By Justin Diaz
It's that time of the year. Snow has fallen on the ground. We have cut down pine trees and placed them in our living rooms, adorning them with lights and ornaments. The younger Phans went to bed excitedly on Christmas Eve, hopeful that Santa would get them that action figure or video game they always wanted. For Sixers fans, the wishes are not so materialistic. There is no denying that the team has improved recently, but there's a lot they could still use. So I've written up a Sixers wish list, what I hope Santa could deliver to each and every player on the roster to help propel this team to become championship contenders. But first, we start with the man in charge:
Doug Collins - A therapist. Coach Collins' vertigo-like symptoms have been well-documented this season. He had to leave at halftime of the November 3 game against the Cavaliers because his ailment became too severe. The stress of trying to get an under-achieving team to play up to its potential has to play a part in that. A therapist may be the only thing that could help Collins get through this season with his sanity intact.
Tony Battie - Patience. In a league with as much turnover as the NBA, you do not last for 12 seasons without having some ability. Battie has never been a star, but he is a guy who gives quality minutes every time he steps on the floor, playing his position well and doing the little things that help a team go. When we signed him, I was happy that we had a quality backup center who could get 15-20 minutes a night and not be a liability. But Collins hasn't played Battie much this year, and thus far he has gotten less minutes per game than in any other season in his career. With Spencer Hawes' back problems having the potential to resurface at any given moment, it is not a matter of if Battie gets his opportunity, but when.
Craig Brackins - Playing time. Coming out of Iowa State, Brackins was one of the most intriguing prospects in this year's draft. His excellent athleticism packed into a 6'10" frame made him attractive to many teams. The Thunder picked him 21st overall and two trades later, he ended up in Philly. His acquisition went mostly unnoticed, but I was excited to see what he would do. So far, nothing. He has racked up a whopping 21 minutes of playing time in two games. I get that Collins would like to put out a winning team, but there has to be more floor time available to see what a guy with Brackins' upside can do.
Elton Brand - Full health. When Brand signed a five year, $80 million dollar deal back in 2008, Sixers fans were very excited. The team had taken the Pistons, an Eastern Conference powerhouse at the time, to six games and nearly took a 3-1 lead until a heartbreaking loss in Game 4 seemingly took away the team's will to play. Many people believed the series was ultimately lost due to a lack of a half-court scoring presence to compliment the running game, something Brand was supposed to provide. So far, it has been disappointing to say the least. Brand simply did not seem to fit into the team's schemes. His heart cannot be questioned; Brand plays hard every minute he is on the floor, and is starting to show the talent that merited him such a deal in free agency. It's hard not to think how good he would be had he never ruptured his Achilles' tendon in his Clippers days.
Spencer Hawes - A low-post game. Many fans were delighted when the Sixers dealt the athletic yet maligned Samuel Dalembert for Hawes and Andres Nocioni this past offseason. But Hawes' game has been frustrating here. He is just as likely to try to back a man down in the post as he is to take a three-pointer. He certainly has the ability to knock down those threes, but that is not what you want from a center. If Hawes could command some respect down low to compliment Brand's ability in the high post and the Sixers' guard play, they would be a much better team.
Jrue Holiday - An All-Star berth. When the Sixers picked Holiday 17th overall in 2009, a lot of fans were confused that the team had not taken Ty Lawson, who dominated the college basketball scene at UNC the previous year en route to a National Championship. When Holiday started out poorly while Lawson played very well in a backup role in Denver, fans concerns seemed to be legitimized. Late last season and into this year, however Holiday has silenced the critics. It is not at all a stretch to say that he is the Sixers best player this year. Averaging nearly fourteen points, seven assists, and four rebounds a game, he is unquestionably one of the young stars in the game today, and his play has especially picked up recently. An All-Star birth may be a bit of a reach, but if there's anybody on the roster that deserves it, it's Holiday.
Andre Iguodala - Shot lessons with Herb Magee. It is no secret that Iguodala has all the physical gifts necessary to be a star in the NBA. Countless highlight dunks, lock-down defensive performances and high-flying plays reveal as much. But the one thing that has plagued his career is an atrocious jump shot. For a six year veteran of the league, there is no reason why he should not have improved the weakest part of his game by now. That the nationally renowned Shot Doctor, Herb Magee coaches right in town makes it even more inexcusable. An offseason in the gym with Magee would do wonders for Iguodala's game.
