With the Golden State Warriors chasing the legendary 72-win season of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, a common discussion has cropped up as to who would win between the two squads. Former Bulls player and current Warriors coach Steve Kerr was even compelled to weigh in on the issue:
“Oh, well if it takes place on Pluto, then I believe it would hinge on a step-back Steph Curry 3 over Michael Jordan at the buzzer. And we’ll never know if it goes in or not.”
However, while such hypothetical showdowns between two great teams often get brought up in casual conversation, rarely do such debates exist for teams chasing the wrong side of history.
Currently, the Philadelphia 76ers have lost 25 straight games dating back to last season, one shy of the record 26 straight losses set by both the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers and more recently, the 2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers. Naturally, inquiring minds need to know: if this current iteration of the Sixers was to take the court on Pluto against the 2013-14 squad, who would win? To borrow a phrase from Alison Sweeney and NBC, who is the biggest loser?
For simplicity’s sake, I’m examining the rosters based on who was actually playing toward the latter part of the skids. The 2013-14 Sixers don’t get Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, or Lavoy Allen, all of whom were shipped out at the trade deadline midway through their drought. The 2015-16 Sixers don’t get injured players such as Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten. Here’s the tale of the tape:
Starters: Michael Carter-Williams, James Anderson, Hollis Thompson, Thad Young, Henry Sims
Bench: Tony Wroten, Elliot Williams, Casper Ware, Jarvis Varnado, James Nunnally, Brandon Davies, Byron Mullens
Starters: T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas (who may have suffered a serious knee injury Monday but let’s include him for this exercise), Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor
Bench: Robert Covington, Isaiah Canaan, Hollis Thompson, JaKarr Sampson, Phil Pressey, Christian Wood
Across the 17 games for the 2013-14 Sixers post-trade deadline through the end of the drought, the team shot 41.1% from the field, 29.0% from three, and 69.1% from the foul line. They had an offensive rating of 93.6, an offensive rebounding rate of 25.0%, and a turnover ratio of 16.4.
The 2015-16 Sixers have shot an eerily similar 41.4% from the field, 30.8% from three, and 71.3% from the foul line. They have an offensive rating of 90.7, an offensive rebounding rate of 21.8%, and a turnover ratio of 18.9.
So the teams shot the ball almost equally poorly, but the former Sixers did a better job overall offensively because they created more second-chance opportunities and didn’t turn the ball over as much.
Advantage: 2013-14 Sixers
With Nerlens Noel around, the current Sixers are at least a good defensive team when he’s on the floor, helping boost them out of the league basement in terms of defensive rating. The same can’t be said for the Sixers team of the past. With two skilled, near-seven-footers in Noel and Jahlil around, they’re also a better rebounding team overall with at least some semblance of rim protection. The 2013-14 Sixers did a better job forcing turnovers, which helped their offense a lot more relatively speaking, but this current group can actually get some stops when they really put their mind to it.
Advantage: 2014-15 Sixers
Coaching: 2013-14 Sixers
I know what you’re thinking: both teams feature the same head coach. Yet, I have to think an additional year and a half of tanking has only served to gradually chip away at Brett Brown’s spirit. Having to endure 100 more games of unforced turnovers, bricked jumpers, and missed defensive assignments would leave even the most optimistic of coaches a shell of his former self. 2013-2014 Brett Brown hadn’t seen as much; he still thought there was light at the end of the tunnel. I choose to believe in hope.
Advantage: 2013-14 Sixers
Matchups / Verdict:
The current Sixers obviously have a huge advantage in the front court. After watching Okafor eat Karl-Anthony Towns for dinner Monday night, I feel bad for Henry Sims just having to hypothetically guard Big Jah. Thad Young, while one of my favorite Sixers ever, would be a really good matchup for Nerlens Noel at the power forward position. Noel has the quickness to hang with Young and Thad isn’t the true stretch four where Nerlens would have to worry about him going off from behind the arc.
The wings are also a clear win for the 2014-15 Sixers. The matchup of Hollis v. Hollis would be interesting but ultimately a draw (there can only be one!). However, Covington, Grant, and Stauskas are all at least NBA-level talents with some upside. Guys like James Anderson, Elliot Williams, and James Nunnally don’t belong in the league, regardless of how many minutes the crazy Kings want to give Anderson.
Ah, but then we have the guard position, which is a clear win for the former Sixers behind Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten. Those two players would be able to blow by McConnell, Canaan, and Pressey on a regular basis, and were both adept at creating steals and getting out into transition (certainly a huge weakness for the current Sixers). Despite the overall huge talent advantage for the 2014-15 squad, the guards are the ones who have the ball in their hands for the majority of the time. I think the ability for MCW and Wroten to get into the heart of the paint offensively, while using their length to make any post entry passes to Jahlil exceedingly difficult on the other end, would ultimately be the difference.
Verdict: 2013-14 Sixers win. The rest of the world loses.