Spencer Hawes Has Been Better Than You Think

...though he's only just started to get credit for it.

Coming into the season hampered by a lower back strain, Spencer Hawes had little time to get ready for his 76ers debut. It was natural to think that the Washington big man would start slow. And he did, averaging just 17 minutes per game during the first full month of the season. He wasn't creating for himself offensively, we didn't see that passing ability people were raving about, and there was no defensive skills to speak of. The Samuel Dalembert trade wasn't exactly working out from the get-go.

But once Spence got his legs back, he started performing at a higher level. His reputation as a doughy Jason Smith clone was naggingly present, but the statistics didn't support that. He began rebounding at a higher level and currently sits at the top of the Sixers list of regular players in terms of defensive rebounding percentage and total rebounding percentage. His WS/48 is the highest of his career, as are the rebounding and defensive metrics, all the while with his lowest usage rate and turnover percentage. That's good news.

More Hawesomeness after the jump.

Though his numbers haven't improved by leaps and/or bounds, this is his best year in the NBA. And he's done this with only averaging 21 minutes a night. Take a look at the stats for the games when he plays at least 30 minutes.

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In those 8 games, the Sixers are 6-2, outscoring their opponents by an average of 6 points per game. The turnovers are down and the blocked shots are up. According to 82games, the Sixers have a 63% win percentage in the 757 minutes that the starters are on the floor together. With Hawes on the court, Elton Brand can play a bit further away from the basket, where he thrives in the mid-range, and they still won't be giving up too much on the boards.

In terms of defense, his opponent still out-PER's him by 3.8, but the biggest difference is in the fouling department. Hawes averages 4.2 fouls per 36 minutes, which ranks the highest among Sixers regulars. It's natural that the center would have the highest fouling percentage, but with Hawes it's basically the one figure that is prohibiting him from matching his opponent's production. If he can limit his fouls, he'd be a much improved player. As of now, he's got the most defensive win shares of his career (2.6) and is tied with Brand for the team-lead in defensive rating at 103. Once BP updates their dMULT (presumably after the season), we'll have a better idea for how his defense has statistically improved.

73% of Spencer's baskets are assisted, second to only Jodie Meeks (naturally) among regulars. He takes his shots within the rhythm of the offense and aside from the last couple games where he's gone cold, has had nice touch with his jump shot that forces the defense to gameplan for him along with Elton in the mid-range. He's limited his three-point attempts this year and it's benefited his field goal percentage, which is the highest of his career. For whatever reason, his foul shooting has gone down significantly, but I'll chalk that up to a small sample size and anticipate him improving on that in the coming years.

Depending on the playoff opponent, Spencer's role would change drastically. If the bottle stops spinning at Boston, Hawes will have to spend a good chunk of the series on Nenad Krstic and the unhealthy O'Neals. Against the more athletic Miami Heat, Collins would call on Thaddeus Young to play more minutes to keep pace with them. I'd personally rather see the front court of Hawes/Brand/Young at the same time to see how much pressure they can put on the opposition inside. With Jrue Holiday orchestrating and either Meeks or Iguodala on the wing, that could be an interesting lineup that Doug hasn't tinkered with this year.

Since he's got a qualifying offer next year, it remains to be seen whether he'll be back or not. With the new CBA looming, everything's in jeopardy. Should we want him back? I'd say yes, though the true answer is more complicated than that. He's a solid role player, but if this team is on the up-and-up, he should not be getting more than 20 minutes a night as the first big man off the bench. I'm referring to this team being a legitimate contender -- which cannot happen if Hawes is starting at center. Building through the draft is my first preference, but if there's a trade or free agent market out there from which to grab a franchise center (Hello, Mr. Oden!) I'd be all for that. It's just that with Spencer being counted on to do too much, we won't be able to match up physically with the top tier centers in the East like Dwight Howard, who he'll be matching up with tomorrow night.

But for now, he doesn't deserve the crap he's been taking from sports radio and other mainstream ignorance promoters. He's been better but not terrific on the defensive end and if he can limit his fouls, he'll be a big asset to this team come playoff time and probably next season.

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