A year ago the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers were being accused of “tanking” by many people in order to improve their chances of getting a higher pick at last spring’s NBA Draft. The Bucks would go on to record a 15-67 record while the Sixers were right behind them as they finished with a record of 19-63. But since then both the Bucks and Sixers have gone in opposite directions. The Bucks are arguably the most improved team in the NBA this season while some basketball pundits are pondering as to whether or not that the Sixers would be able to defeat the current University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team.
After last season wholesale changes were made within the Bucks organization. Longtime Bucks owner Herb Kohl sold the franchise to Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry for $550 million. The Bucks had the second overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft which the team would use on small forward Jabari Parker. And less than a week after selecting Parker, the Bucks acquired head coach Jason Kidd from the Brooklyn Nets. In his rookie season, Parker is second on the Bucks in scoring at 12.4 per game while Milwaukee is 11-11 this season and they could be on the verge of eclipsing their win total for all of last season by the end of this month.
The Sixers on the other hand have found a way to actually become worse this season than their 2013-2014 campaign. The 76ers lost their first 17 games this season before they were able to secure a victory last Wednesday over the Minnesota TImberwolves. The 76ers record is currently 2-18 and they could flirt with becoming the first NBA team since the 1972-1973 Sixers to fail to win 10 games in a full 82-game regular season.
Right now the difference between the Bucks and Sixers is night and day as one team has a plan of improvement while the other doesn’t and it is very clear as far as which team is on the track for success.
Generally when a new ownership group takes over a losing sports franchise they look to change the culture which is exactly what Lasry and Edens are doing with the Bucks. Kidd won an NBA Championship in 2011 as a player with the Dallas Mavericks and in his one season as the head coach of the Nets, he led the club to the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2007 which was also the last full season that he played for the team. From his first day on the job with the Bucks, Kidd has been executing his game plan which is to make his team competitive and for them to also expect to win on a nightly basis. The Bucks have been beating up on the also-rans in the NBA so far this season with only one victory over a team that currently has a winning record when they defeated the Memphis Grizzlies back in early November. But the Bucks appear to have the centerpiece of their franchise in Parker who has the potential to become a very versatile small forward with his ability to handle the basketball and rebound as it will just be a matter of time before he is able to put it altogether.
The Sixers on the other hand have seen their plans for success blow up right in their faces. The 76ers made the NBA Playoffs in 2012, and they appeared to be building something. But after the season the 76ers traded longtime swingman Andre Iguodala as part of a four-team trade and in return they received center Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers. Unfortunately a knee injury never allowed Bynum to suit up for the Sixers and he is currently not even in the NBA. In 2013, Sam Hinkie was named as the general manager of the 76ers as he became the third man to hold that position in Philly since Josh Harris purchased the team in 2011. And under Hinkie, 76ers have made a ton of questionable personnel moves.
In 2013, Hinkie traded point guard Jrue Holiday who was coming off of an All-Star season to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for the draft rights to center Nerlens Noel. Noel would miss all of the 2013-2014 NBA season after he suffered a torn ACL in his one year of playing college ball at Kentucky. This season Noel has participated in 17 games and he has averaged 8.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest. The 76ers had the third overall pick in last spring’s NBA Draft which they used on Kansas center Joel Embiid who is expected to miss the entire season as he is recovering from back and foot injuries. Hinkie hired former San Antonip Spurs assistant coach Brett Brown to be the head coach of the 76ers and under him Philadelphia is 21-81.
Hinkie has bet on a pair of big men in Noel and Embiid that cannot stay healthy which is not good for business as you can’t afford to consistently miss on lottery picks in the NBA Draft. However Hinkie did get it right in selecting point guard Michael Carter-Williams in the 2013 NBA Draft. Carter-Williams is the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year as he averaged 16.7 points, 6.3 assists, and 6.2 rebounds last season. Carter-Williams has improved off of those numbers as he is currently averaging 16.3 points, 7.4 assists, and 7.1 rebounds this season which was highlighted by a triple-double on November 29 against the Mavs. Carter-Williams’ numbers could actually be better if he had a better team around him as he cannot do it all by himself.
The Sixers currently only have two players on their team that are more than 25-years of age in shooting guard Jason Richardson and power forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute who are both non-factors on this club as this team needs veteran leadership on the floor. The Bucks on the other hand have balance of up and down their lineup as they are being led by point guard Brandon Knight who is averaging 17.6 points and a career-high 5.8 assists. Second-year shooting guard Giannis Antetokounmpo has improved off of his rookie campaign as he’s averaging 12 points per game along with connecting on nearly half of his field-goal attempts. Kidd will look to make Knight his protege at the point guard position and he is someone that can grow alongside Parker and Antetokounmpo.
Unlike the 76ers, the Bucks play in one of the smaller media markets in the NBA which makes it extremely necessary for them to effectively hit on their draft picks paramount. The Bucks also are in the process of attempting to secure a new basketball arena in Milwaukee as the Bradley Center is outdated and a new facility could mean more potential revenue for them. The Sixers play in a big media market, but under Hinkie they have operated like a small-market team that is pinning their hopes on questionable lottery picks. Hinkie came to the 76ers with a background in basketball analytics, but the sports fans in Philadelphia are only interested in wins and losses along with basketball players that will put the ball in the hoop while preventing their opponent from doing so. The Sixers are the worst scoring team in the NBA as they are only scoring 92 points per game while they are minus-12 in points differential which is also the worst in the league.
The 76ers appear to be a few years away from becoming relevant while the Bucks are in the mix for a postseason spot right now in the weak Eastern Conference. At this point last season both the Bucks and 76ers were laughing stocks. But now it is the Bucks that are doing the laughing while the 76ers are still scratching their heads.