By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – In sports, as in life, things are usually not as bad as they seem when they’re really bad, and never as good as they seem when they’re really good. Such is probably the case with the 2012-13 Philadelphia 76ers.
A preseason without Andrew Bynum rendered some pretty successful results, as did the first part of the team’s regular season schedule. But schedule strength, road games, and talent caught up with them, and they’re now … not successful. It’s been pretty bad.
On a elementary level, it’s easy to look at the roster and figure out why they can’t defend, rebound, or get to the free throw line. They don’t have many players (or more than one or two) that you would consider an above average defender, and several that you’d consider below average. They can’t rebound because, well, aside from Evan Turner, they don’t have anyone who is particularly adept at it. They don’t get to the free throw line because they have a bunch of jump shooters.
But beyond an elementary level, and taking into account that Andrew Bynum, the team’s centerpiece and best player isn’t there, this team likely had a lower ceiling this season than many believed, and their recent play seems to support that.
I predicted 46 wins, assuming Bynum plays 50+ games, so I think I mostly kept my head. But I also predicted a career year for Nick Young, so there’s that.
Many predicted the Sixers would be a top three or four team in the Eastern Conference if Bynum were playing. I’ve heard many suggest they’d be as high as a two seed. When comparing them to other teams of that ilk, it doesn’t seem to add up to being very likely.
Consider the following exercise, would any team, thought to be a top four team in its conference, be as bad as the Sixers are without Andrew Bynum?
Let’s look at the Western Conference first.
The Thunder? No way.
The Spurs, Nuggets, Clippers? Not likely. They’d all suffer, but I have a hard time believing they’d be this bad.
Many mentioned the Rockets when I posed this question on Twitter, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who said that was a title contender even after the Harden trade. Many still had them missing the playoffs. They’d be pretty bad without Harden, but no one is mistaking them for anything other than what they are.
The lone exception seems to be the Lakers, but that’s difficult to really judge, given the health problems everyone on the team has had aside from Kobe Bryant. I would be willing to gamble that if Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash had been healthy all season, even without Kobe Bryant, that’s a + .500 team.
Now, let’s look at the Eastern Conference.
The Heat? They’d be less good, but still better than the Sixers.
The Bulls and Pacers have proven they can handle the loss. The Celtics have not performed up to expectations, but I genuinely believe they’d have an easier time replacing Rondo for a stretch than the Sixers have had replacing Bynum.
The Cleveland Cavaliers when from the best team to the worst in the league when they lost Lebron James. Andrew Bynum is not Lebron James.
Remember as well, that a lot of the Sixers success would have been dependent on Andrew Bynum being able to be productive passing out of double teams, something he’s never been particularly adept it. It’s certainly possible that with practice that he’d get better at it, but definitely not something that I think is easy to count on.
As well, it points to how risky it is to build around a big man. Almost every position on the floor seems easier to replace for a stretch of games than a dominant center.
Look, when Andrew Bynum plays (fingers crossed), this team would have no choice but to be better on both ends of the floor. Between Thaddeus Young, Bynum, and Jrue Holiday (my personal jury is still out on Turner), I think they’d have a really nice, solid base to move forward with. There would be a light at the end of the tunnel, but not yet close to the big boys.
The roster still seems like it’s pretty limited, and Collins absolutely needs to figure out better ways to use the players on it. I’m not questioning the team’s effort, but their concentration and execution has suffered recently, even given who they are. They also need to find ways to get a few players off the roster as well. Aside from Bynum, Holiday, (Thad) Young, (at the right price) Wright, and (maybe) Turner, I don’t see anyone else on the Sixers roster who I’d be intent on keeping. Sorry, Swaggy.
So when the big guy comes back, remind yourself to temper your expectations. If you’re still watching games at this point, chances are you’re pretty patient, so remember this mindset. You’re going to need it.