Up-and-Coming Sixers Looking Dangerous in Atlantic Division

Up-and-Coming Sixers Looking Dangerous in Atlantic Division Being 4-0 in the NBA preseason is kind of like being first in line for McDonald's McLobster sandwich — not a huge honor.

But the Philadelphia 76ers' fast start to the 2009-10 season isn't completely without significance.

We can pull from it insights into new head coach Eddie Jordan's basketball philosophy. We can also measure the health of his players and the extent to which Philly's newcomers are fitting in with their teammates.

When we do so, the Sixers start to look dangerous.

(Full disclosure: I wrote a column in August predicting this year's Sixers would be on par, at best, with the '08-'09 version — in other words, that they'd flake out in the first round of the playoffs again. I'm not quite willing to trash the latter part of that prediction yet, but I will say this — Philly's undoubtedly a better, deeper club than it was a year ago.)

Sure, Jordan's vaunted “Princeton Offense” hasn't yet cured the Sixers of their offensive lethargy. They managed just 97.4 a game on the season last year, and they now sit at 94.3 in the preseason, 25th in the league.

Here's the catch: They're holding opponents to 88.5 ppg in return and a measly 39.6 field-goal percentage, a sign the club is building on last season's impressive defense and buying into Jordan's philosophy. Philadelphia also ranks second in rebounding to this point, at 45.8 boards a game. It finished 17th in that category in 2008-09 with just 41.2.

Admittedly, team stats can be a bit misleading in the preseason. A good chunk of those rebounds come during junk time in the second half when the reserves hit the floor. But take a closer look at Philly's go-to guys: Many of the club's offseason question marks seem to have been answered. 

No need to say much about Andre Iguodala. He's a stud and has continued to be one in the preseason, averaging 13 points and four rebounds in about 30 minutes of play. Mind you, he has turned the ball over a ridiculous 24 times already, but I attribute much of that to Jordan's installation of the Princeton set.

What about the rest of the roster?

1. Elton Brand
Put a big man of Brand's skill and intellect in the frontcourt, and the Sixers advance past the Magic in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. Problem is, he sat most of the year (again), this time with a shoulder injury. Now he's back, giving the unreliable Samuel Dalembert a partner in the paint.

And by all indications, Brand is healthy. He's averaging 27 minutes of court time through Philly's first four contests and has been productive throughout them, posting 12.5 points on 51 percent shooting to go with 6.3 boards. Extrapolate that out to 36 minutes, and you're looking at a 17-point-, nine-board-a-game type of player.

2. Louis Williams
Perhaps the biggest concern for Philadelphia heading into the 2009-10 season is replacing veteran point guard Andre Miller, who left for the Trail Blazers and a new three-year, $21 million deal.

Enter Lou, who has played his entire four-year career with the 76ers, but has yet to start a single NBA game. The product thus far looks good. Williams is leading the club offensively at 13.5 points a game and has demonstrated his quickness on defense, notching almost two steals per contest in just 26 minutes of play.

He ain't Andre Miller, but he certainly looks serviceable as a replacement.

3. Jason Kapono
It sounds funny, but perhaps the biggest offseason move Philly president Ed Stefanski made was to ship Reggie Evans to Toronto for Kapono. Why? Because the Sixers were abominable from beyond the arc last year, ranking second to last in 3-pointers at just 4.2 per game.

Kapono, four games in, is scoring eight points a contest in just 19 minutes and shooting 57 percent from deep. Perhaps it's too early to say “Problem solved,” but Kapono's no doubt a step in the right direction.

Add another year of play for promising big men Thaddeus Young (21 years old) and Marreese Speights (22) and add first-round pick Jrue Holliday to the backcourt, and the Sixers suddenly look not only solid, but deep.

Deep enough to challenge in the Atlantic? No. But certainly deep enough to win a playoff series — something the franchise hasn't done since 2003.

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