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May 13 2014

Feeling Left Out Of the 2014 Postseason

The ‘to tank or not to tank’ debate bombarded Sixers World for the last 15 months or so, and thank god it’s over. Hopefully forever.

The Sam Hinkie Plan™ prevailed and thanks to a mostly torturous (though occasionally exciting) 63-loss campaign, Philadelphia has 199 of the 1,000 ping pong ball combinations in the upcoming lottery. If the Sixers nail their two first-round picks, sign all the right free agents, and stay healthy, they’ll have a championship in 2021. Or something like that. The future looks a bit brighter, because they stunk this year. We suspect.

But let’s not ignore the opportunity cost of this tanked season. The Sixers could have been buyers last summer, taking advantage of their cap-conscious competitors by investing in a Monta Ellis or an Al Jefferson. In a weak Eastern Conference – with a good coach, and the right, cheap supporting cast – that’s all it might have taken to become a threat against every non-Heat team.

The Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards – franchises laughed at for their shortsightedness – are enjoying extended playoff runs. The Nets sold whatever was left of their future assets for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett  (and Joe Johnson, the year before). The Wizards acquired the pricey Nene Hilario last season and used a first-round pick to land Marcin Gortat before this season. Their moves have worked out. So far.

The Sixers sold all their assets, leading to predictably lousy season. That’s OK. It was by design. They had no intention of sneaking into the NBA playoffs, which are anything but a crapshoot, unlike the postseasons for the MLB,  NHL, and (single-elimination) NFL.  (Hey! There’s actually math supporting this, via the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective.) So, why show up if you can’t win?

Still, there’s something to be said for getting into the tournament. I’m located in Washington, D.C., and I’ve heard more Wizards talk in the past month than I had in the past year. Yes, Washington trails the Pacers 3-1 and is all but finished, and if they do miraculously win the next three, they’re not beating the Heat. Not to mention, the talented John Wall-Bradley Beal core can only take the cap-strung Wizards so far. I know it, you know it, Zach Lowe knows it, and the kids wearing the John Wall shirseys playing pickup basketball know it.

But that doesn’t make their postseason run any less enjoyable.

The Sixers could have been the Wizards. (Again, because the Eastern Conference is shitty). In fact, they were two seasons ago, when they beat the Bulls (sans Derrick Rose and with a hobbled Joakim Noah), then took the Boston Celtics to seven games. That Doug Collins squad – with Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, and Evan Turner in the starting lineup – was almost playing in June. Hell, it was one LeBron James freak injury from making the NBA finals. THE NBA FINALS.

Point is, it’s fun having a team to cheer for in the NBA playoffs, whether or not that team is going anywhere. Also, shit happens; underdogs can pull off upsets, and stars get hurt. There’s value in simply getting into the tournament. But by sacrificing the 2013-14 season, the Sixers robbed their fan base of that potential playoff run. Maybe it’d have lasted a week, maybe a month. This blogger would have been enjoyed every second of it.

Will Andrew Wiggins or whatever rookie they land make this lost season worth it in the long-term? Possibly. Probably. But who the hell knows. Nineteen-year-olds are unpredictable. Free agents are too. The only certainty is that the Wizards are playing tonight, the Nets are playing tomorrow, and the Sixers are playing the lottery next Tuesday. I’ll be watching all three.

  • Jim

    I couldn’t disagree more. As a sixers fan, I am much more excited about the possibility of getting a top 3 pick than I would be at watching them making the playoffs with no chance at winning a championship. I want to watch a championship caliber team and they are building it the right way.

  • robbybonfire23

    Monta Ellis? Had we signed him it would have held up this team’s progress for the duration. Come on, he’s a plug and a ball hog. Too much of this just looking at PPG and rebounds stuff. That is for “game wrap” fodder from the wire services. We come here to get the real skinny, not the overpriced FA, game totals hyperbole.

