With Andrew Bynum in the fold, the Sixers front office has made that bold move Sixers fans have been clamoring for. With a realistic evaluation of their situation and the upside of their core, the members of the Sixers brass were far more in touch with their squad than we admittedly gave them credit for.
'We weren't going anywhere, so we had to take intelligent risks, and we think we've done that," Collins said about the trade. "You've got to make the changes, and we decided to do that."
And boy did they. The Sixers removed Andre Iguodala (started 62 games), Elton Brand (started 60 games), Jodie Meeks (started 50 games), Louis Williams (led the team in scoring), and Nikola Vucevic (started 15 games) from a team that was 1 game away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. It was the perfect mixture of overachieving and right circumstance that could have led an ownership group down the path of complacency. I can't give the new ownership group and Doug Collins enough credit for avoiding this trap.
The Andrew Bynum trade isn't a particularly risky move, but that kind of overhaul rarely happens with an above .500 team, and the team parted ways with Brand, Meeks and Williams well in advance of the most recent trade.
However, as always, I'm hardly complacent. This isn't a championship contender, and as such the team still has a considerable amount of work to do. They have their building block, and potentially more pieces of their core, but they're not there yet. And If the Sixers max out Bynum after the season, with Jrue Holiday's cap hold (250% of the last year of his salary, or approximately $6.6 million), the Sixers will be over the cap for next season, a season in which the salary cap is expected to drop.
Combine that with having traded two first round draft picks this summer, and they're going to need to use a combination of internal development and shrewd trades to take that next step.
(For more about the particulars of their salary cap and draft pick situation, read the article I wrote for SB Nation Philly yesterday on the odds and ends of the 76ers situation after the Bynum trade).
Andrew Bynum needs to recognize double teams better
The major question marks with Bynum are well known. Can he stay healthy? Can his knee hold up? Is he mature enough to lead the team? Will he sign long term?
Those are all valid questions, but I'm going to focus on the on-the-court areas he can improve upon.
For a player like Andrew Bynum, one of his main assets is his ability to command a double team in the post. The Sixers, through their earlier offseason moves that saw them acquire Dorrell Wright and Nick Young, as well as acquiring Jason Richardson in the trade along with Andrew Bynum, have added an abundance of shooters to the team who can, in theory, capitalize on the attention Bynum receives.
Except he's really bad at recognizing and reacting to double teams.
No skill is more wasted in the NBA than a big man who can draw a double team but not find the open man. Bynum is slow to react to double teams, allowing defenders to get him in a bad position, which often times ends up in a turnover or rushed shot. Playing with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol was both a blessing and a curse. The Lakers were a very poor spot-up shooting team, making it easier to double down on Bynum. On the other hand, it helped masked this deficiency because teams didn't game plan for Bynum as much as they will on the Sixers. Now that he is the unquestioned offensive focal point of the Sixers this could become a glaring problem. The Sixers have the personnel to capitalize on Bynum's dominance down low, but they need him to take the next step in his awareness recognizing the double team earlier and finding the open man before the defense traps him.
The Jrue Holiday / Andrew Bynum pick and roll
I've long argued that Jrue Holiday has some untapped potential as a passer in pick and roll sets. The problem is, the Sixers haven't had a big man who can score with ease inside and provide Holiday a real threat to dive to the basket, instead filling up their roster with finesse big men who prefer to pick and pop 20 feet from the hoop.
In addition to Holiday's untapped court vision is a new-found plethora of spot-up shooters who can make defenses pay when they collapse on Bynum when he rolls to the hoop. This combination of skill sets could provide Holiday with an abundance of passing lanes that weren't there in his first 3 years in the league.
But Andrew Bynum barely plays in pick and roll sets.
The question largely becomes whether that is a result of Bynum's skill set or the Lakers scheme and personnel. In theory, Bynum has the combination of height, soft hands and ability to finish at the rim, and in the very limited sample size when he did play in pick and roll situations he was effective. Bynum should be capable of providing a good pick and dive threat for the Sixers. Should is the key word.
The Lakers rarely ran the pick and roll last year, having the second least field goal attempts generated from pick and roll sets in the league. This is can likely be explained by a combination of slight remnants of the triangle offense, heavy isolation play, lack of good spot-up shooters, and the lack of a great pick and roll point guard.
But the Sixers need Holiday and Bynum to develop this into a weapon. It would open up more scoring opportunities for Bynum, open up driving lanes for Holiday, and give the Sixers spot-up shooters open shots if their defenders sag to cover either of those two.
Jrue Holiday's drive and dish game
The Sixers need a Robin to Bynum's Batman if they truly want to contend. They need another player from their core to emerge as an all-star caliber player. In my view, Jrue Holiday is the most likely.
With the Sixers jettisoning ball handlers such as Louis Williams and Andre Iguodala, the perimeter play making responsibilities have largely been consolidated into Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner. Jason Richardson is capable in this role, but has done much less of it in the past few years than he did earlier in his career.
This puts much more of an onus on Holiday to take the next step forward in his career, both in terms of setting up his teammates and his own scoring.
With Bynum such a threat down low, the opposing teams big men are going to be more hesitant to double off of Bynum to provide help defense. That, along with multiple legitimate spot-up shooters on the roster, should provide Holiday with much more driving space than he had in years past.
What we can't have from Holiday this year is an equal number of attempts from 16-23' as from at the rim, as he did last year. He needs to get into the paint more, both for his own offense and for drive and kicks to shooters stationed in the corners. The excuses have been removed. No longer are there too many ball handlers and too few shooters. No longer does he not have the big man to draw defenders. Now he needs to produce, and attack, like we expected him to last year, and take that next step.
Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young's jumpers
These two were huge needs for the Sixers regardless of Bynum's acquisition, but may be even more pressing now that the big man is in the fold.
With Bynum likely to draw many double teams in the post, the most obvious defender to leave his man to help is going to be whoever is guarding Evan Turner. Turner, more than ever, needs to be able to make them pay for that. If the Sixers want their offense to be potent they can't have Turner be a liability out there when Bynum or Jrue are handling the basketball. If he is, it wouldn't shock me to see Turner benched once again.
Similarly, Thad needs to become automatic from 15 feet out. His quickness already makes him a very tough guard by most power forward's in the league when he's isolated, and having Bynum down low once again makes it less likely Thad will see weak side help defenders. If Young can show consistency in his 15 footer defenders will be forced to pick up him 15 feet from the hoop, and the driving lanes that will open up would make him a very tough cover.
But he needs that jumper to be consistent in order to make himself a real matchup nightmare.
After the Bynum acquisition, the Sixers will not have a first round pick to trade for quite some time. Should Bynum re-sign, they also won't have much in the way of cap space next offseason, thanks in large part to the two-year contracts given to Kwame Brown and Spencer Hawes this offseason. As such, internal development is going to be key in their transformation from good to great. Bynum, Holiday, Turner and Young all need to take steps in order to make the Sixers true contenders.