Philadelphia native and Penn grad, Ed Stefanski took over the Sixers last winter and changed the culture of a losing team. He got rid of fan favorite, sharp-shooter Kyle Korver and told head coach Maurice Cheeks to play an upbeat style of offense and defense with his young team. The team responded well, becoming one of the hottest teams to end the season, gaining a playoff birth in their first “Iversonless” season. They drew the hard-nose veteran team of the Pistons in the first round. They surprised the Pistons taking the series to 6 games before losing.
Fast forward to this off season, the Sixers have a good amount of cap room, but do not seem to have a enough to sign the top prize of the class, Elton Brand. In a surprising move that came from left field, Stefanski unloads Rodney Carney, Calvin Booth and a protected first rounder for a conditional second rounder, then he signs Elton Brand. He also resigned young stars in Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams. With the buzz created from last year’s turn-around and the signing of Brand, Stefanski was able to lure key veteran bench contributors in Kareem Rush, Donyell Marshall, Royal Ivey, and the return of Theo Ratliff. The Sixers also drafted freakish athlete Marreese Speights, who should see some playing time, since Jason Smith is out for the season.
The predicted starting line-up for the season opener is:
Iggy has moved from small forward to shooting guard. Although A.I. 2.0 is better suited to play the 3, the Sixers had to open a spot for standout rookie of last year Thaddeus Young who really thrived in the new Stefanski-style offense. Most of last season, Young played out of position at power forward. If Iggy and Young can improve their outside game this year, they will both be very difficult to stop. Andre Miller had his best year statistically last year, and will continue to be a great court general. His assist numbers should improve with the ability to run a frequent pick and roll with Elton Brand. Brand has averaged 20 and 10 over his career. Although he may not reach those numbers (we are predicting 17 and 9) he will open up the offense, like we have not seen on the Sixers in a long time. Last year during the playoffs, the Pistons swarmed and embarrassed Iguodala every time he drove to the basket. This year it will be difficult for defending teams to give help defense in the paint without the threat of kicking it to Brand for a dunk or a ten-footer. The Haitian Sensation, Sammy D, should be able to mostly concentrate on D and rebounding this year. Brand will take a good amount of offensive pressure off of Sam. This should open him up for a few easy dunks a game and not too many shots. Look for Sam to be in the leaders of field goal percentage this year.
The Sixers have their best bench since Iverson and Larry Brown led them to the NBA finals. 6th man candidate Lou Williams just knows how to score. He really does not have a position. He is too small for the 2 and cannot handle the ball and lead the team well enough for the 1. Look for him to continue to grow as a point guard as he is going to be the PG of the future. Although he will not start, he will rack up a good amount of minutes. We also have former starter Willie Green coming off the bench who can also have a scorers touch. With Brand in the middle and the eventual double team coming ever time he gets the ball, not having a good outside shooting team can really hurt production. Stefanski addressed this by signing Rush and Marshall who have career 3 point percentages of 36.0 and 34.8, respectively. These two coming off the bench should give the Sixers the outside option they will desperately need. We all know what Theo Ratliff can do. Although he is not as athletic as he was with his first stint with the Sixers, he can sniff out block shots like a bloodhound. Royal Ivey also is a great defender and can shut down the opponents PG, when Miller is getting a breather. Ivey and Ratliff know their roles as defensive specialists.
The Sixers have vastly improved from last year, but so has the Eastern conference in general. Former playoff teams, the Bulls and Heat had the first two picks in the draft, and should return to form with possible playoff births. The Sixers opening day opponent, the Raptors traded for Jermaine O’Neal. If healthy, having Chris Bosh and O’Neal should be a great 1-2 punch for Toronto. The defending champs lost James Posey, which will hurt them, but they still have the big 3. The Cavs seems to be suffering from what the Sixers used to struggle with, which is finding a great second option to their super-star. The Cavs had made multiple deals over the past few years to try and get a Pippen to their Jordan. This years attempt was former Bucks PG Mo Williams. The 5th year PG from Alabama averaged 17 ppg last year. Orlando will still be in the playoff picture with their young team developing and getting more experience together. The Wizards if their key players can stay healthy, they have Agent 0 back this year. Atlanta has a good 1-5 and if Josh Smith continues to grow, they could surprise some people this year. They should battle the Bulls for the last playoff spot in the East.
Our predicted 1-8 in the East is:
1. Celtics, 2. Cavs, 3. Sixers, 4. Magic, 5. Pistons, 6. Raptors, 7. Wizard, 8. Hawks