    I am “down” on Monta Ellis because he had a game in mid-season wherein he scored 21 points on something like 6-17 shooting, to go with one assist in 40 minutes of playing time, and, incredibly, he was named “player of the game.” Ellis was by far the worst starter for Milwaukee, a year ago, on a team that wasn’t nearly so decrepit as this year’s Bucks team. I don’t even bother with Monta Ellis stats, any more, he just pulls his team down. These guys who can’t shoot and won’t dish off just about ruin the game of basketball for me – not to mention the pothole deficit they put their team in, game by game.

  • robbybonfire23

    Really happy that Wiggins will be gone in the first two picks, but Julius Randall at number three? Not bad but no more than a “Ho Hum” pick, and definitely not a franchise cornerstone. We should trade up for the number one pick – Embiid, not that that would be easy, but, expensive as it would be, it would be worth it.

    • Evan

      Do you really believe there is only one franchise player in this entire draft? There are a lot of really good players, even if it might be over hyped.

      • robbybonfire23

        Evan –

        Of course there will be surprises and disappointments. Look at Cleveland’s #1 pick of a year ago. So far, just awful. I really like three players in this draft above all others. Embiid could be a franchise player. Exum and Kyle Anderson stand out from the rest, to me, by the difference between night and day. Some others could join the ranks of elite players coming out of this draft, let’s go with Vonleh and Randall as the leaders in that category.

        My other main point about this draft is that I do not see it as anything special, after my top-5 mentioned, above. 76ers are projected, at NBADRAFT.net to take Gary Harris at #10. That’s a near Titanic pick. I am not on the same page with that site in many respects, their ranking Kyle Anderson at #17, behind the Hood’s and LaVine’s of the world is dunce cap crazy.

        The litmus test for us Philly fans is the way our G.M. goes? If he grabs Exum over Parker and Randall, I will be truly impressed. If he takes, say Parker and Harris, OMG, I will not be anticipating a championship banner flying even close to Philadelphia in the next decade. Guess we will just have to wait a while to find out….

        • Kevin

          Assuming Cleveland doesn’t take Wiggins no.1 overall, or the 76ers don’t try and move a couple of spots to get the player they covet the most, if Milwaukee chose Wiggins 2nd it would be more off of projections than a reactionary pick. Projections by most every NBA scout/insider have him as a Great player in 5 years.

          Kobe Bryant wasn’t always Kobe Bryant. He couldn’t shoot when he entered the league. He struggled to get minutes his rookie year, and pretty much shot poorly and did nothing
          else when he was on the court. He posted lines of 7.5PPG, 2RPG, 1.3APG, 42% FG’s. In his 2nd year he progressed, 3rd year he progressed further, and so on and so forth. So by his 5th year in the league he was averaging 28.5PPG (46% FG’s), 6RPG, 5APG,and throwing in 1.5 Steals for good measure.

          The point being that it took time for him to become the great player he is. While this is no way guarantees Wiggins
          will do the same (They are even more players that had high hopes and “potential” that never became more than bench fillers), the fact that this is what many people expect to happen with him is why so many teams would be happy to land him in the draft. Especially on a team like the 76ers, where he has plenty of time to grow and they are not in a rush to win since they could potentially lost next years 1st if they were to somehow sneak into the playoffs in the weak eastern conference.

          I will be following closely over this next month. My one wish is that the 76ers select Exum over Parker if that is the choice that is staring them in the face.

          • robbybonfire23

            Nice to be on the same page with someone, here. Thank you for that, Kevin. I will say that whatever Kobe’s flaws as an 18 year-old, I had great trepidation at the time re our taking A.I., instead of Kobe. You talk about long-term value, even then Kobe had it all over A.I.

            We also agree that Wiggins is a long-term project in the making. I don’t expect him to have much impact, for quite awhile, if ever.
            He needs to rev up both his shooting and his play-making. That figures to take two – three years. Then, we will see what we have, here.

            So right you are re Exum over Parker. I don’t have stats re Exum, but how meaningful would they be, anyway? Parker is yet another “athletic” player with a weak shooting (or should I say “scoring rate of production”) game, to go with a truly listless floor game.

            As of now I have high hopes for our G.M., that he can see through the smoke rings and cut to the real value in this draft while bypassing all the over-hyped sludge out there.

