NBA Handicapping: Are Sixers Historically Bad?
by Trevor Whenham - 11/20/2014
As time has passed, I have actually grown to respect the Philadelphia 76ers the last two years. I don't remember a time in all of my sports-watching career, which spans well over 30 years now, that a team has not just been so incredibly bad but has been unapologetically and openly so. Teams like Detroit or Denver are bad, but they want you to believe that they are trying and are close to something brighter.
Philadelphia knows what they are, and they want to lose. In fact, I actually believe that they are disappointed as an organization if they win. It's performance art. This is high-level stuff, and we are lucky enough to watch it.
They have found a completely legal way to game the system and invest in a brighter future, and they don't want to risk that it won't work out. So, what does it all mean for bettors? Let's take a look at three factors to consider when pondering that question:
Pursuit of the record: The 1972-73 Sixers hold the NBA record for futility with a 9-73 record. This squad seems determined to bring that record into the modern era to show that the old Sixers have nothing on the new ones. As silly as it seems, it would be in the team's best record to break that record instead of, say, winning 14 games. There is no bad press, unless you are Bill Cosby, that other Philly resident, and the team will get a whole lot more coverage in pursuit of that feat than we would for just being another really bad team. Think about it - we have heard a whole lot more about the 0-16 Detroit Lions over the years than the bunch of teams that have gone 1-15 or 2-14. In other words, being historically bad could be a savvy marketing move.
Roster ridiculousness: One of the many loopholes the Sixers are exploiting is the NBA salary floor. Theoretically, teams have to have a payroll that is at least 90 percent of the salary cap. If they don't, though - and the Sixers aren't even close - then there is no real penalty. All they have to do at the end of the season is distribute the difference between their actual payroll and the floor to the players on the roster. It's a non-penalty, and it has allowed the team to craft a roster that is an all-time great example of the art.
On Saturday the team added Robert Covington to the roster. Household name, right? That's significant because the strong forward out of Tennessee State is already the ninth undrafted player the team has had on the roster. Nine! Through 11 games! The all-time record for undrafted players on a team in a year is 10, and only two teams have done that. Philly will have that wrapped up by Thanksgiving - another record for their trophy case.
There is no limit to how little they can spend on players, no need to keep anyone around who is any good, and aside from Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, no one on the roster that they are planning to have any future with. Tanking has never been so easy.
Competitive in some games: Staunch defenders of the team - and tanking deniers - will point out that though they are 0-11, they have been close in some games. They lost by a single point to Houston, two to Orlando, and three against the Bulls. It hasn't all been bad, they will say. While that is true, and it is clear proof that sooner or later they will catch someone on a bad day and sneak out a win, there is the flipside as well. This is a team that lost by 53(!) at Dallas - one game after falling by 32 in Toronto. On that same four-game trip they lost to San Antonio by 25. Good teams do not lose by an average of 28 points per game on four-game road trips.
Defenders might even argue that the fact that they have covered four spreads despite having lost 11 games is a sign that they are a bit better than people expect. Even that isn't impressive when you look closer, though - their average spread is +10.5, they have been underdogs in every game, underdogs of at least 6.5 points in all but one home game, and they are just 2-3 ATS in games with massive spreads of more than 11 points. If you want to look for something nice to say about this train wreck of a team, then, it's that they are nicely profitable to bet against - and it's not like they are likely to get much better in a hurry.
Even this has a problem, though - the worse they play, the less likely opponents will care about playing them. We'll see weaker and weaker opposing lineups, and the players who do play will be far from their best. We've already seen several teams sleepwalk through their games against the Sixers. That's only going to get worse. That could easily lead to more covered spreads and even, heaven forbid, wins.
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