Blogs > Deitch on the 76ers

Daily Times staff writer Dennis Deitch covers the 76ers

Monday, January 23, 2012

Centers, anyone? Sixers on the search

The Sixers started the season with more than they originally thought they had a center. Spencer Hawes, by and large a disappointment last season, came out of the gate like a cannon, averaging a double-double through the first eight games. Rookie Nic Vucevic, meanwhile, showed far more polish than anyone could rightfully hope to see from a guy taken 16th overall in a draft not considered terribly deep.

Monday night against the Wizards that depth was long gone. Hawes missed his fifth straight game with Achilles' heel and back problems, while Vucevic was held out after a hyperextension of his leg Saturday night against Miami left him with a tender quad that needs a rest.

The Sixers are doing the "day-to-day" thing with both players. However, it's more likely you'll see Vucevic back on the court this week. According to coach Doug Collins, Vucevic's panicked reaction to the injury Saturday night was a product of the 22-year-old never having experienced a significant injury of any kind in his life. While Vucevic reported that the leg was sore Sunday after the flight back to Philly, at shootaround Monday the USC product thought the leg felt far better.

Hawes is a different story. He has been noticeably out of sight during shootarounds, and Collins said in Miami that the veteran is unable to run using the ball of his foot because of the tendon soreness.

The most ominous sign of Hawes' status is that the Sixers are flying veteran journeyman Francisco Elson to town this week for a workout. Elson, who came to the Sixers with Jodie Meeks in a trade with the Bucks two years ago, played in 62 games last season with Utah, averaging just less than 10 minutes per game.

The problem with bringing in a new face this season is the lack of practice time to groom the newcomer. The Sixers don't have consecutive days off until the All-Star break next month, so they would have to use shootarounds and an occasional non-contact workout to familiarize any newbie with their system and playbook.

So, if Elson or someone else is signed/acquired, take that as a sign that Hawes might be out for a while.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Turner good to go; Hawes probably not

After missing Monday's win over Milwaukee, Evan Turner (bruised thigh) was spry at shootaround and will play against the Nuggets tonight. Center Spencer Hawes (back, Achilles' heel), however, is extremely doubtful and might need a couple of days to get his body in sync. The Sixers say he's a game-time decision, but I would be surprised if they try to let his body heal enough so he can go Saturday in Miami.

As for what the Sixers need to do tonight against the Nuggets ... I think this is a game where Elton Brand needs to rise to the occasion. The only team to really shut down Denver's high-octane offense this season was New Orleans, and in that game Carl Landry was a big factor. Brand is the closet thing the 76ers have to Landry, and he's needed to match up physically in the blocks with Nene, Al Harrington and Chris Andersen.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How good is Thad Young?

The 76ers are 6-2 and have gotten there in impressive fashion. They are averaging 100.3 points per game, fifth-best in the league. They are giving up 85.6 points per game, tops in the NBA. The 14.7 point differential is easily the best of any team, Miami Heat (11.7) included. After Monday night's 10-point win over the Pacers, coach Doug Collins added an extra layer to his high praise of Thad Young, stating that Young's ability to disrupt the pick-and-roll at the defensive end has been so effective that he should get All-Defensive team consideration if he keeps it up. Young enters tonight's game against the Sacramento Kings with the best plus-minus rating on the team at +111, even though he is four on the team in minutes. If you do the math and figure out the 48-minute average with Young on the floor, the Sixers average a whopping 111.1 points per game and allow 88.4 points per game. You might notice that the points allowed total is 2.8 points more than the Sixers are allowing as a whole. But Young is a high-energy player, and the tempo of the game definitely picks up when he is out there. Besides, 88.4 ppg remains a very impressive defensive point total. But look at the differential: for every 48 minutes Young has been on the court this season, the Sixers are 22.7 points better than the opposition. Young is second in the NBA in plus-minus behind Miami's Mario Chalmers (+124), and three of the top six plus-minus performers play for the Sixers or Heat. When you look at the classic statistics, Young is the same player he was last season – he's averaging 12.6 points and 5.4 rebounds and shooting 55.6 percent from the floor, all numbers pretty much in line with his 2010-11 performance. It can be tricky to quantify defensive value. Collins likes to track passes deflected to give a numerical value to it (Young had five against the Pacers). He also took four charges, which when added to his two steals, it means Young was personally responsible for creating six of Indiana's 16 turnovers. One thing is certain: Thad has found religion at the defensive end. He was much better defensively last season, but nothing like this. And the Sixers can be thankful this blossoming is taking place after he signed a long-term deal with them. Because this Thad Young is going to be a bargain at $9 million per year.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Speights shipped to Memphis

As soon as Marreese Speights showed up for an abbreviated training camp out of shape and unmotivated last month, his days with the 76ers were numbered. Wednesday the Sixers got a couple of second-round draft picks and some cap relief in a three-way deal with the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets. Speights goes to Memphis in the trade; the Grizzlies sent swingman Xavier Henry to New Orleans, while each team sent a pick to Philly. It ends a disappointing three-plus years in Philly with the Sixers for Speights, whom they thought would blossom into a scoring center when they drafted him in the first round out of Florida. He showed promise his rookie season, but he never could be cajoled into becoming a well-rounded player. If Speights wasn't scoring, then he wasn't doing much of anything. And since starting center Spencer Hawes showed up at camp in terrific condition and came flying out of the gate averaging a double-double in the first four games (12 ppg, 10 rpg), Speights went from being a lightly used backup to a bench ornament. "I think coming in last year he was of a different mindset than this year," coach Doug Collins said. "I think this year it was almost he wasn't going to be a part of this. He never really did get in the swing of things. Hopefully going down to Memphis he's going to be engaged (with coaches and teammates) and happy. "I like Mo a lot. I feel badly ... Michael Curry and I when we took this job, we were trying to embrace Mo and hoping to culture a terrific relationship with him, and for whatever reason that didn't happen. We weren't able to get the best from him." It remains to be seen what the best is for Speights. Although he has size (6-10, 265), there's a lack of defensive toughness that makes it tough to envision him as a center. The Grizzlies have a lot of size throughout their roster, so perhaps there will be better pairings for his skills. What the Sixers get out of this is a nice slice of cap relief -- a $2.72 million trade exception based on Speights' salary since they didn't receive a player in return. That will help expand options if (when) a trade rolls around that appeals to the team, be it over the course of this season or during the summer. For now, they will carry 13 players and Collins said that will be fine for as long as they stay healthy. "We're in a position now if something did shake loose (in a trade), we have some second-round picks, some money under the cap so we're not in a luxury (tax) situation," Collins said. "Those are all good things."