The anticipation of the 2012-2013 season could hardly be contained in Philadelphia. Fresh off of the Dwight Howard blockbuster that saw Jason Richardson and Andrew Bynum land in the City of Brotherly love, a new era of basketball brought a renewed and energized atmosphere to the Wells Fargo Center. Despite shipping their best player in Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets, the Sixers felt they were poised to establish themselves as a serious contender in the Atlantic Division and the ever improving Eastern Conference. There was one goal on the agenda for Philadelphia; a return to the NBA Finals. Little did they know their climb to glory would be sabotaged before the season began…
Plagued by knee injuries for a majority of his young career, Andrew Bynum has found it to be very difficult stay on the court particularly the last few seasons. In an attempt to change this trend, Bynum underwent the same Orthokine treatment that former teammate Kobe Bryant claims has revitalized his knees two weeks before training camp. However, a bone bruise to his right knee and a bowling injury to his left knee in November has kept him out indefinitely. Further frustrating the fans, the front office, his team, and his coach, there was no concrete timetable for his recovery, and the fate of the 2012-2013 season was getting worse each day he wasn’t suiting up.
Halfway through the season the 76ers find themselves sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference at 18-26, three games behind the Boston Celtics for the final playoff spot. Despite being eight games under .500 this season has not been lost quite yet for Philly, and with the anticipated return of Bynum following the All-Star break, the playoffs are still a realistic expectation. Upon his return, the Sixers will need him to remain healthy and contribute immediately on both sides of the ball.
Currently the Sixers are 15th in points allowed, giving up an average of 97.3 points a game. Despite this mediocre ranking, their defensive efforts in the paint are ranked 6th in the league. Adding one of the best big men in the league to their front court will not only improve their interior defense, it will enable the rest of their defense to improve shoring up the paint behind them should they get beat. It will also allow other players, such as Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner, to become complementary pieces to Bynum, which will relieve their load of trying to excel in positions they are not accustomed to playing. Defensive rebounding has also been an area of weakness for Philadelphia this season, but Bynum’s return should provide a significant improvement. He averaged nearly 12 rebounds a game last season, a vast difference from Lavoy Allen’s 5.2 and Kwame Brown’s 3.4 rebounds per game this season. This increase will allow more opportunities for the Sixers’ offense, another area Bynum will influence greatly.
Philadelphia has an abundance of shooters on their roster, which includes Jason Richardson, Evan Turner, and Nick Young. Even their all-star point guard Jrue Holiday can light up the scoreboard when it is needed. The problem this season so far has been the lack of consistency for these shooters. A large portion of this struggle can be credited to playing unfamiliar roles in the absence of Bynum, which has caused some players, especially younger ones, to shoulder an abnormally heavy load. Having Bynum present in the paint will profoundly change the landscape of this offense and will allow everyone to play a role that they are more likely flourish in.
Firstly, Bynum will provide instant offense down low to a relatively stagnant front court. Due to his athleticism and size, his post game has become very polished and he will continue to excel. His presence will allow Philadelphia’s offense to run through him. This will force opposing defenses to guard the paint more, drawing attention off of his teammates and opening up the floor. Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young will be able to work along side of Bynum in their more natural roles, instead of trying to help close the gap his absence created. Jrue Holiday will have more room to direct traffic and distribute the ball, whether it is to Bynum through a pick and roll or to Turner or Young outside on the wing. By opening up the floor, the Sixers will be able to play to the strengths of their players who have been playing out of desperation in an effort to keep their season afloat while waiting for Bynum’s return. A championship more than likely is out of reach this season but the Sixers will be able to develop valuable chemistry with Bynum, laying the foundation for future success.
It is not a secret that Bynum is going to be the key to this teams significance in the future and Philadelphia needs him now more than ever with his impending free agency this summer, which could determine the future of this organization who gambled on trading their best player for uncertainty.