Jason Kapono - Consistency. Trading the ever-popular Reggie Evans for Kapono two offseasons ago was not a popular move in Philly, especially with me. Looking on the bright side. I hoped Kapono would bring his three-point shooting expertise (at the time, he had the highest three-point percentage in league history) here, and maybe spread out defenses to allow for Iguodala to slash in the paint more easily. However, Kapono's time in Philly has been marred by inconsistent efforts. Sometimes he's on, and will put up 20+ points. Other nights he's cold and will get maybe eight minutes of playing time. He has the ability. He just needs to bring it on a more regular basis.
Jodie Meeks - Driving ability. The Sixers have plenty of players that can drive the lane very well, but have a complete inability to knock down jumpers. Meeks' problem seems to be the exact opposite. This year his playing time has gone up, and he has shown himself with those increased minutes, knocking down plenty of big jumpers. However, teams have recently adapted to Meeks and started to pressure him, getting in his face and forcing him to take contested shots. With that, his field-goal percentage has dropped. If Meeks could get more explosive with his ball-handling, and force teams to respect his ability to drive as well as shoot, he would be much more successful.
Andres Nocioni - A defined role. Nocioni is a player that is hard not to like. He is what he is; an average player who plays hard. He won't get much better, but you know what you're getting with him. He has played all over the place this year, though. Some nights he's a two. Other he plays the three. Sometimes he starts. In other games, he doesn't even play. If Noc knew for sure what his role was every single night, he would become much more comfortable and thus play much better as well.
Darius Songalia - A heated seat. Sorry, dude, but an undersized fourth center/third power forward isn't going to see the floor much. He might as well be comfortable while he's on the bench.
Marreese Speights - A wake-up call. Speights suffers from Samuel Dalembert Syndrome (SDS), He has all the potential in the world, but whether it's a lack of a basketball IQ or just plain laziness, he has not realized it and shows no signs of doing so. His rookie season, he came off the bench for the Sixers and showed the potential to be a very good big man who could run the floor, fitting the Sixers style of play perfectly. Last season, a knee injury hampered him. When he came back he was, by his own admission, twenty pounds overweight and not in playing shape. This year, the same problems from last year have been apparent. He loses focus at times, but still has those flashes of brilliance. A swift kick in the butt could potentially get Speights to play as well as he is capable of.
Evan Turner - Confidence. Hailed as the savior of the franchise, Turner has had a very modest rookie campaign thus far. When Iguodala missed a few games due to injury, Turner seemed to step up his game a bit, picking up some of the scoring that was missed with Iggy out. When he returned, Turner went back to being a timid player, passing up open shots. When he would take shots, they were forced. These are signs of a player who is not very comfortable on the floor. If Turner plays with more confidence, the ability for which the Sixers selected him second overall will start to reveal itself. A career-high 23 points in December 29's win against the Suns shows that Santa may have delivered on this one.
Lou Williams - Four inches and twenty pounds. At 6'1", 175 pounds, Williams is very undersized for any position. Coaches attempted to make him a full-time point guard, but this did not take advantage of Williams' abilities. He can drive very well, knock down open shots, and as a sixth man off the bench, he's a very good option to get some points. But at his size, there is not much more that he can do. Just about anybody he covers has a significant advantage if he decides to try to post Lou up. If Lou were the size of, say, Meeks, he could be a very good starting option. It's a shame that something he cannot control holds him back.
Thaddeus Young - A weight room. Much like Williams, Young's lack of size is what holds him back the most. He has good ability in the post, can knock down a mid-range jumper, and can drive well too. But imagine how much better the lanky forward would be if he had the size to hold his own defensively against larger opponents. With his frame, Young can afford to put on another fifteen to twenty pounds and still maintain the athleticism that allows him to play so well. It would help significantly. The Sixers have began to turn the season around without all of these gifts from a fat man in a red suit. Certainly they have become much more watchable in recent weeks, and if we get everything on this Christmas list, a championship may be much closer than it seems.