        • JulianW

          Again beating the “Wiggins is Selfish!” drum…and again I’ll say that you provide no evidence for this assertion other than saying “Well, Wiggins didn’t get a lot of assists…” Don’t defame a young man if you can’t back that claim up with something other than a personal opinion.

          As far as Exum goes, I think that he will be a great player in the NBA. I just am hesitant to see how he’ll work on the Sixers. He’s a ball dominant guard, and we already have one of those in our Rookie of the Year. Maybe they can take turns being the distributor, maybe one takes a backseat and plays the “2″ more than the point, but also maybe it ends up like the situation in Cleveland. Irving and Waiters both need the ball in their hands to thrive, and it has caused drama and failure as a team. I wouldn’t like to see that happen to our team, but again I wouldn’t be disappointed if they took Exum with that third pick. He could be a great player.

          • robbybonfire23

            This is old hat, where the dialogue here is concerned, but I truly rest my case by making the observation that Wiggins averaged 1 1/2 assists per 40 minutes playing time with JOEL EMBIID, and his high FG percentage on his team. That Wiggins would bypass Joel Embiid in the Kansas offensive scheme is derelict, beyond defensibility, as an indictment of the crass selfishness of this misguided-priorities young man. You would have thought Embiid was Spencer Hawes or somebody like that, in the middle.

            I am sorry, Julian, but his young man has a lot of growing up to do, and ignoring that reality doesn’t make his a better, team-oriented basketball player, or a good, rather than a mediocre FG percentage shooter.

            My hopes for this draft for our local team is as follows: 1. We do NOT obtain Wiggins; and 2. We also stay the hell away from Parker and that career journeyman, at best, Gary Harris. Any combination of Exum, Randall, Vonleh, or the vastly under-rated Kyle Anderson would make my day and boost this team’s stock quite dramatically.

            How about you, Julian, who do you want, who do you not want? I am open to suggestion, logic, and the reasoning of others, along these lines.

          • JulianW

            I see we disagree on Wiggins, and will probably never come to a consensus. None of his coaches or fellow players give any indication that he’s a selfish player, or that he’s a headcase. I think you are unfairly labeling a young man who you admittedly don’t have much experience watching play live, instead simply looking at his stat sheets. Stats are great but they can’t always be the deciding factor, but I don’t think I can convince you of this…

            Better talking point is what I’d like to see the Sixers do now. Well my list goes as follows:

            1) Draft Wiggins. This has been my choice for a long time now, and I’m disappointed that we might not get him. He has great defensive ability already to go along with his high-ceiling athleticism (which I know you hate). His floor is Andre Iguodala, and his ceiling can be as high as (insert name of MVP-candidate).

            2) If Wiggins is not there, then I guess I’d like either Exum or Embiid. I have hesitations with both players. Embiid has back issues, and we saw how injuries ended Greg Oden’s career before it ever got started. I don’t want to bank the future on someone with questionable health status. Exum looks like an impressive physical specimen, but we don’t know how well he’ll play against top flight competition. I also don’t know how well another ball-dominant guard will work alongside MCW. Regardless, I’d be very pleased if the Sixers took either one of these young men.

            3) Parker is last among my top tier prospects, but that doesn’t mean I am totally against him. I’m a Duke fan and I watched a lot of their play last year. Parker was out of position almost all the time I watched. Duke played a small-ball lineup that forced Parker into the 4 or 5 spot because of his height. He’s not a PF (definitely not a C), and needs to be free to spread the floor and utilize his advanced ability to score the ball from anywhere. Sticking him in the low post wastes his talents, and I don’t think the Sixers would do that to him. I have no support for his defensive ability, however. He’ll need to work on that to become more than your average starter in the NBA.

            So there’s my wish list for that third overall pick. I am just as interested with what they’ll do with the 10th pick though. I’d really like to see them put a package together and move into the 8th spot the Kings currently occupy. We’d get a shot at one of Randle/Smart/Gordon/Vonleh with that pick, all of which fit very nicely with the Sixers lineup. It’s the difference between getting a quality starter or a bench role player (what I envision for Harris/Hood/Lavine) with our second first rounder.

