Apr 11 2014

Revolving Door: Brett Brown’s Troupe of Untried Talent

Employee turnover can be discouraging in any work place; an endless stream of fresh faces met with swift exits emits an air of continued job insecurity, and dampens the collective morale. But what happens when that work place is a professional basketball team, and those fresh faces are athletes trying to earn their first full-time gigs in the NBA? In Philadelphia, we’re about to find out.

Following the addition of Springfield Armor guard Adonis Thomas this past Tuesday, the Sixers’ total number of players who have appeared on the 2014 regular season roster rose to 28. “That’s a great stat,” chuckled veteran forward Thaddeus Young in the locker room, prior to Wednesday’s honest 125-114 defeat in Toronto.

It’s a mark that narrowly eclipses the previous league record of 27 (held by the 2010 Washington Wizards), and one that consists of seven rookies, and no fewer than six of the NBA’s unprecedented 46 D-League call-ups this season.

“I think that [all those numbers that you just said] is true, in regards to a revolving type of door,” said rookie coach Brett Brown. “But it was always going to be part of our plan when we were trying to identify people and try to pick a few that can continue on with us.”

Philadelphia has the fourth-youngest team in NBA history with an average age of 23.7 years. What stands out (among the grouping of NBA’s most youthful lineups) is Philly’s tally of five undrafted players, including two starters — Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims — who played 31 minutes (each) in the loss at the Air Canada Centre. The duo is symbolic of the franchise’s preference towards the unknown rather than established mediocrity.

Image courtesy of RealGM.com

Image courtesy of RealGM.com

This roster wasn’t designed to win regular season games; it was designed to preserve cap space and lose enough games to position the team for a top pick in the 2014 draft. But can any real value — ping-pong balls aside — be extracted from this throwaway season? Sims, averaging 12 points and seven rebounds, could develop into a steady backup big man, or Wroten becomes an explosive (and efficient) bench scorer. Time will tell.

For now — in spite of the system incentivizing teams to lottery-bound teams to check out in the spring  — rookie coach Brett Brown and his group of misfits are still doing what they can to win games. The veterans are playing hard, and the D-Leaguers are playing as if their jobs are on the line. The results are beginning to show. The Sixers have won twice since the 26-game losing streak and played competitively against three playoff-bound teams in the Hawks, Nets, and Raptors. Without Turner and Hawes, they’re playing arguably their best basketball since the four-game winning streak in January. These recent trends bode well for a coach trying to establish a winning culture amid a losing season.

“I think [Brown has] done a great job of putting certain pieces together and putting structures together where we can at least have a chance to win,” Young said.

As for Brown’s take on his band of mismatching parts?

“I look back at this group with tremendous [sort of] fondness and affection and respect because we’ve taken hits, and here they are,” he said before the team’s eventual 125-114 loss to the Raptors. “They’re not gonna roll over, they’ll play hard [tonight] again.”

Apr 11 2014

5-on-5: Sixers Time Machine

Flickr / Lautenbach

Flickr / Lautenbach

1. A time machine takes Sam Hinkie back to opening night … what’s the one thing he does differently this season?

Anthony Calabro: Hinkie waited until the final minutes of deadline day to rid himself of Evan Turner. Moving Turner was the right call, but he didn’t exactly sell high. I wonder if Hinkie had the opportunity earlier in the season to pull the trigger on a Turner deal. Maybe he could have gotten a coveted first rounder.

Eric Goldwein: Dealt their veterans earlier, perhaps. Then again, if you’re going to criticize the laughable return on the Turner trade (a late second rounder), then you have to praise the impressive return on the Hawes deal (Henry Sims, Earl Clark, and two second-rounders). There are upsides and downsides to waiting at the last second to get your shit done. Hinkie broke even with his procrastination.

Kyle Neubeck: He would move one or both of Turner and Hawes earlier, before the hysteria about tanking sunk in. Judging by the national reaction to Indy adding ET, most people weren’t as tired of his act as Philly was. Once it got to the deadline it was probably too late to extract maximum value. Then again, it takes two to tango, and I can’t imagine teams were frantically trying to acquire him early in the year. Good work, Hinkie.

