Andrew Bynum: For Better or Worse?

Can we have this…

Sorry for my apparent obsession, but with new centerpiece (pun intended) Andrew Bynum all but out for the Sixers season opener this week we have no choice but to ask: Can the Sixers succeed without Andrew Bynum? That goes for both the short and long-term

With knee injuries apparently lingering, what happens if our coveted offseason centerpiece (pun still intended) never fully recovers? The prevailing wisdom is bleak. They NEED Andrew Bynum to come in and dominate from day one if they want any part of the Eastern Conference playoffs in this season or any of the next several.

Last week, Dan Gelston wrote an article for the Associated Press claiming, reasonably, that the Sixers can only go as far as Bynum takes them. To wit:

“Bynum, who turns 25 on Saturday, has to avoid further issues with his knees and play at least 70-75 games if the Sixers are going to build off last year’s run and compete for the Atlantic Division title.”

….Without this?

I’m about to vacillate wildly from the pessimism and cynicism I normally peddle here; but I disagree with that premise.

Last year, our Philadelphia 76ers ranked 3rd in the NBA in scoring defense, 4th in field-goal percentage defense, 10th in team assists, and 1st in turnovers (that means the least, rankings of bad things confuse me too sometimes). Those impressive ranks, and Doug Collins’ exemplary coaching, were good enough to make the playoffs in a suddenly rather competitive Eastern Conference. Doesn’t sound too bad for a young, plucky, band of overachievers with no true star power.

Hell, we brought the perennially-contending Boston Celtics to the brink of elimination in last year’s playoffs. Yes, that’s the same Boston Celtics that were up 3-2 on the invincible Miami Heat before LeBron went God-Mode.

So what’s changed? Well we got Bynum, but for the sake of this experiment, we are assuming we didn’t. On one hand, we lost a first time all-star and elite perimeter defender in Andre Iguodala. We also lost last year’s leading scorer and Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Lou Williams[1].

Sounds like a step backwards.

On the other hand, one of the youngest teams in the NBA last year got another year to grow and develop. That portends positive improvement. Another season under the belts of Jrue Holiday (22 years old), Evan Turner (23 years old), Thaddeus Young (24 years old), Lavoy Allen (22 years old), and Spencer Hawes (24 years old); all of whom played important minutes last year, is sure to help. It seems as though it may already have: Young, Allen and Holiday all looked markedly improved during preseason.

And there are reinforcements! Far from just hemorrhaging rotation players in Williams and Iguodala with no recompense, we acquired three more to step in. Jason Richardson, who ranks 13th in NBA history in made 3’s, and near the top in “best dunk contests”, will step in and fill it up right away from the starting two-guard spot.

Nick Young, signed away from the Clippers, will provide a reasonable facsimile for Lou Williams. Sure, he doesn’t get to the rim the same way and his go-to fadeaway in every situation may drive us up a wall, but he’ll score and not defend off the bench. Isn’t that basically what Lou did?

How about Dorell Wright? After being billed out of high school as “The Next T-mac”, he is the real wild card of our offseason moves. Sure, he’s no McGrady (maybe he can surpass the late-career, partially crippled, playing for the Hawks version) but he’s 6’9”, can run, shoot threes and defend surprisingly well. He put up 16, 5 and nearly 2 steals per in 2011 for the Warriors…I’ll take that no questions asked.

So for those counting at home, we lost our de-facto best player and defender. Our team got older (good thing in this case). Two of our three potential stars look to have taken a big step forward based on preseason returns. And, we improved our already stocked bench, and bolstered our size and three-point shooting (both dire needs from last year).

That’s a better situation right? No reason they can’t maintain or even build upon those aforementioned high team statistical ranks.

Let’s take a look at the competition too shall we? The recently crowded playoff picture has thinned out quite a bit this offseason.

The Chicago Bulls will be Rose-less for at least the first half of the season and Orlando should be competing in the D-league for the foreseeable future (could we make a case that either Jameer Nelson or Gustavo Ayon are their best players? Yeah…exactly).

Indiana stayed roughly the same but must still claim Danny Granger as their marquee player. Oh, and he’s probably going to be playing with a bum knee all season.

There’s three of the Easts top six teams from last year’s playoffs that got worse, to saying nothing of what calamity will probably befall the hapless Knicks.  Doesn’t that move everyone else up a peg? So instead of fighting our way into the 8th seed where we had to contend with a Chicago team that woulda killed us with Rose and Noah, we would matchup with maybe a year-older-Boston team or a Joe Johnson-less Hawks team?

A playoff shift like that, coupled with an improved core, and we could be on our way to the Eastern Conference Finals given a few lucky breaks. Sorry if it sounds like I’m settling for 4th place. But our ceiling with Bynum isn’t really that much higher. Look, let me dispel something for you all right now: no matter how good Bynum is if healthy; no matter what type of leap one could possibly envision for Holiday (short of him morphing into Deron Paul “Magic” Johnson); there is no way we can take a fully-stocked Heat team in 7 games. It ain’t happening. Not with THIS VERSION OF LEBRON[2]

So, Bynum or not, I think we’ll be alright. Better than last year, worse than a true contender. I’d certainly love to see a new-look Sixers with a legit blue-chipper. But there is something alluring too about watching to see if a band of homegrown miss-fits and underdogs can go it alone. I guess we aren’t doomed either way.


[1] I was annoyed to realized the other day that if the Sixers had just used some combination of the Elton Brand Amnesty money, the money we irrationally gave to Brown (who will never see a meaningful minute if Bynum if ever kinda healthy) and the Nick Young money (who we signed as a replacement to…) we could have kept Lou Williams. Say what you will about him, but he was ours. Taken off the scrap heap of the 2nd round after an all time great senior year of high school. I liked Lou, I wish we woulda kept him, I’m mad that we coulda kept him. This all just goes to show you that the Sixers approached this offseason with no central strategy or plan. We lucked into Bynum falling from the sky, and the fact that we had unwittingly collected shooters to replace the shooters we let go…stupid.

[2] I am not afraid to plug other sports blogs. And on this LeBron Ascension topic, Bill Simmons just wrote a great piece of GrantLand.com: Lebron’s Quest for Immortality

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Posted on October 29, 2012, in Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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