The Sixers have won more games and played more competitively than most expected coming into the season so far. When the team was 3-0, the most common thought was of hilarious surprise. Everyone knew the team would fall off: the question was, how hard?
Now that the team has won 3 of 12 since, which is good for a 25% win percentage over a full season and a sharp 20-21 win pace over a relatively easy schedule the refrain has gone from that to... concern that the team is playing too well, finding out why, and trying to come up with ways to suck more. It's... an interesting short-term turnaround. While that's still a better pace than expected, the struggles of other teams have put the Sixers short-term tanking goals in a bind.
Common thought around here especially after the win against the Milwaukee Bucks, included the following feelings:
1. Anger in the Sixers winning games they probably shouldn't have against better teams;
2. Anger in beating opponents the team would have benefited from losing to, and;
3. Frustration in doing much of this on the backs of players with no future in Philadelphia.
It sounds eerily familiar to the refrain at the end of last year's lost cause: the Sixers are winning too much, hurting their chances at getting a good draft pick. And even worse: this year's draft class is legitimately exciting at the top, with multiple projected all-stars and three or more legitimately number one overall talents.
I, however, don't buy into the panic. My responses to these feelings
1. It's early, and bad teams beat good ones early in the season fairly often.
2. Every game matters in the standings, but expecting the team to try and lose in November is much different than trying to lose in, say, March. And the team's gotten back to more of it's losing ways lately - I don't expect this to change.
3. One: we don't know that every player presumably expendable here will be shipped away - there's no for-sure Damien Wilkins here. Second, young players are driving the success, ones that while expendable may also have a future here. Three, MCW has been insanely good. And four, Brett Brown is a fantastic coach.
And the last two points, MCW's brilliance, and Brett Brown's insanely good coaching, ultimately are the greatest threats to tanking success. Which is fine by me.
I don't expect Michael Carter-Williams to average three steals per game for an entire season. And I fully expect his field goal percentage to stay around 40%, if not drop lower. But he's carried the Sixers through games, showing an improved jumper and jumper mechanics to pair with the court vision lauded by college scouts. His pick-and-roll work with Spencer Hawes and others has been fun to watch, too.
My only real complaint as of now is that he will too often settle for sub-optimal shots early in the shot clock - which is something that can easily be coached away. Statistical regression should be coming on some front, but by all accounts he's been excellent, and that may not change.
Brett Brown got hired after one of the longer coach hiring processes in league history. Boy, do the people who complained about the Sixers coaching search taking too long look like wonderful human beings who understand processes and how things work right now? Anyway, now that you ears hurt, I can say without you hearing me that Brett Brown has been fantastic. For one, his accent is just amazing. Bostralian is the new Philly accent. I want to have it.
But, more importantly, he gets his players to play hard all the time and brings out their best attributes. The trainers and staff have gotten the team into good shape, and they run a lot. His style of basketball is good for development and entertaining as heck.
Sam Hinkie won't keep Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, or Thaddeus Young longer than he has to if they don't fit into the team's long-term plans. He's made enough good decisions and trusts in his process enough for me to trust in his thinking going forward. Those players won't be on the roster for longer than they need to be - trades will be much easier to make with the impending December 15th trade date for free agents signed this past summer.
Michael Carter-Williams and Brett Brown, though? They've proven to be much better than we thought. And I thought Brett Brown would be a really good coach! But unlike the other "problems," these won't be going away - they're here for the long haul. And if that means the Sixers win a few more games and lower their draft odds, I would be perfectly okay with that.
Building a championship basketball team requires more than just tanking, drafting a superstar, question mark, then profit. The right ecosystem has to be in place. I think we have it with the GM and Coach. I think we have an excellent point guard who looks like a centerpiece. We have an injured big who I have high hopes for, and plenty of terrific personnel people and support staff and others who all need to contribute their best to help this team reach greatness someday. It's much harder to get everything else place than to get talented basketball players. Isiah Thomas could do that. The other stuff matters a lot, and it looks like much of the organization is in order. We'll get there so long as the organization is built to win.
And after all, if Hinkie can grab the best player so far from the 2013 Draft with the 11th pick, and pluck a coach that got passed over by all teams with openings this summer that looks this good, I'm sure he can do fine with whatever pick the lottery spits out next May.
More from Liberty Ballers:
- The Complete Oral History of Kwame Brown's Time With the Philadelphia 76ers
- Game Recap: Drawing Positives From the Sixers Loss to the Pacers
- Sixers vs. Pacers Final Score: Great Effort But No Cigar Immediate Reaction Thread
- Sixers-Pacers Game Thread: Basketballs & Recreation
- Sixers at Pacers Preview: Hoosier Daddy