By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Sixers play their final preseason game tonight against the Knicks at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. Since the game will not be televised, and I won’t be braving the four hour drive to my alma mater to watch it, I’ve seen all the game action I’m going to see before the Sixers open their season on October 31st at the Wells Fargo Center against Andre Iguodala and the Denver Nuggets.
There have been a lot of great things about the Sixers during the preseason. Nick Young and Dorell Wright have been welcome additions, and looked as good, if not better than you could hope for. Thaddeus Young looks much stronger, and more like a guy who can play extended minutes at power forward. Jrue Holiday has looked smooth and confident, and on occasion has created contact at the basket, something he desperately needed to do. Maalik Wayns has looked so good that it’s pretty difficult to believe he wasn’t drafted. There’s also been Spencer Hawes’ mullet and mustache.
And by the way, they can shoot! When was the last time you remember the Sixers having a bunch of guys that can shoot?
There are however, some things to keep an eye open for as the Sixers begin their most anticipated season in over a decade.
When reading each of these, please imagine I give the “I know it’s just the preseason, but …” disclaimer at the start of the first sentence.
1. Andrew Bynum
Bynum is the most obvious concern, but on more than one level.
First of course, is his health. Though the Sixers have assured us on numerous occasions that they’re not concerned about his health, and he’s progressing according to plan, it’s hard not to be worried. The brand new franchise player hasn’t practiced with the team, or played a game, due to knee problems. Whether it’s to allow his knees to recover from Orthokine therapy, recovering from a bone bruise, or receiving an injection to ease the pain of osteoarthritis, this is certainly not the way you’d want his first season with his new team to begin.
His health will also be an issue to consider as the Sixers mull whether to sign Bynum to a max-contract extension at the end of this season.
The second issue here is that of eventually working Bynum into the offense, and developing a rhythm and chemistry with his new teammates, who have begun to learn to play with each other, but without him. The Sixers as currently constructed have played their best when they’ve played fast. They will surely slow that pace with Bynum in the middle, and create offense a lot differently when they’re dumping the ball into the low post to get shots through the center position. Adding the second best center in the NBA to your team is a good problem to have, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some growing pains. Thaddeus Young even hinted at this, telling Bob Cooney of the Daily News, “Hopefully when we do insert [hopefully], he comes right in and we’re off to a roll and getting the job done. He’s also going to help space things out.”
The most interesting scenario here is if the Sixers start the season without Bynum, and get off to a good start. A 6-2 record in their first eight games is not out of the realm of possibility. Adding Bynum will of course be good for the long term prospects of the team, but might very well slow them down in the short term.
2. Evan Turner
Unfortunately, every concern that I had about Evan Turner at the end of last season, is the same exact concern I have about Evan Turner at the end of the preseason. Evan Turner might just not be that good.
As a shooting guard, he’s not a good shooter, and doesn’t seem particularly adept at getting to the free throw line. His ball handling skills, though above average, are not the sort of ball handling skills that would allow Evan Turner to “play point guard,” for long stretches as many people have suggested. Though he looks to have added some upper body strength, it’s not nearly enough to guard small forwards regularly. He was pushed around by Paul Pierce, and I can’t imagine him trying to guard Carmelo Anthony or Gerald Wallace.
They will start Turner at the start of the season because we all know he doesn’t like coming off the bench, but I wonder how long they can allow the 6’9″, deadly shooting Dorell Wright to come off the bench while Turner starts, especially when Bynum comes back. And then when the (very, to me) likely scenario of Turner moving to the bench comes to light, how will he handle it?
With the makeup and depth of the current roster, you have to ask where Turner fits, and what he adds. More importantly, you’ve got to ask if Turner is ready for the level, and style of his contribution to the team being very different from his own expectations of what they should be.
The good news is that the team is deep enough to survive without great contributions from Evan Turner. The bad news is saying that about the #2 pick in the draft.