How the Sixers beat the odds and assembled a winning team

In this current NBA landscape there seems to be a sort of divide between a few “prestige” franchises and the rest of the NBA. These “prestige” franchises have something which makes them “destination spots”. These destination spots are not only places that NBA superstars want to play, they are places that other NBA stars will take less money to play, they are places that NBA stars will call other NBA stars and say “Let’s me and you play there”. These prestige franchises include: Boston, New York, the LA teams, and Miami. They’ve won 7 of the last 12 NBA titles.

The prestige franchises are not set in stone. I personally believe that the Celtics, Knicks, and Lakers will always be in this category because it means something to be a Celtic, Knick, or Laker. The Clippers and Miami have put themselves in this category by offering: 1. A nice location with warm weather and night clubs 2. A dominant star whom other stars want to play with. New Jersey is trying to fight their way in with a Russian billionaire owner, Deron Williams, and a move to Brooklyn. If Dwight Howard takes the bait we can officially welcome them. We can identify other franchises that could with the right moves put themselves in this category. The Bulls also seemingly have what it takes.

For the other 25 or so teams who are trying to avoid being the “Washington Generals” (as Dan Gilbert puts it) there are a couple ways to go about becoming contenders. Let’s review the strategies:

-STRATEGY #1: Get Really Bad and Really Lucky: The easiest way by far. Have a really bad year and get a high amount of ping pong balls. And then hope that: 1. You get the earliest pick possible 2. It’s a year that one or two franchise-making players enter the draft. Then sign a good coach and solid role players. Examples; Spurs w. Duncan and Rockets w. Olajuwon (Both first overall picks). Currently the Thunder and Bulls have realistic shots to win a championship using this strategy. The Wizards and Cavs are hoping for John Wall and Kyrie Irving to help them reach this level as well.

-STRATEGY #2: Get Really Bad and Really Lucky 2.0: This comes when you do everything from the previous strategy and as a huge bonus the player you draft is charismatic enough to make other NBA players want to join him. D.Wade is the prime example of this as the Heat not only got a superstar but a superstar who Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James thought highly enough of to share the spotlight. Blake Griffin apparently fits the bill too although it is more about his play on the court than this socializing talent. As we see from the Clippers and Heat, when this strategy is executed at a suitable location it can vault franchises into the prestige group for at least the short term. The Bulls have everything in place to make the jump (great city/superstar/history of success) but their star Rose, while every bit the player Wade is, gets below average marks in his ability to woo other superstars. Mabye he’ll make that a priority in the next offseason.

-JUST BE RIGHT (A LOT): This is by far the least desirable strategy. This strategy has rarely produced champions. The teams forced to turn to this strategy are teams that either: Haven’t been quite bad enough to have a shot at a franchise-changer or got a very high pick in a draft where the franchise-changing players just weren’t there. The only way these teams can even get a sniff of a championship is to “be right” for a prolonged period of time. Call it luck or call it smarts but Joe Dumars made a collection of good decisions (Darko notwithstanding) that led to a championship for Detroit. Whether they were lucky or smart to sign Ben Wallace is as irrelevant as asking if we were lucky or smart to draft Lou Williams. All that matters is both of these decisions added value to the franchise nobody could have predicted.

I know this is the most premature article that’s ever been written. The Sixers loss to the Nets on Jan. 25th proves that their not a lock for anything, let alone championship contenders. However the Sixers at the time I’m writing this are leading the Atlantic Division and a half game out of the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference. And they have done it through the seldom successful “Be Right” strategy.

After the jump: A look back at how the Sixers have built this current roster. It has involved many good decisions (some smart, some possibly lucky) but they’ve all played into the Sixers success this year:


The Sixers did best not to outthink themselves here. In a lottery full of potential land-mines in the form of Robert Swift, Rafael Araujo, and Luke Jackson, the Sixers drafted a guy who had gone to college and seemed like a safe bet to be an effective NBA player. In my rating I have Al Jefferson and Josh Smith rated ahead of Iguodala but those were unproven guys out of high school, who are still somewhat unproven as to their ability to help a team win. I would say if the Sixers could do this draft again, they wouldn’t change a thing.

