NBA Season Preview: The Philadelphia 76ers

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jrue_holiday_rodrigue_beaubois.jpgLast season: They went 27-55, which is wholly unspectacular. They weren’t as bad as the Nets or the Timberwolves, but the Sixers were in that next group of teams that stand out only for their failure to compete. 

Head Coach: Doug Collins, who’s here to win friends and influence people.

Key Departures: Samuel Dalembert, Allen Iverson, Rodney Carney, more of Elton Brand’s dignity.

Key Additions: Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, lots of weight to put on Turner’s shoulders.

Best case scenario:
Real improvement. The Sixers regressed last season — their offensive efficiency dropped from 107.9 points per 100 possessions in ’08-’09 to 106.1, and their defensive efficiency from 107.8 points allowed per 100 possessions allowed to 110.3 — and obviously they’d like to reverse course. Evan Turner could help in both regards in his first season, as he’s a more versatile offensive weapon and a superior defender in comparison to most of the Sixers’ other options on the wing. Should he take away some of the team’s heavy reliance on Andre Iguodala, it’ll be best everyone.

Iguodala will get into open space more often and more easily. Jrue Holiday will have more breathing room to do his thing. The offense will balance itself, meaning Elton Brand, Marreese Speights, and Spencer Hawes will see real benefit. It probably wouldn’t make the Sixers terribly competitive, but it’d be a step in the right direction.

For that to happen:
Turner needs to show that his Summer League woes were a fluke. He needs to prove that he can thrive against NBA athletes, and that the Sixers were right to use the No. 2 overall pick on him in this year’s draft. Turner will get his chances, but if he doesn’t flat-out impress, the Sixers won’t have much of a shot to improve this season.

Jrue Holiday also needs to take a step forward. Holiday’s rookie year was both remarkable and unheralded, but he’s about to enter a full season as one of his team’s primary options. Holiday is in the scouting report, and you’d better believe that opposing teams will be ready for him.

In addition, Spencer Hawes will need to play stop-gap. Samuel Dalembert didn’t have a tremendous year in ’09-’10, but he still blew Hawes out of the water on defense and especially on the glass. Their rebounding rates aren’t even comparable, and yet Hawes will be asked to provide what Dalembert did and more. Hawes is the superior offensive talent, but at what cost? If he can somehow improve his rebounding and interior defense to hold the center position steady, then he gives the natural growth of the roster a chance to make an impact in the win column. 

More likely the Sixers will: If not, the Sixers will end up treading water or even sinking a bit.

Let’s take Jrue Holiday’s improvement as a given, considering the way he ended his rookie campaign. Andre Iguodala might be slightly better than he was last season, and utilized in a more effective manner.

Yet beyond those two, so many things have to go right for the Sixers to make strides in ’10-’11. Turner needs to launch, Hawes needs to board, Brand needs to show up, Speights needs to share the ball, Nocioni needs to do enough without trying to do too much, and Louis Williams needs to produce without as many opportunities. Someone needs to score more, everyone needs to force their opponents to score less, and Doug Collins needs to find a way to make a bunch of odd pieces work together.

The Sixers were bad last season, and Evan Turner should be good down the line. He just won’t be productive enough this year for Philadelphia to make substantial progress.  

Prediction: 28 wins. Philly has an interesting young core, and if all of the pieces can grow and bend in just the right places, this roster could be a hell of a thing in a few years. For now, their best player is still Andre Iguodala, and though they’ve added three rotation players, the team is still fundamentally the same. Internal improvement will only take the Sixers so far, and in ’10-’11, that ‘so far’ is but a single win ahead of their previous season’s total.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: