Enemy: Philadelphia 76ers
Coach: Doug Collins
Potential Starting 5: Jrue Holliday, Jason Richardson, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Andrew Bynum
Other Key Players: Thaddeus Young, Nick Young, Lavoy Allen, Kwame Brown, Dorrell Wright
Threats: Well coached, Smooth ballhandlers, Interior size, Versatility
Grizzlies 2011-12 Record vs.: 1-0
Clap your hands, everybody, for Philadelphia 76ers. Stomp your feet, everybody… I apologize, but if you listened to this song that they play in the arena, you would understand just how darn catchy it is! My girlfriend lived in Delaware for the past few years, which resulted in a bunch of trips to the Wells Fargo Center in Philly. I’m sure I’m committing a few New York cardinal sins in saying this, but few NBA teams and fan bases deserve success more than the one representing Philadelphia. The organization does a great job of facilitating a strongly engaging environment for its fans of all ages, while the fan bases is one of the more knowledgeable and passionate groups among the league. The 76ers were undoubtedly the “cool” team to like during the Allen Iverson era, and fell off almost instantaneously after shipping him off to Detroit. However, over the past few seasons, accelerated by the hiring of Doug Collins, the Sixers have made great strides in their crusade back to relevance. With a strong showing in last season’s playoffs, they are now out to prove that they are for real. For comparison’s sake, though aided by injuries to Derrick Rose and Avery Bradley, their finishing point was equivalent to that of our defining campaign in 2011. While they enjoyed moderate success last year, they took a bit of a risk in the offseason by shaking things up and shipping off franchise mainstay, Andre Iguodala. Of course, the return from the trade has vast potential to lead them to something much greater. Andrew Bynum is surely a mercurial talent, but for each of his issues, there’s a layer of talent to back it up. In today’s NBA, we are constantly told that the “franchise center” is a dying breed. Well after last season I am convinced that if his injury troubles are truly behind him, the 24-year-old Bynum will fight that notion. Stepping out of Kobe Bryant’s shadow, the spotlight will be on AB. His inconsistencies will be magnified, and his high points will be showcased. It is up to him to put it together.
Well for Bynum to put it together, he’s going to first develop a good rapport with Coach Collins. Collins does not stand for any foolin’ around. Just ask our own Mo Speights… despite obviously being a talented player as he has displayed in Memphis, Mo got in Collins’ doghouse and couldn’t even push his way above Lavoy Allen on the depth chart. As you would expect, the Sixers coach is saying all the right things, expressing optimism in their ability to coexist. He may be tough, but he does a great job of relating to his players. Similarly, with the offense more than likely to be constructed around him, Bynum should have little to complain about. As long as he puts the work in towards becoming productive on both ends of the floor, instead of trying to be the next Ray Allen, the dynamics should work out just fine. Contrary to the way I’m making it seem, Philly brought in some other important pieces as well. In the same trade that net them their new franchise center, they brought Jason Richardson along. Surely not another franchise-changing acquisition, but in light of giving up Iguodala, J-Rich figures to soften the blow of the loss on the wings. Defensively, his production is nowhere near the wheelhouse of Iguodala’s, but his experience should prove to be stabilizing nonetheless. Additionally, the revamp of the wing spots is rounded out with the addition of sharpshooters Nick Young and Dorrell Wright. Outside shooting had been a bit of an issue for the Sixers, but heading forward it figures to shift 180 degrees into a strength. This fits well with the new identity they aim to forge, in the direction of an inside-out team. Despite being pushed out of position, this figures to actually bode well for the newly re-signed Spencer Hawes, as Bynum taking the paint allows him to step out a bit and show off his excellent shooting ability for a guy of his size. I really like their potential as a tandem in the frontcourt. The returning young guns, Thad Young, Jrue Holiday, and Evan “The Villain” Turner embody the young hardworking identity that the organization has been trending towards. To me, Young is extremely effective as a Dante Cunningham-type with more talent, Holiday is very Mike Conley-like and on the verge of breaking out into something greater, and The Villain may have some of the smoothest moves with the ball that I have ever seen. With the drastic shake of the roster this is a time of transition, and no matter how well or poorly Bynum plays, the development of this core group will continue to be a paramount indicator of how far this franchise has come.
I’ve had a lot of good things to say about the Sixers, but if I had to say something on the flip side it would have to weigh heavily on the loss of their spark plug, fan favorite Lou Williams. Williams is a very crafty scorer, and a surprisingly effective defender. He embodied the sixth man role to its capacity, and his ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands will be sorely missed. What this means for our Grizzlies when we play them is that this type of matchup is one in which I believe our new acquisition Jerryd Bayless will get to show off his chops. When the second units strut out onto the floor, Philadelphia figures to have no answer for our dynamic guard-play. Similarly to the way we got burned whenever we covered our eyes and trotted Jeremy Pargo to the court, the Sixers are going to have some issues watching leads evaporate when the starters need to grab a breather. We also happen to have a man by the name of Speights on our bench, who will surely be hungry to show out against his former ‘mates. As long as Marc can match Bynum nearly blow for blow, and our guards close out on their shooters, we should be able to take care of business. Bear in mind though, big things are going on in Philadelphia, and while we may not see an immediate impact on the bottom line this year, their future is very bright. It’s an exciting time to be a fan of their team.