No one knew what to expect in the Sixers first pre-season game following the lengthy lockout, but Coach Collins' boys looked like they hadn't missed a beat since we last saw them. From start to finish they manhandled the Washington Wizards on their new court, with their new logo, new uniforms and bona fide stud point guard John Wall. The final score was 103-78, and even that doesn't do the Sixers' dominance justice. Early in the first the Sixers trailed 4-6 after a John Wall pull-up jumper. From then on the Sixers never trailed again and led as many as 40 late in the third quarter.
Speaking of Wall, on this night he wasn't half the point guard Jrue Holiday was. During his 20 minutes of action Jrue not only looked like the best point guard, but the best player on the court. Period. He finished the game with 12 points on 7 shots, 5 assists and 4 rebounds. His only blemish was two turnovers, and that's nit-picking at it's finest.
It wasn't just Holiday however; the Sixers put forth a total team effort and received contributions from all involved. The only player who you could possibly say played poorly, or below his standards, is Andre Iguodala. And 'Dre is the last person Sixers fans should be worried about. He looked healthy, and reports are he's having a great camp. One lackluster pre-season performance is nothing to fret about.
Besides Holiday, the player I – and everyone else – was anxious to see back in action was Evan Turner. The 2010 second overall pick's rookie struggles are well-documented, as his encouraging finish to the season. Rumor had it, ET had a great off-season, working with Hall of Fame "shot doctor" Herb Magee on fixing his jumper and building on the confidence he gained after last year's playoff performance.
Turner finished the game with 16 points (on 13 shots), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and a disappointing 5 turnovers in 30 minutes of action off the bench. More important than the numbers, Turner looked good. He passed the eye test. He looked comfortable and smooth. Were there a few blemishes, sure, with the turnovers leading the way, but he made up for it with a plethora of impressive dribble-drives, crossovers and penetration moves. As for his jumper, the jury is still out. It looked like a work in progress. Some shots looked better than others, while he looked like he reverted to last year's form a few times. But all in all, a successful performance from The Villain.
Everyone else was pretty predictable. Lou, Thad, Brand, Hawes, and Meeks all played relatively well. They all did the things well that they're typically known for. In other words, nothing too noteworthy.
The new faces were a mixed bag. First round pick Nikola Vucevic played 23 minutes without recording a single point or rebound. That's not a good stat if you're seven feet tall. Ironically, the rookie tied for the team-lead in assists with five. With one pre-season game under his belt, I definitely see where the Spencer Hawes comparisons come in.
The last little tidbit here, is the interesting battle between Craig Brackins and Marreese Speights as the first "big man" off the bench. Brackins entered the game earlier than Speights and ran more with the first team/bench. Speights played more minutes, but only because the game was so out of hand in the second half. At this point, I'd give the upper hand to Brackins. He finished with six points on two threes he stroked. Big men that shoot threes don't excite me in the least, but Craig provides an exponential improvement in team basketball IQ than when Speights is on the floor. I'm on record as saying Speights is more talented than Brackins – and I stand by that – but Brackins is clearly the better overall player, and fills a role better than Speights. It's already been rumored this brief off-season that the Sixers are looking to trade Marreese Speights, and if Brackins performs adequately the rest of camp I don't see how Speights remains on the team much longer and/or plays over Brackins at any point.
To kind of sum it up here, the Sixers dominated. Everybody but Iguodala played well. Lou, Thad, Brand, Hawes and Meeks were firing on all cylinders. Turner looked impressive off the bench, and it looks more and more like this is going to be Jrue Holiday's team going forward.
The Sixers next game is Tuesday, December 20, once again against the Washington Wizards. Because of the lockout the pre-season was shortened to two games for the Sixers. One more trial run before the real deal on December 26 against the Portland TrailBlazers. We're going to try and cram a lot of stuff into next week and get this blog rolling and into mid-season form. Bear with myself and the rest of the handsome writers here at Liberty Ballers as we attempt to re-discover our swagger, basketball knowledge, writing skills and ability to entertain again – if we ever had those things in the first place.
Welcome back Sixers, you've been missed. Recap #1: Success.