Lakers Top 2012 Eastern Competition Part III: Philadelphia 76ers

We have now entered the start of actual gameplay for the 2012-13 season, as the Lakers took on the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night in their first pre-season game. We can now finally say, basketball is back! Sunday’s pre-season game was so highly anticipated by fans, that it almost felt as if the Lakers were playing a post-season game. Yet, that’s how it is this year in Lakerland. Expectations and anticipation is so high for every single game, even a pre-season one.

Today I will conclude my series for the Lakers’ top competition in the league. I first started out talking about the top teams in the West that will compete with the new-look Lakers. Recently, I turned my attention to the East. The top competitors in the East are without a doubt the Miami Heat. Next, I wrote about the Lakers’ longtime rivals, the Boston Celtics. While I think the Brooklyn Nets, the New York Knicks and the Indiana Pacers are improved and will most likely make the playoffs, I selected the Philadelphia 76ers to analyze.

Last season, the Sixers were a surprise team not only in the Eastern Conference, but in the entire league. Philly is definitely not as deep this year, as they lost key players such as Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets (trade) and Jodie Meeks to the Los Angeles Lakers (free agency). However, the Sixers did make improvements to their roster this off-season with the notable additions of former Laker Andrew Bynum and veteran Jason Richardson from the Orlando Magic, which occurred as a result of the four-team trade that brought Dwight Howard to Los Angeles, Philly also signed forward Dorell Wright and guard Nick Young in free agency to help strengthen their bench.

However, the success of the Philadelphia 76ers will begin and end with Andrew Bynum. Bynum was a point of confusion for the Lakers last season, because despite his ability to dominate, it came down to whether or not he wanted to show up mentally. This was frustrating for fans, who had seen with their own eyes the massive amount of talent he possesses. Personally, I hope he fully commits to playing up to his potential every night and wish him the best of luck. After all, we must remember his role of the Lakers’ success while he was here.

Despite the possibility that he may not re-sign with Philly next year, Bynum is in the position that he wanted to be in: the number one option. The Sixers’ offense will be built around Bynum and he will get even more touches than last year since Philly doesn’t have guys named Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol on their team. Essentially, Bynum has the tools in order to make the Sixers great, but it will be up to him to make it happen. There are two necessities that must be accomplished to make this happen. He must stay healthy and he must commit to his mental approach.

Sounds simple, right?

Andrew Bynum must realize that he is the Philadephia 76ers franchise player now and will continue to be if he does in fact re-sign with them after the season. Bynum must improve defensively since their team will be counting on him to set the example. Even though he has a veteran status, Bynum is still only 24 years-old and has yet to reach his prime. The question is, now that Bynum can say that the Sixers are “his team”, will he fully play to his potential every night?

Doug Collins is now the coach to get this out of Bynum. It might be the perfect pairing to do just that. Collins preaches the importance of defense, which should benefit Bynum. In fact, Philadelphia was third in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season. Collins has a knack for motivating his players to play to their strengths, and then some. It will be interesting to see how Collins will adjust his offense with the addition of Bynum, since last season’s offense depended on a balanced attack from the entire roster.

Additionally, Jrue Holiday is on the rise in Philadelphia, according to Hoopsworld:

A preseason favorite (if there is such a thing) for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, Jrue Holiday will have a much bigger role on offense this season. Holiday’s assist numbers have been up and down in his three seasons (3.8 per game as a rookie, 6.5 per game in 2010-2011 and 4.5 per game last year) because Iguodala frequently initiated the offense. Iguodala and Lou Williams are both gone now, so there’s only one real point guard on the team this year. Holiday has the total package of talents (size, athleticism, skills, smarts, etc.) and now he just has to put it together. The good news is that, while he is entering his fourth season, he’s just 22 years old.

The Lakers got much better on defense during the off-season, especially with the addition of Howard. Philadelphia’s great defense from last season seemed to get better during the summer. The presence of Bynum will benefit Philly by being able to defend the lane, while their perimeter defense remains strong. However, the Lakers overpowering offensive ability will tip the scale in the match-ups between these two. Philly isn’t destined for the Finals quite yet, but Andrew Bynum’s new team will be competitive in the post-seasonn and in their games against his old team.

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