Being mired in a 26-game losing streak this season is more than just growing pains. It’s a losing streak that tied the NBA record and it was a frustrating experience for a young team barren of veteran leaders outside of Thaddeus Young.
But, despite this being a long and mentally exhausting season, it looks like long-term the 76ers will benefit from all the adversity the team and its players saw this season.
“I think all the players have improved” Brett Brown told me when I asked him about his highlights from this season. “It’s based on statistics. If you look at our guys – I don’t need to go through all of them – all of them have done something this year that they haven’t done in the past. Whether it’s an improved free throw percentage or three-point percentage or assist-to-turnover ratio (they’ve gotten better). We also have Nerlens Noel who has really developed while not even playing.
“I look back on this group with joy and tremendous fondness and affection because we have taken hits and they’ve shown they aren’t going to roll over. They are going to play hard tonight again.”
Brown was right as his team fought hard against a team that clearly had more talent. DeMar DeRozan was an all-star this season, Kyle Lowry should have joined DeRozan in New Orleans, and Jonas Valanviunas got some redemption after a horrible 72 hours when he scored a career-high 26 points while grabbing 12 rebounds.
All Philadelphia could do was have potential rookie-of-the year Michael Carter-Williams flirt with a triple-double. Their leading scorer this season, Thaddeus Young, was handcuffed and held relatively ineffective (7-17 from the field) thanks to some solid defense from Patrick Patterson.
Still, Philly was in this game until the final minutes and could have stolen the win. They gave Toronto a scare just like they did to Brooklyn earlier this month.
The Sixers are a young team that can gain a lot from moral victories like the close games against playoff teams like Brooklyn and Toronto.
“I think confidence is everything,” Brown explained. “I hope that we give our guys an empowerment and freedom to go play. I want these guys keeping their heads high and their chests out. They are all NBA players. Everybody talks about their resumes and their experience and their youth. It’s all true but I want them feeling bulletproof. I think the encouragement we give them is huge.”
Sure, the 26-game losing streak stings.
Being 2-8 over their past ten games isn’t much better.
But the future isn’t bleak for the Sixers. They have a talented coach in Brett Brown, a potential rookie of the year in Michael Carter-Williams and a player in Nerlens Noel who many pegged as being the top overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Throw into the mix that the team is likely to have two lottery picks again this June as well as a handfull of second round picks and it’s possible Philadelphia could be back in the playoffs sooner rather than later.
This season was a messy, depressing one for Sixers’ fans, but the future looks bright for the franchise.