When Jrue Holiday lost his defender the other day and drove to the left of the basket, taking two strong dribbles on the baseline, he didn't slow down, even though Kwame Brown and other bigs were barreling down the lane to stop him. Instead, Holiday rose with both hands on the ball and threw down a two-handed dunk that no one was quick enough to stop.
Even Maalik Wayns, the smallest player on the court at 6-1, bangs his body with just about everyone when he takes the ball to the basket.
It's not a safe place to be - on the basketball court when the Sixers are practicing. Gone is the finesse team from the past few years, in its place a strong, physical one. Even NBA lifer Gene Shue wasn't spared from the physical activity one day when two players fighting for a loose ball crashed near him, forcing him to roll off his courtside seat.
"We have the ability to now be able to lob that ball at the rim and and we have some big guys that will go and get it and finish the play," coach Doug Collins said. "If you look at our team from [last season] you see we didn't really get to the [foul] line. But when we changed the starting lineup and put Evan out there we were a team that started shooting a lot more free throws. Our bigs now are guys, because they are younger and bigger, that are willing to draw fouls and help us. We are a physical team now."
It's not hard to see the physical transformation from last year's team to this year's. Last year, Spencer Hawes manned the middle, sort of a hybrid center who shined when handling the ball, throwing back-door passes and making 12- to 18-foot jump shots. This season, 7-foot, 300-pound Andrew Bynum will be the center of the offense, bowling over smaller defenders when he forces his way to the rim. Elton Brand may have been the toughest front line player for the team a year ago, but at his age and undersized frame, he became a pick-and-pop player who was best suited to shoot mid-range jump shots, rarely bullying his way to the basket. Young played the power forward spot even though his weight was down to 214 pounds, hardly enough ammunition to do battle with the monsters who play that spot throughout the league. Now with the added bulk, Young looks like he belongs down there and has showed plenty of superior strength.
Then there's the 6-11 Brown, who also might be hovering around the 300-pound area, throwing people around. Lavoy Allen, who gained so much confidence from the team's playoff run last season when, as a rookie, he was the best big-man defender Collins could rely on, still possesses that freakishly strong upper body, one that doesn't seem to budge when bigger players try to post him down low. And Friday, rookie Arnett Moultrie said he was carrying 240 pounds - 10 more than college - to go on his 6 feet, 10 inches.
Even the backcourt now possesses a good amount of toughness, with Turner leading the way. Holiday is more confident than ever from his point-guard spot and has seen his body transform from a svelte 19-year-old when he entered the league to a more chiseled 22-year-old. Veteran Jason Richardson, now in his 12th season, knows the ins-and-outs of using his body to get where he wants and needs to be on the floor.
While Collins still sees his team playing with a lot of speed, shooting a good amount of three-pointers and looking to get steals and deflections on defense, he now is witnessing a team that can also punch you in the mouth at both ends.
"Guys are starting to find their way and I like that they're playing with confidence," Collins said.
And with that comes added strength and physicality.
The team had a day off Sunday and will have a double session Monday at Saint Joseph's in preparation for Thursday's preseason opener in Orlando . . . Thaddeus Young went through Saturday's scrimmage with no problem after tweaking an ankle on Friday . . . Young also banged his shoulder Saturday and was forced to leave the scrimmage for a bit, but he returned and was deemed fine.
Contact Bob Cooney at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BobCooney76. For more Sixers coverage, read his blog at philly.com/Sixerville.