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Young, depleted Sixers starting new era from scratch

POSTED: Oct 15, 2013 1:52 PM ET

By John Schuhmann,


Evan Turner is one of three holdovers from the Sixers' last playoff team two seasons ago.

The Philadelphia 76ers are going to lose a lot of games this season.

2012-13 Sixers Top 10

A bad team already, they traded Jrue Holiday -- their All-Star and, as important, the guy who ran the offense -- this summer for a draft pick that might miss half the season (or more) and another pick next year. Their best player -- Thaddeus Young -- would be a great sixth man on a good team. In fact, that's what he was two years ago.

This is the plan of Sixers ownership and new general manager Sam Hinkie. Hit rock bottom and increase your chances for a top-three pick in what projects to be a star-laden draft next June. With their two picks from this past Lottery and two more next year (assuming the New Orleans Hornets don't make the playoffs), the Sixers have a real opportunity to put together a young core that's a lot more talented than the one that was sent packing over the last two summers.

But before they can go forward, they must first go back. Back to the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a team that could have one of the most anemic offenses in recent memory.

That doesn't mean that this will be a lost season and that there's nothing to accomplish over the next seven months. The Sixers can begin the journey forward by developing their young players over the next 82 games. And, by far, the most important of those young players right now -- with No. 6 pick Nerlens Noel still recovering from ACL surgery -- is rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams.

GameTime: Noel and Sixers

Carter-Williams will be handed the reins right away. Having traded Holiday and selected the sophomore from Syracuse with their own lottery pick (No. 11), the Sixers made no moves to bring in a veteran point guard to absorb minutes and bring the rookie along slowly. In fact they didn't acquire any other point guard until late August, when the free agent market had dried up.

At 6-foot-6, Carter-Williams has the potential to be a disruptive defender. Already, he has passing skills and the ability to get into the paint.

"You see signs of really special size and change-of-pace speed," new Sixers coach Brett Brown said in training camp. "He's got a controlled gear, and when he goes into that other gear, it's something special. And so he's a deliberate type of point guard."

But it takes a lot more than skill to succeed in this league. As a rookie starting point guard, Carter-Williams has to learn the plays, learn where his teammates need the ball, adjust to the longer and more rigorous schedule, and make the switch from Syracuse's zone defense to man-to-man. There are a dozen other things that will challenge him this season.

"For a lot of guys, physically and mentally it's a grind," Hinkie said. "So getting him to figure out routines that work for him, that he can do over and over is a big part of what we want to see."

"Sometimes, I get a little bit overwhelmed," Carter-Williams admitted, "but I just got to step back and take everything in."

Sixers News Conference: Brett Brown

He also has to fight through it. For Brown the most important thing his point guard can show him throughout the season is "continued toughness."

"You see quickly that he is young," Brown said, "that he hasn't played a second of NBA, physical basketball vs. men and equal or better athletes. And so there's an education that's coming now."

That's where Tony Wroten -- another big point guard acquired in a trade from Memphis -- comes in. He barely played last season, so Wroten can't exactly show Carter-Williams all the ropes, but he can help develop the rookie by pushing him in the direction that Brown wants him to go.

Wroten is an aggressive, handsy defender. And while that might earn him more fouls than steals in real games with real officials, he's going to get under the rookie's skin quite a bit in practice.

"Tony Wroten is the best development coach that Michael Carter-Williams will have this year," Brown said. "This is a big-boy stage and there's a physicality that Tony can bring to the table. So when we start scrimmaging and there's either a casual approach or a little bit of aloofness and a cruisy type of style, Tony tightens it up and makes it real, real quick."

Brown knows that it's also one of his own top priorities to bring the rookie along.

"He will get there," Brown said. "He's a smart kid. He's an excellent player. But those are the things that are going to take time that I'm going to help him get through.

"I'm helping him extract as much competitiveness and toughness that I believe is in him."

It's a process. But it will be expedited with the amount of time that Carter-Williams spends on the floor with the ball in his hands, being defended by the best in the world. And if he can develop the toughness that Brown is looking for, the Sixers' future will be that much brighter.

"It's not like you're trying to deliver a team to May," Brown said, comparing the first season of his new job to his years as an assistant in San Antonio. "You're just trying to bring them some place that's realistic in April where you can step back and feel like you've really done your job of the starting blocks of a system, of a culture."

Three points

1. Right now, there is no timetable for Noel's return. "We'll focus on what's good for Nerlens and his long-term health," Hinkie said. "We're going to have a whole set of benchmarks that he'll have to meet."

2. But the Sixers believe Noel can still become a better player as he sits on the sidelines. "That's our challenge," Hinkie said, "to keep him mentally engaged and find ways where he can learn about the league, and learn about our systems without playing. It's not easy. Most of us learn better by doing." One thing Noel can do physically is work on his shooting form, and Brown has been giving him personal instruction on it every day after practice.

3. Brown himself is a rookie. He's been a head coach in Australia, but is still making an adjustment with his first head job in the NBA, especially with such a young team. He says the toughest part is trying not to correct his players too much. "You want to cut to the chase and get to the point, but you want to teach."

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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