The Kids are Alright
Led by Andre Miller (7) and Andre Iguodala, the Sixers have been knocking off some NBA giants lately.
The Mavericks, Suns, Spurs, Pistons and Magic all have something in common. They have all lost to one of the hottest and youngest teams in the league over the last month and a half. Oh, I must be talking about the Houston Rockets, right? Nope. They have quality wins and I don’t mean to take anything away from their huge run, but they haven’t improved their resumé quite like the Philadelphia 76ers have recently. Led by Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala and a bunch of (very talented) kids, the Sixers went from 18-30 on February 4 to 33-34 after a win against the defending champions Spurs Saturday night.
The first question is, what has changed with this group? I’m not sure how often the firing of a general manager can almost instantly change how a team plays, but that seems to be the case with this Sixers’ team. Billy King was let go and New Jersey’s Ed Stefanski took over. By all accounts, Stefanski approached head coach Maurice Cheeks and expressed a desire for the Sixers to run. I mean, really run. In fact, the statistics are absolutely stunning. During this 15-4 stretch, Philly is averaging twice as many fast break points as their opponents (nearly 21 to just over 10 per game). Over the past 19 games, only one team has actually scored more fast break points in a game (Chicago) and two teams have equaled the Sixers’ running points (Golden State and San Antonio).
A change in philosophy isn’t the only ingredient needed, of course. Philadelphia isn’t just being carried by one superstar. Yes, Iguodala and Miller have had their high-point days, but so have Samuel Dalembert, Willie Green, and Louis Williams. Another big factor has been the rapidly improving play of the youngters. Williams has shown himself to be a pure scorer, capable of going to the rim or hitting jumpers. Thaddeus Young, a 6’8″, 19-year-old rookie, is shooting 54 per cent from the field. Even Rodney Carney has played well of late with injuries to Green and Miller giving him extra playing time.
And the other natural question is whether or not this will all translate into playoff success. The answer is largely dependent on who the 76ers match up against. While they beat Detroit recently, that’s certainly not the best first round draw for this young group. The Magic would be much more attractive. That’s not to say Orlando is a bad team by any stretch of the imagination, but its style of play makes for a better match up for the Sixers. Orlando is a much more top heavy team, relying on Dwight Howard. In Philly’s win over the Magic, Howard was somewhat quiet, hitting 6-of-13 shots for 14 points. The Sixers won by 12.
Just getting to the playoffs is an amazing accomplishment for the youngsters since most experts had them finishing somewhere in the bottom two or three in the conference. Somehow I don’t think that will lead to Cheeks taking his team’s collective foot off the pedal. They will continue to run and give any first round opponent quite a series. Oh, and for the record, Philly is 2-0 against the Rockets if it comes down to it. Not that I’m saying it will. I’m just putting that out there.