2005 NBA Draft: Lou Williams. OVR PICK: 45th CURRENT RANKING: 7th

Lou Williams is just gravy. The 175 pound, shoot-first player, who skipped college with no hope to be a first round pick (and get that guaranteed money that comes with it) who somehow has become one of the Sixers most valuable players. His 36-minute career averages of 18-3-5 actually compare favorably to Jamal Crawford and Jason Terry, two other examples of skinny, shoot-first point guards. And like those two guys you forgive the sometimes poor shot selection and tendency to faze out his teammates from time-to-time. You forgive because at any moment he could get hot and starting raining high degree-of-difficulty shots that completely demoralize the other team because they know that there’s nothing they can do.

Sidebar: Monta Ellis went 40th this same draft so although Lou Williams is the Sixers best 2nd rounder since Mo Cheeks in 1978 he’s not even the best undersized, shoot-first, straight out of high-school guard in his own class. Tough break for Lou.

2007 NBA Draft: Thaddeus Young. OVR PICK: 12th CURRENT RANKING: 4th

Although I rate him as 4th (Behind Durant, Marc Gasol, and Al Horford) based on stats, when I watch him play I’m not entirely convinced Thad isn’t the second best player in this draft. He seemingly can score from anywhere and this year has turned himself into a great defender (Tip of the hat to Doug Collins). On top of it all he comes off the bench without complaint. After a draft I remember hearing a lot of: “What we drafted another small forward?” and “We need rebounding, the pick should’ve been Al Thornton”. Drafting Lou might have been dumb luck but drafting Thad was a great, great decision by the front office.


In the offseason prior to the 2007-08 season the Sixers signed Elton Brand to a 5-year contract worth about $80 million. He promptly started just 23 games in his first season with the Sixers and just 57 in his second. At the time he was probably considered one of the worst contracts in the NBA. Many Sixer fans, including myself, had to be feeling the same way: that we had again been swindled into paying big money for a star who no longer had it (Chris Webber).

Then last year he began to produce. He averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds and shot over 50 percent from the field. Although he hasn’t produced the 20-10 seasons he routinely did for the Clippers in earlier in his career, I would argue this has more to do with situation than talent. With those Clippers teams he averaged almost 40 minutes and 16 shots a game. With the Sixers it’s been more like 30 minutes and 12 shots per game. When you adjust his stats for that he has been just as effective as he was in his earlier years.

More importantly it’s difficult to imagine this Sixers team being successful without Brand’s high-post scoring, defense, and rebounding. If he continues to stay healthy and produce at this level for the rest of this season we can official consider his contract a good signing, something that many of us couldn’t have predicted two years ago.

2009 NBA DRAFT- Jrue Holiday OVR PICK: 17th CURRENT RANK: 7th

Another draft the Sixers absolutely aced. Holiday has outproduced over half the players picked in front of him. One could argue for Ty Lawson and Darren Collison being better pure point guards. But their size will mean they are always liabilities to get posted up by bigger guards. At 6-4 Holiday’s size helps him on the defensive end, finishing in the paint, and rebounding. The Sixers were smart enough to draft Holiday’s talent despite the fact that he averaged just 8.5 ppg his one year in college. Holiday is already one of the better point guards in the NBA and would seem to have a very high ceiling as his decision making improves. They say point guard is the hardest position to learn in the NBA. Holiday has shown remarkable progress after just one year in college in which he was moved to shooting guard. Darren Collison (4 years) and Ty Lawson (3 years) had a wealth of experience in college learning the finer points of the position from experienced coaches.

The 2009 draft made the fourth time in six years the Sixers made an absolutely perfect pick. When I saw perfect I mean there are zero players drafted behind them who would have made better picks. It’s a pretty remarkable run of drafting.