Tom Sunnergren: Send the veteran “talent” packing sooner. We don’t really ever know what Sam Hinkie is thinking, because he won’t tell us, but it’s widely assumed he held on to the Thad/Hawes/ET troika as long as he did because he believed the better part of a season in an offense that played at a hyperthyroidal pace would goose their counting stats sufficiently that some poor sap with “GM” on his business card would forfeit significant value for them. This didn’t happen. I think, if given the chance to revisit this decision, Hinkie would have pulled the trigger on the Hawes and ET moves much sooner–shaving a few extra Ws off the Sixers’ record and bolstering, ever so slightly, their odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick.

Bryan Toporek: Trades Evan Turner earlier. Back in February, Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times tweeted that Hinkie was offered a first-round pick for Turner on the night of the 2013 draft. As we know now, all he could get in return was a late-second-rounder. If any team offered a future first-round pick for Turner at any point this season, Hinkie swung and missed in trying to maximize his trade value.

2. Could the Sixers have been the Raptors — a second-tier Eastern Conference team that improved without making any long-term investments?

Calabro: No. This team was too bad to succeed. Also, the Sixers didn’t have Rudy Gay. Everyone knows when you trade Rudy Gay, your team automatically improves by 10 to 15 games. Pretty sure that’s a known fact at this point.

Goldwein: Hinkie had neither the personnel nor the trading partners to head in that direction, though I do suspect he was open to alternatives to the “blow it up” plan. If, say, the Sixers were offered a James Harden-like deal for a star — an offer they couldn’t refuse — they’d have taken it and made a run at the Atlantic Division. But a team led by Jrue/Thad/Hawes didn’t have the ammo to approach 50 wins, even with a few extra pieces in place.

Neubeck: No. Kyle Lowry has been woefully underrated for years, and the Sixers did not have a DeMar DeRozan level talent waiting to break out. DeRozan is actually an interesting case study for Andrew Wiggins – crazy athlete from the jump, but an underdeveloped basketball player skill wise who is finally seeing his hard work pay off. The Sixers could be a Raptors-esque team in the near future, but it wasn’t happening with the old core.

Sunnergren: No. The Raptors are a much more talented bunch. Furthermore, I’m not sure the Raptors don’t envy the Sixers’ position. You get the sense Toronto intended to tank, but the Gay trade worked out better than they imagined and suddenly they found themselves with an outside shot at 50 wins. That’s well outside tanking range.

Toporek: Nope. Not after the Andrew Bynum trade. Look at who’s fueling the Raptors’ improvements — one soon-to-be free agent (Kyle Lowry) and three homegrown draft picks (DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas). When the Sixers sent Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless to Orlando, they lost two potential building blocks for a wasted year of Bynum. This team needed to be torn down.

3. Is Nerlens Noel — and his plus-three inch vertical — the early favorite for 2014-15 Rookie of the Year?

Calabro: I think he’s in the discussion, but Wiggins will get the majority of the press. That’s a great thing for Noel. The less pressure on the big man, the better. He can just go out play solid defense and not have to worry about inflated expectations.

Goldwein: Yes! I’m incredibly optimistic, which means inevitable disappointment when it turns out he’s not the next Dikembe Mutombo. But the 20-year old seems to have all the physical tools of a defensive star, and after a year in the Sixers training program, he can jump a little higher and he’s no longer thin as a rail. Think early 2000s Sammy Dalembert, with a basketball IQ and, maybe, if we’re lucky, a jump shot.

Neubeck: This will largely be determined by who goes where in the draft. As much as I hate it, team success is heavily tied to awards voting. That’s why MCW was running away with the ROY vote early, and why he’s being discounted now. The other reason it’s going to be tough for Noel to win it is because he could end up being the third best rookie on the team.

Sunnergren: Maybe, though I’m an adamant opponent of guys who missed a year with injury keeping ROY eligibility. The moment you start collecting a paycheck, you’re a pro. (Insert your own jokes about college athletes being paid here.) That said, while I’m super bullish on Nerlens, I’d place my money on Jabari Parker if he doesn’t masochistically return to Duke.

Toporek: No. If Jabari Parker declares — which is no sure thing — he’ll be the front-runner for the award. The last player to win Rookie of the Year without averaging 15 points per game was Amar’e Stoudemire back in 2002-03. With MCW, Thad and the two 2014 lottery picks fighting for touches, Noel will likely make most of his impact on defense next season. Unless he’s a mini-Brow out of the gates, voters won’t reward him.

