As of this writing the Sixers are in the 7th spot in the East and would match-up with Miami in the first round of the playoffs if the season were to end today. They are 3 full games behind the Knicks, but have a better scoring differential and a better recent record. They are only 2 games ahead of Indiana, which is currently in the 9th spot. Thus right now the Sixers are closer to being out of the playoffs than catching the Knicks.
Heading into the playoffs should be a conscious choice. The Sixers shouldn't just let it happen unless it fits in with their long-term strategic plan, which is to win a Championship or three.
In spite of their recent improvement, we shouldn't have any illusions about their potential this season. Their inability to win close games says that they're not a smart team, or one with the chops to win a tight contest. The teams that win consistently are good in close games, they know how to attack the basket and force turnovers when the pressure is on. This takes confidence, a trust in your team-mates and a plan.
This team still lacks a go-to player that the offense can revolve around. It is the greatest disappointment that such a player hasn't been found, because it appears there is one, if only the coach would give him the minutes.
If Speights were to get 35 min. a game, a couple of things would happen, the team would score a few more points because Mo would be taking them instead of Hawes and the others, and his higher shooting percentage would push up their average. They would also probably give up another bucket or two as a result of his less than stellar defense, but this isn't a problem if it is offset by increased scoring.
I rate teams based on their point differential, that is the difference between their average score and the average of the teams opponents. Over time, this is the best way to gauge a teams actual strength as I believe it shows up in the score. Right now Miami is the best team, based on their differential, at 7.7 points a game. Boston, San Antonio and LA are right behind them and only a point per contest separates them all. This pretty much makes it a dead heat between these four teams for the title, with Chicago and Orlando also putting up respectable point differentials.
Our Sixers are currently the 13th best team in the NBA with a + .6 per contest, just ahead of Utah and New York with .3 averages and .8 of a point behind the 12th best team, Memphis.
A difference of .3 per game isn't significant enough to say conclusively that the Sixers are better than Utah or New York. Such a difference could be explained by the difference in opponents. It looks like on balance the East is the better conference this season, and therefore a harder schedule for the Knicks and Sixers than the Jazz. Right now it's clear that Memphis is a bit better than the Sixers, and improving their differential by a point or more would be very significant.
My guess is that by playing Speights more we get enough of a boost on offense that our scoring differential would increase by over a point, which is really a significant increase. Because a number of our games were close losses, I also think that playing Speights more would put us on the winning side of those scores.
Remember, there is a big difference between what a team scores and surrenders against the league average and playoff teams. Under these conditions all teams perform somewhat worse then their average, showing that their is an effect on both the offense and defense. The teams that can perform well against the better defensive teams are the ones to watch out for in the playoffs.
Basically there are two ways to win, Outscore your opponent, or hold him to a lower score than you. In both cases, the end result is your team scoring more points. In one scenario, you are trying to score every time down the floor and score quickly, more or less running away from your opponent and putting pressure on them to try and keep up with you. Some teams aren't built to score a lot of points, and this can turn a game where you would normally be at a disadvantage into a win because your team can overwhelm their defense. The other way to win is stopping the other team from scoring. You do that by limiting shots, not allowing 2nd or third chance possessions, and stealing the ball. No team can win without making it a bit tougher than normal for the other team to score. But good strategy is to play the game that emphasizes your strengths on hides your deficiencies!
The best way to value a player is to see how he affects both your offense and defense together. If the team scores more as a result and gives up more as well, the question is by how much. I would think that Speighs would give the team enough of a boost that their average would be above 100, instead of 97.77, and while I also think other teams might score a bit more they would still end up scoring less than 100 on average.
The Sixers can still make or miss the playoffs so they still have time to figure out which is in their best interests. The new deal is pretty much killing big trades IMO, so if they're going to get better it will have to be by a new draft pick. I want to see how much better or worse Speights makes the team by getting significant minutes. This is really the only major question I have about this team.
I'm almost certain he would make the team better, but I'm not sure how much. Yes, the Sixers can make the playoffs, but if they can't win even by playing Speights all the minutes he can handle, it's better to go for a good pick. I don't think he's enough to make us better than the elite teams, but enough that with another good Center we could compete. If we do anything this season, it should be to see what is possible with who we have. If that causes us to make the playoffs, I'd live with it, but if I'm right about their potential, then they should conspire to lose.