productive seven-foot centers are very rare, but the Sixers are in the comfortable position of having two -- despite how they are often fragile. But Philadelphia can still win without Bynum, especially if Hawes fills the big hole in the middle. As such, fans have to wonder how good this team can be with both Bynum and Hawes taking turns disrupting the paint.
Of course, the key is having them both avaliable to do that - and having at least one of them there when the Sixers need them. While Hawes is now a valuable backup, Philadelphia is still depending on Bynum to be the No. 1 seven-footer in town.
So despite Hawes' value, the Sixers will still be far more comfortable if they don't need him as much, which will hopefully be the case soon. But until then, getting performances from him like the one on opening night will be a pretty good safety net.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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- Sports & Recreation
- Andrew Bynum
- Spencer Hawes