The Philadelphia 76ers are a very bad basketball team. Don't let anything I say over the next 800 words or so distract you from that unavoidable fact. The truth is, though, that they aren't quite as bad lately as they were early in the season. They are 4-8 in their last 12 games - almost more impressive than Golden State's streak to start the season given how little they have to work with. So, how bad is this team? Why? And what does it all mean for bettors? Here are seven factors to consider when thinking about those three questions:
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Ish Smith: The team is dramatically better over their last 12. Smith has been with the team for 12 games. This is not a fluke. The team didn't have a point guard who could distribute the ball and run the floor. Now they do. He has been a difference maker. Even he comes with a story that is so Sixers, though. They should have known what Smith could do because he played the last 25 games of the year with them last year. They didn't offer him a contract. Nor did they grab him when he was cut by other teams at the start of the season. Twice. Instead, they waited and then traded away two second-round picks for him. Not ideal, but his presence is the important thing at this point. Of course, we can't look at Smith as a savior - he's playing well now, but he is a journeyman at best, so he is a stopgap like so many others on the team. Remember, Jeremy Lin was a superhero until he really wasn't.
Noel and Okafor disaster together: Drafting Jahlil Okafor a year after drafting Nerlens Noel was far from ideal, but if they could have been some sort of twin tower superpower wonder twins then it would have been fine. That doesn't seem to be the case. They have little chemistry and aren't regularly playing together. Okafor's play is improving lately, but his attitude is a total disaster and his defensive play is weak - so much so that the talk of trading him away just won't go away. What the future has in store remains to be seen, but it is very tough to believe that the team has the foundation in place upon which to build this franchise.
Stability: When a team is this bad there is inevitably going to be questions about the powers in charge. Management was smart to ease those concerns, though, by endorsing -- verbally and financially - both coach and GM. Now, you can argue whether the addition of Mike D'Antoni and especially Jerry Colangelo are good moves - I think they are more likely to muddy and weaken than enhance and build, but that's another debate. Regardless, the key here is that the players know who the head coach and general manager are both going to be. Brett Brown deserves it, too. The team has become better fundamentally and has played hard throughout despite almost impossible ineptness. It takes a good coach to get that out of his players in such trying circumstances.
Not having a steady starting lineup hurts: The team has used 22 different starting lineups. 22! You cannot have any kind of consistency and development when you have such a revolving door in the lineup. Until that is resolved, this team is going to continue to struggle - and unfortunately there is no real reason to expect stability.
Nik Stauskas: It's still early, but at this point it really looks like I was wrong about the addition of Stauskas. I thought it was a great move. It hasn't been so far. His shooting has improved in January, but he is still far from the stone-cold assassin that he was in college. Defensively, though, he has been a mess. He just cannot defend at this level. Against the Bulls last Thursday, for example, Jimmy Butler had a career night in large part because of how effectively he was able to torch Stauskas. The team should have had their shooting guard of the future - or at least for the next few years. Stauskas will have to improve dramatically to meet that potential.
ATS performance: The team isn't as useful for bettors as we might hope. They are bad, but the public knows it and bets accordingly. Despite their 5-38 record they are just 19-23-1 ATS, which means that betting against them is only barely profitable. They are a dramatically improved 8-4 ATS during the Ish Smith era.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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