I'm usually not one to make outlandish statements just to create a stir, but in this instance I believe the statement I am about to make is valid for reasons I'll explain later. It's just something that I've noticed while watching summer league games as well as glancing over the regular season rosters of other NBA teams. I'm sure not everyone will agree with it, but here it is.
The Philadelphia 76ers have the best collection of young talent in the Eastern Conference.
By the word "young" I mean players who will be 23 or younger during the upcoming season. From Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner in the backcourt toThaddeus Young, Marreese Speights and Spencer Hawes up front, no other team east of the Mississippi can throw out a starting five of young players that could match up with these Sixers. With the exception of the Westbrook-Harden-Durant-Ibaka-Aldrich group in Oklahoma City, you could make the case for the Sixers having the best young quintet in the NBA. Let's take a look at what makes these players so intriguing and also predict what we can expect from them this upcoming season.
- Holiday (09-10 stats: 8.0 ppg, 3.8 apg, turned 20 in June): The starting PG spot is Holiday's to lose and here's an update: he ain't losin' it. For a guy who played mostly off guard as a rookie with Lou Williams at point as well as at UCLA with Darren Collison at point, Holiday looked pretty good running the show himself in summer league action. In three summer league games, he averaged 19 points and six assists while shooting 47percent. At 6-foot-4 and nearly 200 pounds, he has the size to play SG if need be and could be deadly against smaller guards if he ever develops a post-up game. With an improved supporting cast and an increase in minutes (and confidence), Holiday will be in the running for the most improved player award by the end of the season. Prediction: 14 ppg, 6 apg.
- Turner (20.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 6.0 apg w/ OSU, turns 22 in October): To say that Turner was unimpressive in the summer league would be an understatement. He never scored more than 13 points in five games and had more turnovers than assists. Turner looked to be out of shape and said he struggled because he hadn't played 5-on-5 ball in a while. Because of his stellar play in games that actually do count (i.e. the ones at Ohio State), we'll give Turner the benefit of the doubt. For his outlook on the NBA, Turner compares favorably to last year's ROY, Tyreke Evans, in that both are essentially 6-foot-6 point guards. However, Turner will have a bigger adjustment to make than Evans had due to his role changing in the NBA. Instead of being the focal point, Turner will have to defer to Holiday and Iguodala in terms of ball-handling duties which could affect his mentality whenever he does get his touches. Look for him to struggle early on before adapting to his role and coming on strong later in the season. Prediction: 14 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg.
- Young (13.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, turned 22 in June): Since coming into the league as a 19-year-old, Young's body has developed, as has his game. He was not eligible to play in the summer league, but he's reportedly added 10 pounds to his frame and should be at around 230 pounds for the season. That will allow him to play more time at PF when the Sixers go small, but he should still have the quickness to play some SF when either Turner or Iguodala are resting. Because of his size and athleticism, he doesn't need to have plays run for him to score; he can score on offensive rebounds and can finish in transition. Young's biggest problem facing him has more to do with Doug Collins' preference for traditional lineups rather than a lack of skill.If Collins elects to play Iguodala, Brand, and Hawes up front then Young gets squeezed out even though he can play multiple positions. Prediction: 11 ppg, 5 rpg.
- Speights (8.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, turns 23 in August): After two seasons of lackluster defensive effort and nary a block in the summer league, it's pretty evident that Speights will never be on the all-defensive team. Thus, let's just appreciate him for what he is and that is a skillful offensive player who can score down low and has a mid-range game. He will be fourth in the big man rotation but could also serve as the go-to scorer for the second unit.However, as I stated in this column, Collins' calling card is defense so Speights has to at least appear to put some effort into his defense in order to gain consistent playing time. If he doesn't, then he will end up as part of the bench cheerleading squad alongside Jodie Meeks and Jason Smith. Prediction: 7 ppg, 4 rpg
- Hawes (10.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg w/ Sac., turned 22 in April): Hawes may be unfamiliar to those who never caught any Kings games, but he is a highly skilled big man who should thrive in the high post. He can play down low but will be most effective at the elbow since then he can utilize his passing skills and also allow Elton Brand to play where he's most comfortable. The biggest gripe with Hawes is his perceived lack of strength and toughness but Collins must think that Hawes will improve in those two areas since he traded for him. Soft players and Doug Collins-coached teams go together like peanut butter and tuna fish, so it's safe to assume that there will be a noticeable improvement under Collins' watch. As the only true center on the roster, Hawes will see around 28 minutes per game even if he comes off the bench and after Holiday, he could have the most dramatic improvement over last year's numbers. Prediction: 12 ppg, 8 rbg.
Collins likes playing veterans but with so many young bodies, he will be forced to go with the young guys often. The good thing is that this won't be just a one-year experiment as Young and Hawes are signed thru 2012 while Speights has a team option in the 2011-2012 season which the team will likely pick up. Holiday and Turner are still at the beginning of their rookie contracts, so they won't be going anywhere until after the 2013-2014 season at the earliest. But for an organization that's on its sixth head coach in the last nine years, let's just pray and hope that Collins can stick around long enough to help groom the baby Sixers.