By a sizable chunk, the Philadelphia 76ers are tops in the NBA in possessions per game, running up and down the court with reckless abandon over the first 15 games of what was supposed to be a rebuilding year – a campaign that many thought would end in the franchise breaking its own league-worst record for wins in a season. With six wins in their first 15 tries, the Sixers seem well on their way to beating the 1972-73 Sixers’ “record” for wins in a season (nine), and they're dragging a few opponents’ tongues along the way.
“First we had to do a conditioning test and then we had to drop weight,” said Evan Turner, who is down nine pounds and 2½ percent body fat. “He told us what weight he wanted us to be at. He was kind of nice about it, but he wasn’t if you didn’t hit that weight number. That was key.”
Tony Wroten, after drinking 14 Gatorades, also chimed in:
“In college, you run around and do a lot of conditioning,” Wroten said. “When I first got here, not only did the coach e-mail me about it but also the strength and conditioning coaches, what summer was going to be like and this is what we are going to do.
“I knew they were serious. At the time, I was like what is this? This is like college, but Coach always says it is going to pay off in the long run and it has. We can run at the end of games. We are still pacing, so working on it in the summer helped a lot.”
“In film the other day, in the fourth quarter you see Mike [Carter-Williams] picking up full court,” said Wroten, who missed Saturday’s game with back spasms. “In the NBA, no one plays full court at all, but for him to be able to do that in the fourth when we only had seven, eight people and he had played a lot of minutes [was key]. It showed the little things.
“Sometimes teams will say to us, ‘Are you guys ever going to stop running?’ And they are serious, but at the end of the day we are going to keep running, keep running and keep running.”
Both Turner and fellow swingman James Anderson rank in the top ten in miles run this season within NBA game confines, and it’s easy to see why Brown wanted his guys going all out. Not only are they wearing down their opponents – turning what could have been a nine-win season into something that is on pace to secure 33 victories – but they’re providing Philadelphia fans with actual entertaining basketball.
Something that some would argue hasn’t been in place for years. Even when the Sixers were making the playoffs under Doug Collins.
Collins’ lockout-addled 2011-12 squad ranked 24th out of 30 teams in possessions per game, a strange number for a team featuring all manner of athletic swingmen who were at their best pushing the ball, one working without a traditional low post center. Former Sixer swingman Andre Iguodala has since thrived with fast-paced outfits in Denver and Golden State in the two years’ since, and it’s likely that few in Philadelphia reflect fondly on a Collins era that trended toward the incredibly dull at times. Brown has nowhere near the sort of talent that Collins worked with, and yet he has his team on pace to an incredible win total for this sort of roster. A below-average win total to be sure, but a staggering number considering the expectations.
Most importantly? The team is fun to watch.
Sixers fans knew in late June that this team was punting its 2013-14 season in order to rack up lottery picks for the boffo 2014 NBA draft, and while they may not enjoy all these wins lowering the team’s lottery odds, that doesn’t take away from how fun the 76ers are to take in. And outside of Philly, the 76ers have turned into a League Pass darling, with long-armed rookie guard Michael Carter-Williams leading the way.
All because Brown doesn’t want his players to let up, and because his players don’t want to let him down.
(For now, at least. Because we’re just a month in, and nobody likes to run for 82 full games. At some point, these Sixers may have to tell Brett Brown what happened to Jim Fixx.)
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