          • robbybonfire23

            It is o.k. for people to disagree, Julian. In fact, I see it as being healthy, because we all have a unique and different perspective upon what we are seeing and how to best evaluate it. Down the road, as regards Wiggins, you could be right and I could be dead-wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time with egg on my face, for me.

            I am a stat guy, in basketball now, whereas I used to be a stat guy, called a “sabermetrician” in baseball, for a couple decades. Sabermetrics have revolutionized the way baseball is played, and how players are evaluated. The Boston Red Sox, we can agree, have done quite well in the Sabermetrics era, being among the first organizations to go that route in their evaluation process, and benefiting greatly from hiring Bill James, “The Father of Sabermetrics.”

            Transposing high-level metrics to basketball is challenging and fun, and I acknowledge I am a quorum of ONE, at this time. Doesn’t really matter to me if no one else jumps on board, I am not writing a book on the subject. lol. My entire take, here, is to look at these players and related issues from a different perspective than does the media and the scouting combine, for all the proprietary value I can take out of that.
            – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -
            I do have a question re Wiggins and his team’s final game of the season. Why is it his teammates were, apparently, keeping the ball away from him? He got just six shots from the floor, all night, with Embiid on the sidelines, and of course had a miserable game. This leads me to believe the public pronouncements by Kansas people re Wiggins “Being a team player,” as his coach insisted, are a cover-up of some internal dissension, in that camp.

          • JulianW

            I take his lack of production in that final game more as a result from Stanford keying in on stopping him on defense. He did not have Embiid to occupy defenders and thus Stanford made a smart basketball move and devoted guys to guarding him as KU’s biggest threat. KU in response elected to get the ball to more open and available players. It’s not so much that they were keeping the ball away from him as it was they were trying to score from more open players.

            I don’t think that players freeze each other out because they don’t like one another. These guys want to win, and if you have a team mate that is open and can score they will pass it to him. Petty differences get set aside in the hyper-competitive atmosphere of major sports. Look at Kobe Bryant, I bet his team mates hate his guts from his demanding and abrasive personality. I don’t think they’d get away with freezing him out in a game though, and probably wouldn’t want to.

          • robbybonfire23

            Julian -

            If Stanford was double-teaming Wiggins, Kansas should have won the game with lots to spare. All big scorers, let’s start with Lebron and Durant, have to overcome tight defensive guarding to have their double-digit games in the major categories.

            We are not insiders, so surely there is much behind the scenes to this story we are missing. Kobe demonstrates the quality of leadership by example on his team, racking up solid assist totals and throughout his career being a high percentage shooter, both key indicators that he is both productive and an unselfish team player. Wiggins has yet to demonstrate these qualities. I doubt that Wiggins is the next coming of Kobe Bryant.

          • JulianW

            No, Wiggins may not be the next Kobe Bryant, I was just using an example of how teammates may hate one another but still work together on the court. A player’s team mates will not consciously freeze out their talented teammate, unless that team mate is shut down (likely here) or they are told to defer to others by their coach (also likely, but in my opinion not as much). That’s the point I was trying to make.

            And I think for someone who champions statistics so much, you are making an awful lot of one game here. Yes Wiggins had a bad game, as 18 year-olds can sometimes have. Unfortunately that bad game came in a high-stakes single-elimination tournament. I don’t think that this one game is a tell-all of his playing skill, just as I don’t think his 41-point 8-rebound performance against West Virginia is indicative what he’ll give every night next year. All his last game shows us is that he needs some growth still to maximize his talents, something that shouldn’t surprise any of us. I think he’ll get that development in Philadelphia, and his present skills combined with his projected abilities are worth any wait in my opinion.

            In summary, I don’t really think it’s a worthwhile effort to read too much into one game here. Small sample sizes can be misleading…

          • robbybonfire23

            My kingdom in exchange for us not taking any component of the Wiggins, Parker, Harris axis.

      • robbybonfire23

        Evan -
        You make my point, exactly, and that is GOOD players are NOT franchise players. Health concerns notwithstanding, to me Joel Embiid IS this draft. The rest are window dressing. Do you realize that Embiid graded better, overall, in college than did Noel and Cousins? And this with Wiggins NOT getting the ball to him! Believe it.