As the NBA regular season approaches, we preview the upcoming campaign with the “Highs and Lows” system — predicting the respective ceiling and basement for each team.
Added: Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, Darius Songaila, Tony Battie, Craig Brackins, Chris Quinn
Lost: Allen Iverson, Sam Dalembert, Willie Green, Jason Smith, Rodney Carney, Francisco Elson
Ceiling: Atlantic Division 2nd place, fighting for playoffs
An All-Star big man, a gold medal-certified swingman, a rookie with more NCAA Player of the Year trophies than Kareem, a coach who has guided Jordan and Grant Hill during his career, and a second-year point guard who is getting more rave reviews than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. On paper, there’s a lot to like about the Sixers … The backcourt is deep enough with Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala that there’s no room for No. 2 draft pick Evan Turner to crack the starting lineup. The frontcourt is deep enough with Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes and Marreese Speights that Philly could afford to trade the NBA’s second-most prolific shot-blocker since 2003 (Dalembert). First-year coach Doug Collins has the personnel to make a playoff run … Iguodala averaged 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.7 steals last season, but this could actually be his breakout year. If Kevin Durant‘s Team USA experience is being cited as a prologue to his predicted 2010-11 explosion, it should be the same for Iguodala. He was Team USA’s second-best player at times over the summer and its defensive stopper … Brand (13.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg) lost weight over the summer and took more time away from the court than he’s done in the past; he told me over the weekend that the new approach to training will benefit him this season … You can’t find anybody in the Sixers’ organization who doesn’t love Holiday (8.0 ppg, 3.8 apg). Iguodala and Brand have been hyping him up in interviews, and Collins even said Holiday could be a Top-5 point guard in the League this year. For his part, Holiday has already recorded one triple-double in the preseason … Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams, Hawes and Speights are all 23 or younger and still have room to progress into decent contributors, and offseason pickups Songaila and Nocioni will bring an element of toughness that has been missing from the Sixers, even in their most recent affair with Iverson.
Basement: Atlantic Division 4th place, harmless Lottery team
There’s also a lot not to like about the Sixers. Their No. 1 guy, Iguodala, is pretty universally considered a No. 2 in marquee clothing. Their point guard, Holiday, was the youngest player in the NBA last year and is on the verge of being overrated right now. Their go-to big man, Brand, hasn’t sniffed 20-and-10 since 2007, and isn’t exactly lighting it up (10.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 42% FG) this preseason. Their ballyhooed rookie, Turner, has struggled to adjust to the pro game. And their coach, Collins, has never led a team that didn’t have either Jordan or a prime Grant Hill; he’s like the poor coach’s Phil Jackson … Thad Young can be an X-factor in the Sixers either being good or forgettable. But word around Philly is that he’s gotten worse since his rookie year, or has at least plateaued in his development. The same could also be said for Speights … Jason Kapono is one of the best shooters in the League, but he was unable to un-glue himself from the bench on a team that finished in the Bottom-10 in threes made and three-point percentage last season (17 mpg). That’s because when he is on the court, Kapono’s defense is a Peja-level liability … Keeping the frontcourt healthy will be crucial, but Brand has two major injuries on his medical report, Speights missed 20 games last season with a knee injury, and Hawes (back) and Nocioni (ankle) have already been sidelined in the preseason with significant injuries. If Collins has to rely on rookie Craig Brackins, career backup Songaila, and 63-year-old Tony Battie to play major minutes, the Sixers are in trouble.
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10/20 — Minnesota Timberwolves
10/20 — Orlando Magic
10/19 — Oklahoma City Thunder
10/19 — Detroit Pistons
10/15 — Golden State Warriors
10/12 — Chicago Bulls
10/12 — San Antonio Spurs
10/5 — Toronto Raptors
10/1 — Sacramento Kings
9/28 — Atlanta Hawks
9/27 — Portland Trail Blazers