On a normal team, losing Tony Wroten wouldn't be the end of the world. The young 76ers guard has room to grow and is arguably the most exciting player on the team, but his production is amplified by a role he wouldn't be afforded elsewhere.
On this team, though, Wroten's extended absence will sting. The Sixers starting unit usually does a decent enough job hanging with the other 29 NBA teams, leveraging length, youth and exuberance to their advantage. Unfortunately, when the reins are turned over to the bench, things tend to spiral out of control.
Given the nature of his play, Wroten as the bench elixir is a hilarious proposition, but his inclusion in the second unit gives Brett Brown another NBA-caliber talent, warts and all. Depth is an everlasting problem when multiple roster spots are being used on injured players, and the loss of Wroten compounds that issue.
With apologies to Larry Drew II, this puts running the team squarely on the shoulders of Michael Carter-Williams. Already asked to fill a bigger role than he's probably capable of, MCW will now see his workload increase again.
In that case, performances like last night's game are what most fans would hope to see out of the second-year point guard. Outside of a couple plays in the closing moments, he kept the offense flowing and stayed away from his usual diet of forced shots. With their point guard actually playing like one, the Sixers offense had some of its best ball movement of the season against the Toronto Raptors.
Perhaps more impressively, Carter-Williams was stout on defense, harassing newly-minted All Star Kyle Lowry. The Philadelphia native got his in the fourth quarter, but it was an indication of his ability rather than an indictment of the guard across from him.
The mentality on display last night is important for Carter-Williams and the Sixers to keep in mind; they simply aren't talented enough to consistently win individual battles. Sharing the ball, a topic that both Brett Brown and Nerlens Noel have stressed in the past couple weeks, is hyper-critical to their success on offense.
In more immediate terms, tonight's match-up against Memphis will be a chance for the Sixers to avenge one of their most heartbreaking losses of the season, a 120-115 overtime affair that saw the Sixers squander an 18 point lead in the final frame. I can't lie -- I was already celebrating with seven minutes left and the margin almost 20. I should probably know better, but when this Sixers team is beating a Western powerhouse that badly, it's hard not to get caught up in the hype.
This could be the beginning of a bit of a tough stretch; after tonight's affair, the Sixers travel to play New Orleans (surely in revenge mode), resurgent Detroit and the Hawks within a week, with Minnesota providing the only bit of respite before a date with LeBron James and his merry men.
Navigating these waters without one of your better players will be tricky for Brett Brown, but he's proven up to the task of keeping his team together through dramatic ups and downs. If the improved defensive numbers and a refocus on ball movement are here to stay, there's hope for this motley crew to exceed expectations.