The Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers may as well been two ships passing in the night last season. The Wizardsbeat the Sixers twice in overtime early in the schedule, during a time when the Wizards looked promising and the Sixers were struggling mightily. Later in the season, the Sixers defeated the Wizards twice by double digits, en route to a seven seed in the 2011 playoffs–the Wizards finished 13th in the Eastern Conference and 18 games behind the Sixers.
This season, the young Sixers will attempt to build on their first-round playoff exit while the Wizards will be looking to join the party. Their respective journeys start tonight at Verizon Center, as they kickoff their abbreviated two-game, home-and-home preseason slate with each other. But before that, TAI writers, John Converse Townsend and Rashad Mobley, along with Carey Smith from the ESPN TrueHoop Blog Philadunkia, address issues for both teams. Three questions, three answers start now…
1) According to the TrueHoop blog Philadunkia, Evan Turner has been working with a shooting coach and his shot has improved. John Wall spent the entire summer showing off his improved jumper and all-around game. Which player has more pressure to succeed in their second year? Who will be more successful?
TOWNSEND: Expectations are certainly higher for John Wall in 2011-12, but Evan Turner is under more pressure. Wall’s productive first season earned him recognition as one of the league’s brightest young stars. Turner, meanwhile, was largely forgotten, despite being the second overall selection in the 2010 draft; the 6’7” shooting guard struggled with his jumper, particularly beyond 10 feet, and failed to create consistently around the rim.
SMITH: Nationally I think there is more pressure on Wall to take his game to that “next level.” He was the No. 1 overall pick and started nearly every game he played in last year. He is considered the face of the Wizards franchise, a rising “star” in the League and has a major shoe campaign. Unfortunately Turner doesn’t have that resume – yet. Therefore he does not have the national pressure that is on Wall. However, at the local level I would say that there is significantly more pressure in Philadelphia on Turner to improve. And in Philly it’s about more then just seeing the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft improve as a player and live up to the status that comes with his draft slot. A majority of Sixers fans desperately want Turner to improve significantly this year because his speedy development would make Andre Iguodala and his monster contract expendable. Many, including myself, believe shedding AI9′s contract would get the Sixers closer to contending in the East. In short, Turner’s improvement is the key for the Sixers jumping from a playoff team to a legit threat in the conference. Now that’s pressure. Turner will be more successful at improving his play this year. Here’s why: Turner is a project who showed flashes of real potential last year. Thus, any improvements he made in the offseason will be very noticeable in 2011-12, highly praised, and as a result, his during-lockout work will be viewed as very successful.
MOBLEY: Turner is under more pressure and Turner will have the bigger year. The consensus is that Wall is THE man on the Wizards, which means the real pressure is on Ernie Grunfeld, Flip Saunders and Ted Leonsis to surround him with some talent. Turner is far from the Man on this Sixers squad. He has to prove he was not a bust as the number two pick. Luckily for him, last year was so disappointing that there is plenty of room for improvement this season.
2) Who would you rather have as your sixth man? Nick Young or Lou Williams?
TOWNSEND: Though Lou Williams was Philadelphia’s most productive player per minute last year, I would still rather have Nick Young as my sixth man. Young commits fewer turnovers and is a half foot taller than Williams, which allows him to defend (or at least see minutes) at multiple positions. With a more complete offensive game, Young can also be a dangerous scorer, particularly from deep.
SMITH: Nick Young. Is it even close? One guy is 6-6 and 200 pounds, shot 44-percent from the field and 38.7-percent from deep while hitting for 17 point per game, and playing serviceable defense. And Young did all of that for a team that, let’s face it, was awful last year. The other guy is 6-0 and 165 pounds (soaking wet), never met a shot he didn’t like, is a streaky shooter (40% / 34%) and is a defensive liability. Offensively, when Louis is hot (like every time Philly plays at Atlanta in front of his hometown crowd), it’s a beautiful thing to watch, but for my tastes, he’s too one-dimensional. Care to make a trade straight up?
MOBLEY: I know the answer is Nick Young because he’s the better defender, and he shoots a higher percentage–but he has never dazzled in a playoff game. Sweet Lou Williams scored 11 fourth quarter points off the bench to lead the Sixers over the mighty Miami Heat in game four of the opening round in the 2011 playoffs. Yes, the Sixers lost the series in the next game, but still, that has to count for something, right?
3) The Sixers finished 41-41 last year, earned a seventh seed in the playoffs and lost to the Miami Heat in the opening round, but in the offseason they made very few changes to their roster. The Wizards finished 23-59, missed the playoffs, but added depth through the draft and free agency. Which team will finish with the better record this season, and will either team make the playoffs?
TOWNSEND: Both the Sixers and Wizards have a chance to sneak into the postseason this year, with win totals projected in the mid- to low-thirties. However, the Sixers should be more consistent performers and will likely finish with a better record—but not by much.
SMITH: The Sixers will have a better record and will make the playoffs again this season. Don’t forget, the Sixers started 3-13 last season as they learned to play together and adapted to Doug Collins’ ways. That adjustment period should not exist this year and make for a much faster start for the 7-6. Additionally, the 76ers lost six games last year in simply unexplainable fashion. In their second year under Collins, those losses will not occur. Lastly, I think people are underrating the impact that rookie Nikola Vucevic will have on Philadelphia in 2011-12. The Sixers got next to nothing out of their center combo of Spencer Hawes and Marreese Speights last year. Frequently, Elton Brand ended up playing center because the other two were so inept. If “Big Nik,” who spent three seasons at USC (All-Pac-10 his last year) and has been playing in Montenegro’s “national” program for most of his life, can give any contribution at all — and I mean anything — the Sixers will be much improved at center. That fact alone should lead to additional wins for Collins and Co.
MOBLEY: The Sixers finished on a tear in the second half of the last season, and even though the Heat ran through them in five games, Doug Collins can use that as a motivating tool all season (and I have no doubt that he’ll do that in dramatic fashion). The Wizards are still learning how to win, how to be focused, and how to be a cohesive unit. They will be much improved, but they aren’t sniffing the playoffs until 2013.