4. Who gets left out of the Western Conference playoffs?

Calabro: As a fan, I want the Suns hold on to the last spot. The Grizzlies are a veteran group and could easily take it, but I just think there was no better story in the NBA than the Phoenix Suns this season. I want more Gerald Green.

Goldwein: I…I can’t pick. These teams are too damn fun. I can’t root against Dirk. The Suns are the best surprise story in the NBA, and the Grizzlies, of the three teams, might have the best chance of making an actual run. (They’re a 55-win team if Marc Gasol played the whole year). Per Hollinger’s Playoff Odds, Dallas has a 78.7 percent shot, Memphis is 64.4, and Phoenix is 57.1. That’s a toss-up if I’ve ever seen one, but I see think Phoenix — with a Spurs, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Kings gauntlet up ahead — misses out by a game. 

Neubeck: Gut says Memphis, but that’s because I desperately want to see Phoenix play San Antonio in the first round. Memphis has an easy road (they play Philly and the Lakers) but I think with Bledsoe back the Suns are going to hold on. Whoever ends up there is going to be a tough out. The West, man.

Sunnergren: The Suns. As much as I’ve enjoyed their run, the Grizzlies are cresting and have an easier closing schedule than Memphis. All the same, missing the postseason might be a blessing in disguise for Phoenix, as they get a lottery shot. That’s pretty obvious I suppose. Fine. A blessing in plain sight.

Toporek: With their win over Miami on Wednesday, the Grizzlies have the leg up on Phoenix for the West’s No. 8 seed. The Suns still have San Antonio, Dallas and Memphis on the schedule, while Memphis gets the Sixers and Lakers before closing out the season with the Suns and the Mavs. Regardless, whichever team misses out deserves to replace Atlanta or New York as the East’s eighth seed.

5. Are the 2013-14 Bobcats a success?

Calabro:  I think the Al Jefferson deal signaled the end of tanking in Charlotte. When you basically tell your fans we’re making the playoffs, and you keep your word, that’s always a good thing. After beating the Wizards, the Raps hold the tiebreaker for the 6th seed and a potential first round matchup with the Raptors. The Cats can easily get to the second round. I’m sure Charlotte fans would be thrilled with that outcome.

Goldwein: Yes. They’re in the playoffs and they didn’t mortgage the future to make that happen. People freaked out when the Bobcats signed Al Jefferson to a three-year $40.5 million deal in the offseason – what’s the point of using all your cap space to for a borderline all-star who’s not going to turn you into a contender – but that addition has helped improve the reputation of a franchise that had made the playoff once prior to this season. 

Neubeck: Unequivocal yes. The Bobcats have been at the bottom of the NBA barrel for years, so playing tough, competitive basketball is an important step for them. They’re like the anti-Sixers in that just being good enough to make the playoffs is probably okay. Big Al helping transform them is proof of how ridiculous the West is — he and Millsap have both flourished on new teams, equaling their shared success for new franchises.

Sunnergren: Yes.The Bobcats have been the laughing stock of professional sports for so long that simply being respectable was a huge, and consequential, step forward for the franchise. Winning 40 games wouldn’t help the 76ers, because they’re actually widely recognized as being a professional basketball team. The ‘Cats? Not so much.

Toporek: Depends how you define success. Are they a championship contender? No. Are they a marked improvement over the team that went 7-59 two seasons ago? Clearly. Since the All-Star break, Charlotte has been the league’s fifth-best defensive team, per NBA.com. Al Jefferson has been a revelation. With only one playoff appearance in the past nine seasons, a postseason berth is cause for celebration for the Bobcats. The ceiling for this team is still up in the air, though.

Apr 10 2014

The Hidden Perks of the Deadline Deals

When the Sixers traded Evan Turner to Indiana for a late-second-round pick and Danny Granger (who they’d soon buy out), it left many of us scratching our heads. That’s all they could get for a former No. 2 overall pick?

Well, GM Sam Hinkie could have probably done better than a mid-50s pick if he played his cards perfectly. But in return for their leading scorer, the Sixers not only got a potential cheap prospect; they also received 35 minutes per game of playing time for a bevy of young players.

“It’s part of the plan to be able to touch as many people as we can at this stage for us,” Brett Brown told reporters on Monday, per Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “This is just another example of us doing what we said we were going to do to try to uncover young talent.”

