The other day I was searching the internet, looking for cheap tickets to NBA games this season. Unfortunately, the internet was clearly broken because it listed the Philadelphia 76ers as an NBA team.
All jokes aside, this has the potential to be a historic season for the 76ers — just not in the way fans probably hope for.
The 1972-73 76ers already hold the NBA record for least wins in an NBA season with nine (NINE!). Could the 2014-15 Sixers challenge the old guard for worst team in NBA history? Maybe, but that’s no fun to wonder about, since we’ll have our answer in just six short months. Instead let’s think about how the Sixers could compete against teams more on their level (read: not NBA teams).
For the first installment in “Could this team beat the 76ers?” let’s have a look at the University of Kentucky. John Calipari has had nineteen Wildcats drafted into the NBA since he took over in 2009, including twice as many top ten picks (eight) as second round picks (four). Throw in three Final Four appearances and a national title, and it’s safe to say Coach Cal has done well for himself since bolting Memphis for the Bluegrass state.
But what about the current litter of Wildcats biding their time in the SEC before trading impermissible benefits for NBA paychecks?
I’m glad you asked! The Cats just kicked off Big Blue Madness, where the only person worthy of making the 76ers was Drake. The Lexington Basketball Academy is always loaded with talent, but this year’s team is unprecedentedly so. Kentucky currently has nine former McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster. If you know anything about college basketball, you know that’s a good thing. A very good thing. Kentucky could probably start an NBA franchise and, without adding a single player to their roster, compete for a playoff spot in three to five years. The same cannot be said for the 76ers.
So, exactly how would the 76ers do against Cal’s Cats in a neutral site game with NBA rules? Let’s look at it position by position.
PG: Michael Carter-Williams vs. Andrew Harrison.
Edge: 76ers. This one is pretty easy. While Carter-Williams is far from a finished product, he was just named Rookie of the Year and would be matched up against a player who hasn’t lived to his five-star billing thus far.
SG: K.J. McDaniels vs. Aaron Harrison.
Edge: Push. McDaniels is a freak athlete and a versatile defender (the 6’6” wing averaged nearly three blocks per game last year as a senior at Clemson). Harrison is the definition of clutch, and his series of daggers was a big reason the Cats found themselves in the title game once again, despite entering the NCAA Tournament seeded eighth. This one is too close to call as the players may very well cancel each other out in this hypothetical matchup.
SF: Hollis Thompson vs. Alex Poythress.
Edge: UK. This was a tough call since both players probably don’t have what it takes to be NBA rotation players. OK, Poythress definitely has what it takes, but how long are we going to wait before he finally puts it all together? Either way, Poythress has the athletic ability to best Thompson and holds the advantage for his squad.
PF: Nerlens Noel vs. Trey Lyles.
Edge: 76ers. Again, this one is pretty easy. One guy should have been the top pick in the 2013 draft, while the other graduated high school just five months ago. Noel’s biggest question mark about his viability as an NBA starter is his strength, which won’t matter nearly as much when going against a player who hasn’t fully developed physically.
C: Henry Sims vs. Willie Cauley-Stein.
Edge: UK. Cauley-Stein is a rare seven-footer who also played wide receiver in high school. This guy is a freak athlete who can protect the rim and finish around the cup when needed. Sims, meanwhile, received his degree from Georgetown, and for that he should be commended.
Bench: D-League scraps vs. more McDonald’s All-Americans.
Edge: UK. The player with the most interesting name is also the best NBA prospect. Karl-Anthony Towns, a seven-footer with range out to the three-point line, is projected to be a top-five pick in the 2015 NBA draft. With his unique skill set, Towns should give NBA frontlines problems for years. The 76ers barely start an NBA-caliber frontline, and the bench doesn’t offer much in terms of reinforcements. Marcus Lee, who I’ve heard described as the most athletic player in the country, could be another key contributor to the Kentucky cause this season (provided he sees an increase in the 6.3 minutes per game he averaged last season; like I said before, this team is loaded.) Throw in Dakari Johnson and a few other former McDonald’s All-Americans Cal found lying around, and the Kentucky bench should be just fine for this hypothetical matchup.
Coaching: Brett Brown vs. John Calipari.
Edge: UK. Unfortunately, we haven’t really gotten a fair look at Brett Brown because his management refuses to give him the tools necessary to compete in the NBA (like actual NBA players). I’ve heard him described as “the smartest man in basketball,” so I’m holding out faith that he could end up being a success. But Calipari has been there and done that in big games and gets the nod here.
Miscellaneous: Drake, BBN vs. the few thousand or so 76ers fans who decide to schlepp to this glorified college All-Star game.
Edge: UK. This would be a truly fascinating aspect of the game to watch. UK fans are notoriously passionate and travel in droves. How would the 76ers players react once they looked up into the stands and realized that their fan base, 1) doesn’t exist right now and, 2) will never be as passionate as this college team’s fan base, even when they’re competing for NBA titles? The Cats would have a decided home court advantage as long as the game is played outside of the greater Philadelphia area, and even then I’m not sure the crowd could be anything more than 60/40 76ers fans to Cat fans. Throw in a Drake halftime show just to pump up the kitties, and this game atmosphere should remind UK of good ole’ corRUPPtion Arena.
Final Say: In terms of pure talent, I think these two teams are pretty even as currently constructed (get well soon, Joel; safe journeys, Dario.) Yet, I think that Cal’s coaching, the UK bench, and the home court advantage the Cats would surely enjoy could all be enough to pull off the upset. Gun to my head, I’m picking UK in a close one.
*Section Photo credit to Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Howard Smith, USA Today Sports.