The Sixers won! Hooray, the Sixers won!
It’s not often fans can say that this season, as the 107-93 win over the injury-riddled New Orleans Pelicans was just the tenth time in 78 games this Sixers team left the court with a victory this year. In a lost season, filled with loss after loss after loss, this win matters. This win is important. This win is worth celebrating.
All year, as the failures began to pile up and more and more fans started to lose faith in The Process, the Sixers were stuck on an ignominious path to NBA history. Just one team has ever managed to finish an 82-game season with fewer than 10 wins, and with the victory on Tuesday night, the Sixers no longer have to worry about being as historically bad as…the Sixers. (Sigh.)
The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers have the distinction of being the worst team in NBA history, at least in terms of an 82-game season. Technically, the 2012 Charlotte Bobcats are the worst team ever in terms of total wins (7) and winning percentage (.106), but that season was shortened by a work stoppage from 82 to 66 games, so their futility isn’t quite as historically relevant, at least from a season-long standpoint.
The 1972-73 Sixers were horrible. Led by Fred Carter’s 20 points per game and Bill Bridges’ 14 and 10 — who could forget his contributions to Sixers history — that team lost their first 15 and last 13 games of the season, winning just nine of the 54 in between.
Head coach Roy Rubin (and who could forget his contributions to Sixers history) was canned after 51 games and replaced by Kevin Loughery, a 10-year veteran as a player, who was averaging 30 minutes and nearly 14 points in just 32 games that season before taking over on the bench in January.
Loughery was not retained as a coach the following year, replaced by Gene Shue who managed to quickly turn the Sixers around, leading them to the NBA Finals in 1977. Loughery, for what it’s worth, stayed in coaching after his playing career, moving from the Sixers team he led to a 5-26 record in the NBA to the ABA, where he coached the New York Nets to the 1973-74 ABA championship. That team was led by a second year star from UMass named Julius Erving, and (once more, with feeling) who could forget his contributions to the Sixers, though sadly a few years later than 1973.
So, yes, those Sixers were horrible. And these Sixers are pretty horrible too.
Brett Brown’s team averages the fewest points in the NBA (97.1), and are the only team in the Association to average 10 points less than their opponents, giving up 107.3 points per game, third worst behind only Phoenix and Sacramento.
The Sixers are allowing 46.4 percent of their opponents’ shots to drop, the seventh-worst mark in the NBA, while shooting just 43.2 percent as a team, second-worst to only the Los Angeles Lakers. The Sixers have the NBA’s worst offensive rating to go with the sixth-worst defensive rating, barely squeaking by the Lakers to avoid the worst net rating in the league. Their effective field goal percentage — a statistic that ostensibly rewards teams for taking three pointers instead of mid-range jumpers that are just as difficult but worth fewer points — is 48.6 percent, better than only the Bulls, Knicks, Grizzlies and Lakers. Their true shooting percentage — the same, plus free throws — is worse than every team but the Lakers.
But in a weird way, all of those horrible stats are what makes this team so much fun. The Sixers are a fun team, not just to cover but to watch, as they play their hearts out every night despite knowing they are out-gunned, out-manned, out-numbered, out-planned in terms of legitimate NBA talent almost every night.
The Sixers rank sixth in the NBA in possessions per 48 minutes, and while part of that could be attributed to the fact their opponents are often scoring easy buckets, thus giving the Sixers the ball back over and over again, Brown’s team does like to get out and push the pace, even if it rarely results in success.
Still, the Sixers are ranked in the top 10 in percentage of points scored off turnovers and percentage of points scored in the paint and are in the top half of the league in percentage of points scored on the fast break; it’s just that they score so little that those percentages don’t mean as much as they do for, say, the Golden State Warriors.
And speaking of the Warriors, how many times this season can NBA fans look at the results and see a Sixers win and a Dubs loss on the same night?!?
(Three. The answer is three times this season the Sixers have won and the Warriors have lost on the same night.)
All season long the Sixers have been trying to avoid history while Golden State has been trying to make it, but with the loss on Tuesday night in overtime to, of all teams, the 26-52 Minnesota Timberwolves, the Warriors are now 69-9 and need to run the table in the last four games to break the Jordan-era Bulls’ record for most wins in a season. Facing the San Antonio Spurs—just three games back in the loss column after last night—and Memphis Grizzlies each twice, breaking the wins record doesn’t seem as likely for Golden State as it did a week ago.
For the Sixers, Tuesday’s win guaranteed they can’t even tie the mark for the worst record in NBA history, and with four tough games for Golden State coming, they could actually end the NBA season with fewer losses than the Warriors have wins. Hooray…?
Yes. Hooray. It’s the small victories that matter this season. The Sixers have already locked up the most ping pong balls in the NBA lottery and have a chance at four first-rounders this season, with picks from Oklahoma City and Miami coming to Philly and the slim hope that the Lakers get so royally screwed during the draft lottery that their second-worst record wields the fourth-overall pick, as the Lakers’ pick is top-three protected this season. Oh, and for almost no reason at all, the Sixers have the right to swap first round picks with Sacramento, should the Kings swoop in and get a better pick than the Sixers in the lottery. And with a stacked top of the NBA draft this season, The Process might actually work!
Most likely, with the Thunder and Heat picks later part of the first round, Sam Hinkie and Jerry Colangelo may try to package those to move up in the first round, or unload them to roll the dice on better picks in future seasons. The Process, as we’ve seen in the past, is ever-evolving.
And while Dr. J isn’t walking off the ABA courts and through the Wells Fargo Center doors anytime soon, the fortunes of these Sixers could be similar to that old moribund team from the 1970s.
It’s not that far-fetched to think the Sixers could be playing for the NBA championship in four years. If the draft falls the right way this year and Joel Embiid continues to progress, there’s a chance this team could be pretty good in a few years. Cleveland is really the only truly star-laden team in the East, and LeBron certainly isn’t getting any younger. The other teams in the East are formidable, but Boston is a perfect model for how the Sixers can get good again.
Like the Celtics, the Sixers have proven the ability to find talent in places others haven’t, so if they can combine that diamond-in-the-rough strategy with sound drafting at the top of the next few drafts, and perhaps convince a top free agent to come to Philly to complete this rebuild, there is a case to be made that the Sixers could be really good in three or four years.
Yes, all that optimism from 10 wins. Congratulations, Sixers, on avoiding history. You are officially not as bad…as the Sixers. And maybe soon, like those Sixers, you will be good again.