Has the trade led to the unearthing of a hidden backcourt talent worth keeping around long term? That depends on how you view Tony Wroten, James Anderson and Hollis Thompson. (Adonis Thomas, who just signed a 10-day contract on Monday, could also prove to be a pleasant late-season surprise.) But if nothing else, the absence of Turner —  who used up nearly one-quarter of the Sixers’ possessions — gave the Sixers the chance to develop and test these guys out.

Shipping Spencer Hawes to Cleveland and Lavoy Allen to Indiana had the same effect for the frontcourt. In return for Hawes, the Sixers received Henry Sims, who looks like a legitimate off-the-bench big worth keeping around (not to mention two 2014 second-round picks). Had Allen remained in tow after the Hawes trade, Sims — or Jarvis Varnado — may have never been given a chance.

It’s an inverse method of building a team — keying in on reserves before getting a core of stars in place — but with a salary cap in place, landing bench players at team-friendly rates is a necessary part of building a contender. By giving trading away Turner, even just for pennies on the dollar, the Sixers increased their chances of finding one of those cheap, productive rotation players.

Apr 09 2014

Sixers Play Like a Real NBA Team, Again

Philadelphia 76ers 114 Final
Recap | Box Score
125 Toronto Raptors
Thaddeus Young, PF 40 MIN | 7-17 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | -19Started the evening 0-6 from the field and allowed Patrick Patterson to net five early points. It was looking like an off-game, until Thad shot 6-10 in the second half.

Henry Sims, C 31 MIN | 10-15 FG | 2-2 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 22 PTS | -6When is the Mayor of Sims City going to be officially sworn in? Almost a career-night amidst what was yet another encouraging showing for the active big. Third time with 20 or more points as a 76er. A foul-ridden second half and the interior muscle Jonas Valanciunas (26 points, 12 rebounds) put a minor damper on the night.

Michael Carter-Williams, PG 37 MIN | 7-12 FG | 5-5 FT | 9 REB | 8 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 19 PTS | -13The sharp stretch continued, with the point guard prodigy nudging a triple-double once more. The rookie’s’ willingness to find nooks and crannies at and around the rim proved symbolic of his steadily flashy offensive output. It was Kyle Lowry’s first game back from injury, however, and he didn’t hesitate to create problems for both MCW and the Sixers. Lowry finished with 29 pts, 8 assists, and nine free throws.

James Anderson, SG 31 MIN | 6-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 17 PTS | -19Anderson’s scorching hot start sparked a surprising opening stanza; he laced Philly’s first three field goals, all from beyond the arc. His shooting touch wavered a tad in the third, but two more from deep ballooned the stat sheet and made for a friendly outing. That is, of course, if you ignore DeMar DeRozan’s ten trips to the charity stripe.

Hollis Thompson, SG 31 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +2Holliswood was limited to 11 first-half minutes, making for what was shaping up as a subdued performance. Persistence on offense laid the foundations for his 17th regular season game with multiple made threes.

Jarvis Varnado, PF 17 MIN | 2-3 FG | 2-4 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -5Varnado’s startling denial of Nando de Colo might make the highlight reel, but don’t be fooled, this was a forgettable defensive effort. Jonas Valanciunas manipulated the paint for the majority of the night and, unfortunately for Varnado, he chose to use the Sixers’ JV as a dartboard for a bevy of hooks and dunks. Also, Sims and Varnado had a combined total of seven fouls in 48 mins.

Tony Wroten, SG 19 MIN | 4-7 FG | 3-3 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | 0A tumble late in the third brought about some concern on the sidelines, as Wroten was left hobbling during a timeout. He bounced back and returned in the final period, allowing for his aggressive play and continued takes down the lane. His three free throws fail to accurately illustrate his willingness to approach the restricted area.

By the Numbers
  • 25: Free throws attempted by the Raptors… in the first half.
  • 48: The two starting center’s combined to score 48 points.
Anecdote of the Night
A dude in an Iverson jersey right next to press row got a cup of Coke poured over his head by the Raptors mascot. Thought that was a little aggressive.
Quote of the Night
Brett Brown, post-game: “I think he [Carter-Williams] has learned how to take a system that we haven’t flinched on, we haven’t altered anything and get him comfortable to maximize it for himself and the team.”

