What looked like a team with championship credentials back in August when Andrew Bynum's plane left Los Angeles en route to Philadelphia has turned into the Sixers playing with just three of its pre-season projected starters thanks to knee injuries to the 7-foot former All-Star and Jason Richardson.
But the good news for Sixers fans is that those three young starters - combined they have 10 years of NBA experience - appear to have the skills to be the foundation of the team's future, with or without a healthy Bynum.
Jrue Holiday is an All-Star and has the type of game that looks like it will only get better when he's surrounded by more talent. Evan Turner is fresh off two straight double-doubles, and although he still yaps a bit too much at the refs, therefore sometimes hurting his chances to get calls when he really needs them, he too is playing well despite the Sixers' struggles.
And then there's Thad Young, whose contributions often go unnoticed because he's not a flashy player and one of the major strengths of his game has been derailed because the Sixers do not have the necessary speed to consistently push the ball up the floor. Instead, Young floats along the baseline, popping in and out of the lane and moving side to side hoping to get the ball where he can take his little jump hook, or at the very least, battle for a weak-side rebound.
Head coach Doug Collins calls Young an "activity guy." He doesn't get a lot of plays called for him, and the 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward is constantly asked to cover players who are 20-30 pounds heavier than him. When it was announced that Young would be out with a hamstring injury - the Sixers were 1-5 during his absence - Collins called him the team's "most important player."
Young is averaging 14.6 points and 7.7 rebounds for the season. In the three games since his return from injury, his point totals have dipped slightly (9.3), but his rebound totals have increased to 9.6 per game. But if you ask Collins, it's not Young's statistics that matter most to him.
"Thad will go down to me not only as one of the finest people, but one of my favorite players of all time," Collins said. "My admiration for Thad is off the charts. I can't even tell you what he means to me … more as a person than as a player."
In May 2011, Young started his own charity, the Young for Youth Foundation. According to the website, the foundation's mission is to provide safe, healthy, educational and fun opportunities for personal growth and responsibility and professional development to at-risk youth, starting in Memphis, Philadelphia and New Orleans and expanding globally. Young was born in New Orleans before moving to Memphis in fourth grade.
It is endeavors like this that endear Collins to Young and has helped the two establish the type of relationship that the coach feels is the cornerstone for any successful team.
"At the end of the day, I'm all about relationships," Collins said. "That's what drives me. It's the connections that drive teams. … The players' [relationships] with one another and the coach, that's what it's all about."
Having lost eight of the last nine games and 10 straight on the road, Collins can only hope his players can stick together through these difficult times. After Monday's practice, Young was asked what approach the team needs to take.
"Just keep playing our hearts out," he told reporters.
Jon Buzby is an award-winning sportswriter from Delaware and has followed the Sixers since 1976. He contributes regularly to multiple newspapers, magazines and websites. Follow him @JonBuzby on Twitter.
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