UNHERALDED SIGNINGS: Jodie Meeks and Spencer Hawes

Two players the Sixers brought in that excited very few people and have clearly both have become important pieces to the Sixers. There are some people who think Meeks represents the weak spot in our starting line-up. To those people let me make a couple points:

-Meeks currently ranks 13th in the NBA in True Shooting Percentage (Shooting Pct. Which factors in 3-pointers as 1.5 times as valuable as a 2-pointer).

-Unlike most 3-point shooters Meeks does not represent a defensive liability. When teams bring in Kyle Korver or Eddie House for shooting the other team knows that they automatically have a mismatch they can exploit. With Meeks the Sixers have no such problem. For those who argue Meeks is too inconsistent as shooter he shot 40% from downtown last year and is at 42% this year.

-Basically if the Sixers chose to start Turner instead of Meeks I wouldn’t have a huge issue with it but Meeks is an effective enough to player to warrant the 25 minutes per game he is getting. Meeks is the one Sixer who naturally shoots well off the catch. If the Sixers traded Meeks they would miss his ability to stretch the floor….As for Hawes the Sixers acquiring him gave them size that they desperately needed on this team. Give the Sixers props for recognizing that Hawes skill was a better fit than Dalembert’s athleticism considering the Sixers are above average athletically at pretty much every other position.

2010- Evan Turner OVR PICK: 2nd CURRENT RANKING: 2nd-4th

It’s way too early to project exact rankings from this draft but the most productive so far have been: DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, John Wall, and Evan Turner. John Wall I believe has the highest upside in the draft. Right now his jump shot is abysmal and is keeping from being a 20 ppg scorer…Cousins is the biggest combination of talent/headache we’ve seen in a while. In the past two weeks he’s gotten a coach fired and grabbed ten offensive rebounds in a half, two things most guys never do in a career. Jury’s certainly out on him…I love Greg Monroe’s skillset. He quietly might be one of the best offensive big men in the East. However his lack of athleticism hurts his defensive potential.

Honestly I probably should have all these guys rated ahead of Evan Turner, but for some reason I’m really high on Turner at this point. At Ohio State as a senior he was Mr. Everything, leading his team in scoring, rebounding, and assists. Because he spent four years in high school many people thought he would come in and play at a high level immediately. However Turner had two noticeable holes in his other-wise well rounded game: A lack of outside shooting (just 20 threes hit his senior year) and only average athleticism. While these things did not keep him from dominating Big Ten defenses, they did show up against NBA competition. Turner showed flashes of brilliance but overall did not help the team much. At the end of the year his shooting percentage was just .425.

Turner’s marked improvement this year is one of the main reasons to be excited about the Sixers. A quick comparison between his and Brandon Roy’s 2nd years (stats per 36 minutes):


















Turner’s not on the same level as a pre-injury Roy right now, but as we see he is turning into a very solid all around player. I think in Turner’s case the most encouraging part is his jump in field-goal percentage. Clearly Turner’s role in the NBA will be much different than his was in college. Turner’s attitude has been to work hard and adapt his game to fit the role the team needs. Would I like to have a player of Cousins talent in the low post? Absolutely. But I’m not sure I would want to trade a guy with Turner’s work ethic and maturity to get it. As for Turner’s ceiling I don’t know if the Brandon Roy comparisons are out of line. Like Roy, Turner has outstanding ball-handling and passing skills for a player of his size. Like Roy he also has average athleticism and will need to continue to develop his mid-range shooting off the dribble. Turner won’t have the same type of stats as Roy with the Sixers deep roster, but he could become a player with similar impact.

And there is a breakdown covering the top eight Sixers players at the moment. I’m excited what a healthy Vucevic will add, but I think we can agree its way to early to start forming opinions on him.

*Also I realize Doug Collins probably deserves as much credit as any of the players, so consider signing him another smart Sixers move. I just didn’t think it would be as enjoyable to write about him as the players, and this articles long enough as is.

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