Apr 06 2014

Sixers Lose, Universe Regains Equilibrium

Brooklyn Nets 105 FinalRecap | Box Score 101 Philadelphia 76ers
Thaddeus Young, PF Shot Chart 38 MIN | 8-18 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 20 PTS | -10After a tough first half, Thad came out and was aggressive in the second – knocking down three 3-pt shots on his way to 20 points. Despite not being typical Thad on the glass, he was involved in some nice moments screening for Michael Carter-Williams which led to some open threes for Hollis & co. Overall a solid enough night for Thad.

Henry Sims, C Shot Chart 28 MIN | 4-8 FG | 3-4 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | +3Where Thad wasn’t so active on the glass tonight, Sims more than made up for it; snatching down 11 boards in total, including a huge offensive rebound put-back after a free-throw in the fourth quarter. More performances like this and Sims could be someone to keep around.

Michael Carter-Williams, PG Shot Chart 31 MIN | 3-8 FG | 6-9 FT | 5 REB | 11 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | -515th double double of the season for everyone’s favourite double-barrelled named player (S/O to Darius Johnson-Odom) that included a coast-to-coast highlight reel dunk and some fancy dimes. The outside shot wasn’t falling, but MCW’s playmaking down the stretch was one of the reasons the Sixers were able to make it a contest. And even though his FG% was flaky, he managed to score 12 points on just 8 shots. 11 assists without a turnover is nothing to be scoffed at, either. All in all, another efficient night for Mc-Dub.

James Anderson, SG Shot Chart 19 MIN | 2-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -11Another not-so-great night for James Anderson. He had some decent enough looks; the shot just wasn’t falling tonight. As a result, he only saw 19 minutes of playing time. Wroten, Elliot Williams and even Nunnally are looking like better options than Anderson at the moment.

Hollis Thompson, SG Shot Chart 27 MIN | 6-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 18 PTS | -16Boy can this guy shoot. Malik Rose compared Hollis to Bruce Bowen in commentary and the former NBA champion would have been proud of some of the shots Thompson knocked down tonight. He was the go-to-guy at the end for the Sixers – which probably says a lot about: a) how bad this team is, and b) why the Sixers lost this game. No knock on the kid though, he’s another one that could have a long-term future in Philly.

By The Numbers: 21 players appeared in the first half. One went scoreless and no-one scored double figures. Scattered.

Quote of the Night: Brett Brown: ‘It’s Fan Appreciation Night. Part of our halftime speech was, “Why would they appreciate this? I don’t.”’

Parting Shots: The Sixers were down 15 at the half and 20 at points, but somehow found themselves in a close one with under five minutes to go thanks to some sloppy Nets defense (combined with the fact they took out all of their starters) and some big shots from Hollis Thompson backed up by Henry Sims hustle on the boards. When tanking, the best outcome for a game like this is to lose a close one and compete. The Sixers certainly done that tonight, so there are some positives to take.

Interior defense continues to be a big problem. Mason Plumlee had six dunks. Six. A worrying amount from simple pick-and-roll plays. Of course this should improve when Nerlens Noel decides to suit up and play. Until then, it looks as if we’ll continue to watch the opposing teams center waltz into the paint at will. Save us, Nerlens.

Apr 05 2014

So…Was It Worth It?

Image from @ScarletMcKfever

Image from @ScarletMcKfever

1.The 2013-14 Sixers will …

Daniel Christian: Be remembered for pioneering and perfecting the art of tanking. They accumulated young assets in need of playing time, they buffered the rest of the roster with fringe-NBA players, and they traded away two of their three best players at the deadline for next to nothing in terms of immediate help. This team will long be recognized as one that management unabashedly threw down the drain in hopes that the future assets allow the cultivation of a distant, young and sprightly core.

Angus Crawford: Have used the highest number of players for a single season roster in NBA history. As of the addition of Casper Ware, Philly have filtered through 27 different names for their roster contingent, 22 of whom have seen minutes as a Sixer. There doesn’t appear to be an official record for this (the 2009-10 Washington Wizards are the suspected clubhouse leader), yet this stat alone is indicative of the topsy-turvy, random nature of the playing personnel behind the 16-59 record.

Eric Goldwein: Change the NBA lottery system. We’ve seen instances of “tanking” — or whatever you want to call it — but none so obvious as this. Perhaps it’s because fans/spectators have more awareness of what’s going on, but this tanked season, more than others, is exposing the league’s broken incentive system and how it discourages teams from maximizing their regular season wins. For the sake of March/April pro basketball, let’s hope that there’s some longterm good — other than a No. 1 overall pick — that comes out of this wasted season.

