Blazersedge contributor Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. We begin in the Atlantic Division.
2012-2013 record: 34-48, No. 4 in Atlantic Division, No. 9 in Eastern Conference
Roster additions: Darius Morris, Royce White, Tony Wroten Jr., Michael Carter-Williams (Rookie, 11th overall), Nerlens Noel (Rookie, 6th overall)
Roster subtractions: Andrew Bynum, Jrue Holiday, Justin Holiday, Royal Ivey, Charles Jenkins, Shelvin Mack, Jeremy Pargo, Maalik Wayns, Damien Wilkins, Dorell Wright, Nick Young
The Philadelphia 76ers have got to be considered one of the strong favorites to finish with the worst record during the 2013-2014 NBA season, and that's exactly how the front office wants it. New GM Sam Hinkie came in and cleaned house, trading All-Star Jrue Holiday, a 22-year-old point guard still on the upswing of his young career. Hinkie netted the sixth pick in the 2013 draft, Nerlens Noel, and a conditional 2014 pick from the New Orleans Pelicans in the deal.
The plan here is clearly to lose as many games as possible, while developing a few rookies and giving some other young players extended playing time to see what they can do on an NBA court. The Sixers brought in new coach Brett Brown from the Spurs, who was an assistant under Gregg Popovich for several seasons. When scouring the roster, it appears the contest for "best player on the 76ers" is between Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young.
Let that sink in for a second.
Turner and Young are both good players, no doubt. Still, a team with them as its two best players figures to lose a lot of ball games. Fortunately for 76ers fans, Turner has improved in each of his three seasons and still has room for growth. With the kind of minutes he'll get on this roster, his numbers will almost certainly continue to trend upward.
Young put almost 15 points per game last season, along with almost eight rebounds. Lavoy Allen should back him up and get real minutes. If Brown decides to max out playing time for his most talented players, Young could potentially have a 20/10 year. However, Hinkie has made it clear that wins are the enemy right now, so the minutes for Young could taper off as the season progresses. He's played six consistent seasons, so the Sixers know what they have with him. Turner will probably still command more minutes, as he still has something to prove to an organization that needs to decide if he's worthy of a future contract extension.
Rookie Michael Carter-Williams, a 6'6'' point guard out of Syracuse, will have the keys to the offense immediately, with only Tony Wroten Jr. nipping at his heels for playing time. Carter-Williams didn't spread the floor well in college with his outside shot, but he did manage over seven assists per game. If his teammates can connect on the shots he creates for them, he may have a decent year passing the ball - at least for a rookie's standards. Either way, the player on the receiving end of the ball has to put it in the basket for the passer to register an assist, and this probably isn't the roster you want to be on if you're trying to rack up the dimes.
Nerlens Noel is probably the most intriguing piece on the 76ers. In his lone season of college ball, he dominated the paint on the defensive end, blocking 4.4 shots and snaring almost 10 rebounds per contest. Several months before the 2013 draft, Noel was considered by most experts to be the likely No. 1 overall pick. He then went on to tear his ACL, an injury that played a role in his slipping to the Pelicans at No. 6 and one that could possibly require him to sit out the first half of his rookie year. His limited offensive repertoire and his lanky frame will also be huge roadblocks for him as he makes his way back from injury against NBA bigs. He'll probably struggle in his first season, but Hinkie and the rest of the organization are banking on him to become the dominant defensive center many projected him to be before he tore his ACL.
Spencer Hawes is a legit role-playing center but he has probably neared his potential as a player in his first six seasons. He'll score in the low-teens and pull down about eight boards, as expected, but his minutes may dissipate following a successful rehab stint by Noel. Former back-to-back NBA Slam Dunk Contest winner Jason Richardson is on the depth chart, but is coming off an injury and has shown his age in recent seasons, averaging career-lows in field goal percentage and scoring last year. The Sixers don't have much to gain by playing him at this point, so he'll most likely play the "locker room veteran" role this season and looks to be mostly a non-factor on the court.
The defense looks to be among the league's worst again this season. Last year, Philly didn't really do anything that well on defense. They were top-ten in opponents points in the paint, and that's about it. Consider the player overhaul, a new coach and a roster without any proven top-level talent and the fact that this year is all about losing games and player development. That combination doesn't usually translate to many victories on the defensive end of the court, either. Unless Brown can motivate this roster to somehow collectively play above their heads and maximize their defensive potential, expect them to get scored on. A lot.
Even if this team somehow manages to play anywhere near .500 basketball - not very likely, regardless - Brown will be expected to do what he can to ensure the team loses as many games as possible. By the end of the season, expect to see mostly young, unproven talent on the floor, soaking up any minutes previously occupied by proven veterans. It may be a bit ugly to watch at times (remember the 2005-2006 Blazers?), but if all goes well, Hinkie will have secured a ton of ping pong balls in the 2014 draft lottery and he'll have a better idea of who he wants to keep on the roster heading into the 2014-15 season.