Top of the Key: The Sixers are Going to be Abysmal Next Year – and That’s a Good Thing

Dave Hartley – bassist for The War on Drugs, mastermind of Nightlands, and all-around hoops enthusiast – weighs in on the basketball scene for us periodically in his Top of the Key column. This week, Dave presents an analysis of why the Sixers’ 2014 roster is not unlike the Fleetwood Mac album Penguin.

Capsule:
1. The 76ers have a new GM and a new CEO, both of whom are fully onboard with advanced metrics and Moneyball-style statistical analysis
2. We traded our only All-Star for the most talented player in the draft (who is recovering from a torn ACL) and a 2014 draft pick (this is big)
3. We’re going to lose a ton of games next year, which should get us an additional high draft pick in 2014
4. Experts are calling the 2014 draft the best in decades

Conclusion:
We’re going to have boat loads of young talent and a ton of cap-space to potentially lure a big name free agent

Metaphors:
1. To get your basement really clean, you generally have to make a giant mess first, pull out those old boxes, dig through that pile of trash, sweep the cat litter into a big pile, stir up tons of dust
2. To fix that nagging wrist injury sometimes you have to re-break the bone and set it properly
3. Fleetwood Mac had to get worse after the departure of Peter Green (the Kirwin, Spencer, Welsch, Weston years, etc.) before they got better (eponymous, Rumours, Tusk, Mirage, etc.)
4. The Sixers are about to release their Penguin

Analysis:
The 76ers hired iconoclastic general manager Sam Hinkie, and he has a plan: clean house, free up as much money as possible, stock up on young talent and be in a good position to cash in on the historically-loaded 2014 draft. Even his biggest supporters, though, have to be shocked how quickly he began instituting this vision.

The mere existence of a plan is a marked improvement over the scatter-brained logic of old-guard general managers like Billy King, Ed Stefanski and Doug Collins, who made just enough smart moves to stay on the cusp of the playoffs every year and plenty of dumb ones (Kwame Brown, Jason Kapono and Spencer Hawes spring to mind) to make true title contention a pipe dream. Hinkie, who pioneered performance based statistical analysis, sent a clear message on draft night: those days are over.

Nerlens Noel Press Conference

Nerlens Noel

My gut reaction to Hinkie’s decision to trade our only true asset, Jrue Holiday, for Nerlens Noel was, “wait, we traded our best player for another injured center?” But consider the following: There is currently a massive overstock of talented point guards in the Association and Jrue, despite his youth, is unlikely to ever crack the top five. The metrics (something Hinkie practically invented) suggest that Holiday’s statistical spike last season was more due to increased usage instead of increased effectiveness.

Translation: Holiday is good but his stats got a bit inflated last year because he had to carry the load with Andrew Bynum out. Elite defensive centers, on the other hand, are a true commodity. Roy Hibbert, Tyson Chandler, Dwight Howard are on the short list, and Nerlens Noel has the tools to join them. That’s rare. Is Noel a risk? Yes, but it’s a small risk compared the the prospect of giving Andrew Bynum a multi-year contract.

Even better, Noel’s injured. Wait, what? First of all, his injury is what made it even possible for us to grab him with the 6th pick. Secondly, the training staff will nurse him back slowly, ensuring sure his length and shot blocking ability won’t come anywhere near the court until January or February. The Sixers are going to be really bad. How bad? Spencer Hawes is going to be their second or third best player. Yikes. That means a practically guaranteed lottery pick, in addition to the one they nabbed from New Orleans in the Holiday trade. Yahtzee.

That means two potentially very high draft picks (although the New Orleans one is top 5 protected), the consensus most-talented player in the 2013 draft (Noel), a player many considered the most talented guard in the 2013 draft (the Sixers’ pick, Michael Carter-Williams who will be groomed to replace Jrue) and a ton of flexibility and cap space.

To give you an idea of how stacked the 2014 draft is, super-geek Chad Ford concluded that this year’s draft had only one potential all-star (our guy, Noel) and basically a slew of potential role players. Next year, however, he projects there are up to 8 or 9 potential all-stars, a couple of them (Andrew Wiggins, in particular. Holy crap, watch this kid’s HIGH SCHOOL highlights) of the once-in-a-generation type. We are in as prime a position as any team in the NBA to land one of these players. If we do, Philadelphia instantly becomes one of the most exciting young teams in basketball and a desirable free-agent destination.

It’s not fool-proof, but it’s a plan and it’s based on sound research. Next year will be brutal, but will it really be any worse than seeing Bynum on the sidelines making 16 million dollars? Plus, the Sixers have a killer t-shirt cannon.