For the Sixers, the biggest surprise of this season is the effect that Spencer Hawes has had on this team. Two years ago, the Sixers finished the season with a road loss to the Orlando Magic by 14 points, where they were down by as much as 30 points (a common deficit throughout the whole season series). This loss completed a 27-55 record to finish the season, an atrocious showing by an atrocious organization. The very next day, the Philadelphia 76ers announced the firing of then head coach Eddie Jordan.
A few days after that, one of the team’s “big” moves took place. The Sixers announced a trade with the Sacramento Kings. This move sent center Samuel Dalembert to the Kings. In return, the Sixers collected a consistently good shooter in Andres Nocioni, as well a former 12th-overall pick, center Spencer Hawes. When this story originally headlined ESPN, it seemed that the Sixers, if anything, may have made themselves even worse. The Sixers looked as if they had lost a traditional center; one that blocks shots, scores down low, and does all of the rebounding. It looked as if they had decided that a jump-shooting center that was not aggressive and did not have that much of an effect on a game would be replacing Dalembert. Some deduced that the Sixers brought two of the same player in with Nocioni and Hawes. Nocioni is perceived to be a hard worker, but not a great scorer or player.
Low-and-behold, the Sixers’ moves worked out. Last season, the Sixers had a very slow start and it seemed that they would struggle from the onset. Hawes was not producing and everyone thought that they had correctly predicted how much Hawes would help. Nocioni made some big shots down the stretch, including a 3-point dagger to beat the Portland Trailblazers. He also pulled down some key boards in the final seconds of a game against the Bulls to secure a win, despite playing through injuries.
The Sixers came back, winning 39 out of their last 66 games and snagging the 7th seed in the playoffs with a .500 record. They lost to the Miami Heat 4-1 in a 7-game series in the opening round. Entering this season, people still thought Hawes was good-for-nothing.
Doug Collins established a new playbook and with this new playbook, he unknowingly said, “How good is Spencer Hawes?”. Some would argue that the Sixers were fantastic early, starting out with a record of 16-6 and 10 games over .500 for the first time in 10 years. Hawes was playing extremely well. However, some still had doubts in him and his contributions to the team. These doubts continued until Hawes went out with a back injury and Achilles injury. This is when the Sixers success stopped a bit. With Hawes gone, the Sixers are 10-13 and overall, their record is 22-15. They recently had a 5-game losing streak. Many people, including Doug Collins and the Sixers club, would agree that if it weren’t for Hawes’ injuries, they could be well into the 30 win club and maybe even 20 games over .500.
So, what does Spencer Hawes do? Hawes gives them a presence down low. He is aggressive, tall, blocks shots, rebounds, shoot, and play like a traditional center with some nice dunks and lay-ups. He plays like a veteran and knows how the NBA works. The rookie big men, Nik Vucevic and Lavoy Allen, are forced to step up and play down low. But, they have not had as good of an effect as Hawes had. Vucevic does not block shots and barely rebounds. He is what people thought Hawes was. Lavoy Allen has filled in nicely, but still needs to learn a thing or two about the NBA. Hawes is supposed to be due back in mid March, right around the time that the playoff race starts. With Hawes back, hopefully the Sixers can make a run like they did to start the season and finish with a high seed in the playoffs.