Undefeated 76ers early surprise of the NBA season
Winless for Wiggins is out. Flawless in Philly is so in.
Look who’s leading the NBA standings, with a 3-0 record featuring wins over Miami and Chicago. Rub your eyes all you want, the answer – for now – is the awful-to-awesome Philadelphia 76ers.
Yes, this is the same franchise that prompted Las Vegas to set the over-under for total wins this season at 16.5.
There’s an early buzz in Philly over the way The Little Tank Engine That Could has stormed through the elite of the Eastern Conference en route to their best start since 2006-07, when Allen Iverson was running the show, not showing up to announce his retirement.
Just as the sign read Saturday night after their latest win over Chicago, ”3-0. That’s No Bull.”
”We’re excited about the victories,” forward Thaddeus Young said, ”but the work doesn’t stop here.”
Nope, but the Sixers will enjoy the can-you-believe this victories while they can.
Consider, in a bleak year in Philly sports, the Sixers entered Sunday with one less win than the Flyers (who started Oct. 2) and as many as the Eagles (Sept. 9).
The Sixers can thank three rookies for their start: general manager Sam Hinkie, coach Brett Brown and point guard Michael Carter-Williams.
With his team mired in mediocrity for a decade, Hinkie was the GM who put the rebuilding plan in place, drafting MCW and trading for Nerlens Noel. Brown has preached patience – while pushing an up-tempo style that had the Sixers score 100-plus points in all three wins.
And then there’s MCW.
If basketball fans weren’t familiar with what the MCW stood for after his 22-point, 12-assist, nine-steal debut on opening night against Miami, they are now. After three games, Carter-Williams has opened eyes around the league, outplaying Washington’s John Wall and Chicago’s Derrick Rose on consecutive nights. He had 26 points, 10 assists and rallied the Sixers from 18 down in the second half to beat the Bulls on Saturday night.
”I think it’s a point guards’ league,” Brown said, ”and I think Michael Carter-Williams is for real.”
He’s gobbled nicknames faster than double-doubles – MCW, of course, and ”The Hyphen.”
”Coach gives me a lot of confidence out there,” Carter-Williams said. ”I’m able to play freely.”
In his sophomore season at Syracuse, Carter-Williams broke the school record for steals in a season with 111 and finished with 292 assists, the second-highest total in Syracuse history behind only Sherman Douglas’s record of 326 in 1988-89. Carter-Williams also recorded nine double-doubles.
The Sixers thought enough of MCW to pick him 11th in the draft, and trade All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans.
Who needs to lose 60 games for the top pick if Hinkie and crew prove they can find a gem like MCW at 11?
Even Magic Johnson endorsed Carter-Williams as a rookie to watch.
”I just got done watching the guy I think will be the Rookie of The Year, Michael Carter-Williams of the 76ers,” Johnson wrote on Twitter.
Johnson’s not the only one hooked on the Sixers – the fans that openly rooted for them to lose so they could potentially select Kansas prospect Andrew Wiggins with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft – creating (hash)winlessforwiggins on Twitter – have switched stripes and embraced the team.
The Sixers failed to heed the message this was supposed to be a rebuilding year – or, in NBA terms, a tanked season.
The comeback fun – they haven’t led to open the fourth quarter – started on opening night.
They hit their first 11 shots, stormed to a 19-0 start, blew the lead, then rallied in the fourth to top LeBron James and the Heat. Young scored 29 points in a win over the Washington Wizards. And they turned a nine-point hole in the fourth into a 107-104 win over Chicago.
Last season’s 34-48 team never won three straight.
”We understand what everybody has said and written about us,” Brown said. ”We just want to knock out great days. I think that those days have added up. I’m lucky that I’ve found a group that enjoys each other’s company. They enjoy playing together.”
Carter-Williams, Young, Spencer Hawes and a recharged Evan Turner have keyed the early surge.
But the Sixers are also throwing out combinations that include Tony Wroten, Lavoy Allen and Daniel Orton. Not exactly the next Big Three.
It all seemed like a recipe for the first pick in the draft, not first place in the Atlantic Division.
From his opening news conference, Brown has stressed a commitment to fitness, certain in his belief that a team in shape can run up the score, even if all the talent isn’t yet in place. He wants teams to know they’re in for a physical game when they match up against Philly.
”I think our young guys have reaped the benefit of that,” Brown said. ”I feel like that’s helped us put points on the board. I’m surprised we’ve been able to score at the rate they’ve been able to score. I didn’t know they had that in them.”
Up next, is Golden State on Monday night and a chance to go 4-0 for the first time since the 2000-01 season. The Sixers are trying to enjoy the moment, hoping this is not a mirage before they crash to the bottom of the standings.
”The more you can win in adverse situations, it just keeps building on that feeling,” Brown said. ”We know that feeling at times in the NBA with young teams is fleeting. But, for the moment, we’ll take it.”