With their presumed star center stuck in the land of the Out Indefinitely along with Andrew Bogut and the Washington Wizards, the Sixers are again overachieving with a bunch of warped, mismatched parts. You stare at their roster until your eyes hurt; even thought Philly is three games over .500, decent play can’t mask the gaping hole left by Bynum’s absence.
Here are four ripple effects of that ill-fated trade that has again doomed the Sixers to mediocrity.
1) The Sixers’ defense really struggles without Thaddeus Young on the court.
He’s playing well again, but on/off court stats make Young look like a superstar because of how awful his frontcourt mates are. Before this season, Collins had already turned him into a charge-taking, pick-and-roll-hedging force. Now, after reportedly adding 20 pounds of muscle at his coach’s request, Young is better equipped to bang with the Serge Ibakas of the league, and the Sixers are allowing 9.0 points per 100 possessions fewer when he is in the game, per Basketball-Reference.
Which leads to mind-blowing stat No. 1: too short, too skinny Thaddeus Young has held opponents to 36 percent shooting (10 for 28) on post-ups this season, per Synergy. But put that next to Spencer Hawes’ laughable 60% failure rate, and consider that Lavoy Allen has rebounded at a rate worse than Sasha Pavlovic, and you get an idea of why Mr. Young is awfully important.
Generously listed at 6-8, 220, Young has held his own against the likes of Joakim Noah, Andre Bargnani and Carmelo Anthony by using his quick feet and hands to, for the most part, keep the play in front of him. Allen has played reasonably well defensively, while the sloth-like Hawes has done the exact opposite of what Young does: allowed opponents to get the shots they want on the court. In particular, Hawes has overcompensated for his acute blow-by-aphobia by giving offensive players so much space that they can easily shoot face-up jumpers. To no one’s surprise, Hawes has not displayed the lift to challenge their shots.
2) The Sixers’ offense really REALLY struggles without Thaddeus Young on the court.
Note that ThadYo is having a career season. In his last five games, he’s averaging 19.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals — only while shooting 58% from the floor.
Mind-blowing stat Nos. 2 and 3: For players attempting at least five shots at the rim per game, only Tim Duncan, Al Horford, Brook Lopez and LeBron James are shooting a better percentage than Thaddeus Young’s 76.1% … and the Sixers have scored 22.7 points per 100 possessions fewer without him on the court.
Young’s offensive game inspires fewer headlines than Bynum’s hair, yet he’s become a master of underrated skills such as rotating into passing lanes when his guards penetrate, constantly remaining in position to receive a pass and using his left-handedness to his advantage. It’s no wonder he’s posted 1.35 PPP on cuts in the early going, good for 14th in the league and over 1/5th of his scoring output, and played a vast majority of his minutes alongside Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner — with a whopping 84.6% of his attempts from 3-9 feet being assisted.
Hawes and Allen, on the other hand, have failed to do the main thing this offense requires them to do: make jumpers. Allen has made just 3 of his 18 spot-up attempts, while Hawes is shooting 33% from 16-23 feet, a sweet-spot where he shot 43% last year.
3) Dorell Wright and Nick Young haven’t fit in
Young has looked great in part because the bench just makes no sense and almost all of his minutes are spent with the team’s good players. The Wright-Young duo only works with a space-eating 7-footer commanding double teams in the paint — you know, like Andrew Bynum (Or Spencer Hawes, what happened to that guy?). Surely, the front office imagined a bombs-away offense centered around a franchise big man like the Dwight Howard-era Magic.
Instead, what they have are two wings with already questionable shot selection who look downright lost. They can’t space the floor because Allen and Hawes are (supposedly) already doing that. The quietly effective Jason Richardson has been the only addition who has found his spots in this offense — four of the Sixers’ five best offensive lineups so far feature Richardson. No surprise, they’ve also included Thad Young and ever-developing point guard Jrue Holiday.
4) Philly misses Andre Iguodala, but they miss Elton Brand and Lou Williams almost as much.
The consensus after the trade was that the Sixers would be unable to replace one of the league’s top wing defenders in Iguodala. That hasn’t really been the case, as Collins has again willed them into being a top 10 unit.
In fact, what the current personnel lack is what Brand and Williams gave them last season. Without Williams, the Sixers have received precious little production from their bench, dubbed the “Night Shift” just a year ago. The pick-and-roll savvy and foul-drawing ability of Sweet Lou allows offenses to remain a float while black holes like, say, Kwame Brown eat up minutes. He’s the perfect play to complement awful teammates.
Brand’s defensive genius — barking out pick-and-roll coverage like a middle linebacker while allowing a remarkable 0.61 PPP on post-ups — was nearly as vital as Iguodala’s. It also allowed Collins to play Brand at center alongside (guess who) Thad Young, providing his only lineups with two above-average bigs.
Of course, if you could manufacture a complement to Thad Young’s game down to the nitty-gritty details, you might come up with Bynum. A Young-Bynum pairing would be something, wouldn’t it?