Sixers' fringe festival

Posted: November 29, 2013

FANS OF the local professional basketball team can breathe easier now, as their 76ers have dropped out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt, have lost eight of their last 10 games and are about to embark on a stretch where they play 12 of their next 19 games on the road, where they've won just once in seven tries.

Is it time to refocus attention on Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and the rest of the college studs who will be high draft picks next year? Well, let's put that on the back burner for now and take a deeper look at what is going on with this year's Sixers.

After an unimaginable beginning that featured wins in the first three games, including those spectacular ones over the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, the Sixers - and most of the rest of the NBA - have returned to reality. The Indiana Pacers, as expected, are tearing up the East, the Heat has won eight in a row, the San Antonio Spurs are doing what they seemingly do every season and stand at 13-2. There have been some different story lines, such as the Brooklyn Nets struggling and another Derrick Rose injury putting a damper on the Bulls' title run.

At 6-10, the Sixers' record shows just what they are right now, and that's a middle-of-the-road team in the East. For many, middle of the road isn't good (or bad) enough. After all, that is kind of where this organization has been mired for the better part of 10 years. Fans are looking to pile up the losses in order to be in the Wiggins, Parker or Julius Randle lottery, but there is another factor playing into Winless for Wiggins campaign, and that's coach Brett Brown.

Simply put, the Sixers' new coach is a winner and is all about winning. No question, it is painfully early in the season, but Brown has not only done a terrific job of planning offensive and defensive schemes that work best for this team, but he also has proven to be very good at grooming young players, a key reason why he was brought here by general manager Sam Hinkie in the first place.

Think about the roster Brown has had to work with this season. When they're healthy, he has three proven vets in Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes. The reins of the team belong to a rookie point guard in Michael Carter-Williams and after that there is a group of players who many around the league see as borderline NBA players. But those players have been outstanding under Brown and his staff. Perhaps it's because of the abundance of playing time they have been afforded in the early going, but almost each of those "fringe players," as one NBA executive called them, has prospered under Brown.

James Anderson, who saw very limited minutes in stints with Houston and San Antonio over the past three seasons, has proven so far to be a commendable starting shooting guard. He has terrific body control when he gets to the basket, and athleticism that both allows him to get out on the break looking for the ball or handling it himself. As his confidence has grown during the early part of the season, so have his numbers.

Tony Wroten was traded to the Sixers by Memphis simply because he couldn't get on the court ahead of the guards the Grizzlies already had. One NBA scout told me that Wroten "would have trouble getting on the court with almost any NBA team." Here, however, Wroten has prospered as Brown's sixth man. Still out of control a bit too much for the coach's liking, Wroten brings an energy to both ends of the floor that is contagious to his teammates.

Center Daniel Orton was signed in the middle of preseason and thrown right into the fire due to the team's need for a big body. Out of shape and more than a little rusty at first, Orton has done all the necessary extra work required by Brown to reform his body, has regained a lot of his soft touch and now is a dependable piece in the ever-changing puzzle that is the Sixers roster.

In Hollis Thompson, Brown saw something special during training camp. Kind of a diamond in the rough, Thompson showed flashes of being a good jump-shooter, and an ability to get to the basket. Problem was the jumper was very inconsistent and the drives to the basket usually ended in missed opportunities. Brown and his coaches have worked hard with Thompson to polish his skills, shooting endless jumpers before and after practice, working on his power moves to the basket, all the while allowing him to unleash his dazzling athleticism.

The two prized rookies, Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, obviously have been a main point of interest for Brown, though in different ways. Carter-Williams, of course, has been the talk of the Sixers so far this season. The 11th overall pick has been "better than I thought," Brown has stated numerous times. Talk around the league already has rookie of the year labels attached to the Syracuse product. And though Noel probably won't get onto the court this season, his one-on-one sessions with Brown are a staple at practices and pregame warmups.

Of course, winning to the point of gaining a playoff spot wouldn't be prudent to the Sixers, but building a losing attitude among all these young players probably would be even worse. Young players, especially ones labeled as borderline for the NBA, need to learn what it takes to win, both as an individual and as a team. While the wins probably won't pile up for the Sixers this season, as talent in the NBA is usually the deciding factor, learning what it takes to win is paramount. Playing hard each and every night, learning what it takes to get over the hump in those games and making believers of themselves are Brown's goals for the season.

So far, so good in that regard.

Sixers vs. New Orleans Pelicans

When: Tonight, 8 o’clock

Where: Wells Fargo Center

TV: CSN

Radio: The Fanatic (97.5-FM)

Game stuff: Jrue Holiday, who spent the first 4 years of his career in Philly, returns for the first time as an opponent. The Pelicans have struggled so far and so has Holiday. Last year’s All-Star point guard is averaging 14 points and 7.3 assists a game, but is also shooting just 42 percent and is turning the ball over 3.5 times a contest.

Sixers at Detroit Pistons

When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m.

Where: Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Mich.

TV: CSN

Radio: The Fanatic (97.5-FM)

Game stuff: The Pistons are a new-look team with Brandon Jennings now running the point and Josh Smith wreaking havoc down low. Greg Monroe, who has always given the Sixers trouble, and Andre Drummond add some real bulk in the paint for the Pistons.

Sixers vs. Orlando Magic

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Wells Fargo Center

TV: CSN

Radio: The Fanatic (97.5-FM)

Game stuff: The Magic are in a similar spot as the Sixers. They are a very young team looking to the future, which is pretty bright with players such as rookie Victor Oladipo, Moe Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and double-double machine Nic Vucevic.

BY THE NUMBERS

12: That’s how many times Evan Turner has scored more than 20 points a game this season. Last year he did it a total of 17 times.

33: That’s how many steals rookie point guard Michael-Carter Williams had through his first 11 games, the highest total by a rookie since Brevin Knight had 34 for Cleveland in the 1997-98 season.

190: That’s how many points Michael Carter-Williams scored through his first 11 games, the highest total by a rookie since Allen Iverson posted 238 points in the 1996-97 season.


On Twitter: @BobCooney76

Blog: ph.ly/Sixerville

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