Wesley Share: End up being the team that pissed off too many executives and got the lottery system changed. Tanking and the incentives to tank reach far beyond the lottery system and the draft, unfortunately, but the league will probably never recognize that, because it’s far more complicated to take the cap off of contracts than it is to change the lottery system.

Tom Sunnergren: Go down in the record books at the team that tanked so blatantly, so egregiously, that it forced the NBA to confront a great evil and rejigger its incentive system. This is the NBA’s Kitty Genovese moment.

2. The ESPN forecast panel ranked the Sixers front office 24th, which is BS, but where would you rank Josh Harris & Co.

Christian: The Harris and Hinkie combo is definitely in the better half of the league. It seems a messy game attempting to accurately place this front office among its peers, if only because there is so much ambiguity that persists about the successfulness of their vision. That vision is great and the implementation so far shows conviction and an impressive knack for swinging economically-sound deals and trades, but if all of this blows up and sets the franchise back a few years, well then maybe these guys were right. But given what we’ve seen from Hinkie so far (i.e. the Holiday trade, drafting MCW & Noel, and the incredible amount of draft picks that have been stockpiled), I think it’s safe to assume he’s a savvy guy and has the franchise moving in a smart direction.

Crawford: ESPN placed Josh Harris at 21st in their ranking of team owners, and Sam Hinkie at 15th for executives, which is why the Sixers’ “front office” standing is somewhat peculiar. What should we value more, prior successes, or a clear foundation with potential? Based on the trajectory of the franchise since Harris & his consortium took over in 2011, I’d have them fixed somewhere in the 12-15 range. The direction and transparency is there, it’s just a matter of how everything pieces together for the organization (and not simply the team) over the next 3-5 years. Tanking and poor product aside, I’m sure the Sixers’ brass would like to arrest the continually slumping home attendance rates (67.4% of capacity this season, 29th in the league). Goldwein: Top 10. On the one hand, I agree with most of the front office’s decisions since taking over; dealing Jrue Holiday for Noel and a pick, picking up cheap prospects, not handing out massive contracts, investing in analytics, etc. On the other hand, the organization is yet to accomplish anything. Losing games is easy, taking risks on minimum level borderline NBA players is easy (when there aren’t regular season games at stake), trading Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes for scraps is easy. The real challenges begin this summer.

Share: At least in the top-half. They’re behind the Nuggets and Kings for christ’s sake.

Sunnergren: I’ve got more than a little homer in me, but, frankly, there isn’t an ownership/GM combo I’d rather have running my team. Hinkie may well be a genius, and Harris and his cohort are smart enough to recognize this and give their genius-in-residence sufficient latitude to do genius stuff.

3. Was that game-and-a-half of not terrible basketball (Detroit, 1/2-Atlanta) a fluke, or a sign of things to come?

Christian: I lean closer to fluke, but really it wasn’t much of either. Detroit is in a free-fall that is almost as ugly as Philadelphia’s was and maybe the Sixers rode some of that momentum into the first half against the Hawks. Either way, does anything we see for the rest of the season really matter? If the 76ers win almost any game, it’s a fluke strictly because of talent disparity. That doesn’t mean that they can’t execute well for a game or two at a time, though.

Crawford: Neither. It shouldn’t appear as some kind of blip on the radar, nor should it be symbolic of a reversal of fortunes from here on out. Five of the remaining seven games are on the road, and three of those are against quality, above-.500 outfits (Toronto, Memphis, Miami). Perhaps barring a pair of games against Boston, there’s still a significant chance that Philly loses out. That shouldn’t discourage or disqualify the “not terrible basketball,” though. Prior to the streak-halting win over the paltry Pistons, four of the Sixers’ six most recent losses had been by single digits, so it was a progressive climb of the mountain to victory. It’s elementary; a hopelessly undermanned squad such as this, albeit with admirable effort, is going to be outmatched almost universally.

Goldwein: That was for real. The Sixers, quietly, have been playing some respectable basketball over the last few weeks, with close(ish) losses to the Bulls (twice), Pacers (twice), Knicks, and Hawks — the latter of which are, sadly, playoff contenders. While there were a lot of things going their way in the Pistons win — primarily, that Detroit is horrendous — that’s what the Sixers can look like if they’re shooting well (12-21 3pt), and their opponent checks out. It wouldn’t shock me if that happened a couple more times this season.

