This is a quasi-reaction to Dante’s take on the fast start. Let’s say I disagree to a point.
Usually, among Sixers social media enthusiasts, I am a bit of a pessimist. Although I don’t insist on blowing up the team every year like some, because I actually like to see them win, I generally have tempered expectations. For example, my prediction that the Sixers would win 35 games seems like it will come up short. And I hope it does. I’d rather be wrong in a good way than right here.
With the Sixers facing admittedly weak early competition (although the first 5 and 7 of 12 were road games), the 9-3 start comes with caveats. Namely that they’ve lost close games, faced teams with injured superstars or other important players, and haven’t proven capable of beating really good teams. Their best win came at home versus Indiana, without Danny Granger and George Hill. They’ve ganged up on the likes of Golden State, Phoenix, Sacramento, Toronto, and the haplessly awful Washington Wizards, winning games against each by 20 or more.
And while these dominating performances should be expected of good teams, they haven’t done anything to prove they can hang with the best teams. But don’t blame the Sixers for this – they just haven’t had the opportunity to.
The list of elite NBA teams at the current time is shallow. The consensus, as of now, is that the Heat, Bulls, and Thunder are the three clear favorites in the league – none have seen the Sixers. The Sixers also haven’t played Dallas, Denver, either LA team, Boston, or Orlando. They’ll get Atlanta later this week, but they lost Al Horford earlier this week. So there’s a lot good teams the Sixers have missed.
Despite this, the Sixers have taken care of business. They’ve started 9-3 with 5 opening west coast road games and have a buffer as the season goes along. And I can’t help but shake the feeling that, even if their record worsens, they can still get better.
Why? Because it’s not like everyone has played over his head. While Spencer Hawes is due to regress, Lou Williams has played this well before. Evan Turner still has time to grow, and his start has been encouraging. Elton Brand finally looks to be in game shape after not getting there early on. Nikola Vucevic has been a pleasant surprise who, in my eyes, has earned more playing time. Thaddeus Young is still his ultra-efficient self, even if he’s taken a few more jumpers than we’d like. Andre Iguodala is still all-league on defense, all-inconsistent on offense. And Jrue Holiday‘s been awful (I should have more on this at some point soon).
With Hawes’ excellence and contributions from everyone, the Sixers’ offense has been surprisingly great. And while it may not continue to be awesome, it can certainly remain more than adequate. Last year, the Sixers improved as the season went along and became a mid-pack offense. Adding in the year of experience and continued improvement, a top 10 team is certainly not out of the question.
And that’s all we’ll need, because the Sixers’ biggest strength isn’t their sharing is caring offensive philosophy. It’s their swarming, concept-based defense. They know what they don’t want: shots at the rim or open threes. They’ve learned who to cover and how, when to rotate and when not to. They’ve even gotten acceptable defense from Hawes and Lou. Overall, they’ve given up fewer points per game than all but one team, Chicago. And they lead the league in points allowed/100 possessions, meaning they hold their opponents to fewer points per trip down the floor than any in the league. As their opponents are shooting so poorly from behind the three point line, their opponents’ scoring may dip as it inevitably increases, but this should still be a top 5 defensive team when that resolves. With swarming perimeter defenders (Iguodala and Turner are among the best at their position) and a now adequate interior defense, the Sixers can rely on defense to win games.
Combining their defense (one of the best in the league), youth (7 of 9 main contributors 25 and under), and depth (8 guys averaging 24 minutes and at least 8.8 points), you can see the Sixers will be tough to get rid of. While a 50-win pace is unsustainable, a 42-43 win season doesn’t seem impossible. And you never know: with that youth and defense, they could get even better. I think we’re on the verge of something very exciting, if not championship caliber. Enjoy the ride. I know I will.