Share: Eh, not sure it was much of anything, but if anything it was a fluke. Detroit might actually be worse than the Sixers and the Hawks are spiraling out of the playoff picture. I take all good signs of basketball from the Sixers with a grain of salt since they have two or three NBA players.

Sunnergren: It was a fluke.

4. The Charlotte Bobcats allegedly tanked the 2011-12 season to position draft Anthony Davis. They ended up with the second pick — Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — but was it worth throwing away a season for a 25 percent chance of landing an eventual superstar?

Christian: The Bobcats were going to be very bad that season regardless of any purposeful tanking and barely had to gut their roster to move from seventh in the East to bottom-feeder. When you’re already going to be that terrible, might as well throw yourself at the ping pong balls. Maybe the consolation prize isn’t as nice as the big blue ribbon, but it is better than a mid-round pick.

Crawford: What is the likely alternative to this scenario? Were those barren Bobcats ever going to come within an arm’s reach of the postseason? I highly doubt it. It is not always necessarily about the name attached to the pick, it’s about collecting assets. Sure, MKG or Cody Zeller (Charlotte’s 2013 lottery pick) may not carry elicit the same zeal as a supposed franchise-changing prospect, but that doesn’t alter their status as “valued” rotation pieces on impossibly diluted rookie-scale contracts. You’re not always going to hit a home run on a top five, six, or seven selection (and the Sixers may learn this), yet it makes a great deal of sense (and is a lot comfier) to stash these types of commodities, rather than pushing for a lower playoff seed and clogging the cap sheet with veteran fillers.

Goldwein: Yes, but that’s more a testament to Anthony Davis than anything else. At the time, he was a borderline lock to become a superstar and he’s living up to the hype two seasons in. I don’t know exactly how the expected values would measure up, but I suspect 1/4 of Anthony Davis is worth more than whatever a 34-win season would have returned.

Share: Well, that’s not really a fair question. The Bobcats were going to be awful regardless. They didn’t just decide to be bad and throw away a potentially good season for Anthony Davis or something. Even if they did, what’s the alternative? Hop in the playoffs as an eighth seed and pray DJ Augustin and/or Tyrus Thomas develop into stars? (they didn’t)

Sunnergren: If the Sixers were in a position to win, say, 45 games, establish themselves as risers in the East and maybe make a move or two on the free agent market, no. It would not be worth throwing that away. That’s not what the alternative was here though. The Sixers were going to be bad either way and they made the, I think smart, decision to be flamboyantly terrible. Good for them.

5. Who is your player to watch in the Final Four?

Christian: DeAndre Daniels. The Kentucky kids will get most of the NBA attention, Shabazz Napier too. Maybe even Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin. But Daniels has been huge for UConn and seems like he could put together an NBA future. He’s a long four who can stretch the floor and rebound. I’ve been intrigued ever since he lit Iowa State up for 27 points in the Sweet 16.

Crawford: Shabazz Napier. I’m inclined to focus on Sam Hinkie’s war chest of second round picks. Napier is undersized at 6-1, and will turn 23 shortly after the Draft, although I’m still intrigued by his tournament play. His shotmaking and admiralship of this UConn team has vaulted him from a chance at being undrafted to a possible late-first round pick, and there is literally nothing on the table for Sixers at either reserve guard spot right now. Provided that his recent showings aren’t an outlier or a red flag, I think a guy who has nudged 40% on 3FG’s for two straight college seasons and can put up points quickly could squeeze into Brett Brown’s go-go system as a hybrid/tweener bench scorer quite nicely. Oh, and he doesn’t play a lick of defense, either, so it’s a match made in heaven.

Goldwein: Shabazz, for no other reason than that he’s your quintessential Final Four senior point guard; good enough to dominate college competition, but lacking the attributes (height, athleticism) that would have had him declaring for the NBA draft as an underclassman.

Maybe the scouts were wrong, and he’ll end up thriving at the next level. In all likelihood, though, this is his last chance as a star. It’s his final shining moment, if you will.

Share: Shabazz. Scouts will have their eyes on him, and I really think he’s got a place in this league. It’s probably as a two guard, though.

Sunnergren: Julius Randle. I watch college basketball almost exclusively to get a closer look at guys who could make waves in the NBA. And Julius Randle, while he’s disappointed a few analysts with his pedestrian athleticism, could still be that kind of guy.

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