Sixers’ Opening Week in Review (Home Team in CAPS)
Game 1 – Miami Heat 97 – SIXERS 87
The Sixers came out and set forth the early tone of the Doug Collins Era, eloquently summed up by Andre Igoudala in his pregame address to the fans in attendance, “We’re going to get to where you want us to be.” I had predicted a shellacking at the hands of an angry Heat squad, but the Sixers, showing a lot of heart and playing rather inspired basketball under Collins, avoided a complete catastrophe. The Heat were clearly the superior team, but the Sixers hung tough and pestered LeBron James into 9 turnovers as he continues to adjust to his self-appointed facilitator role. James finished with 16 pts, 6 reb, and 7 ast. Chris Bosh was held to 15 pts and 7 rbs, but Dwayne Wade, the third of Miami’s Big 3, carried the load, scoring 30 pts, grabbing 7 rebs, and handing out 4 ast to go along with 2 blocks and 3 steals. It seems to be only a matter of time before these three superstars can learn to play off each other’s strengths and once they can do that, Miami’s bench will have more clearly defined roles in which to excel. If Wednesday’s game was any indication, it seems James Jones is already rather comfortable in his role as a 3-point specialist off the bench, going 6 for 9 from beyond the arc and contributing a gigante 20 points.
As difficult as it is to stop yourself from dissecting the dynamics of one of the more intriguing teams in American sports, this is, after all, a Sixers Blog, so on to the home team. To their credit, they seem committed to Collins, committed to turning themselves into winners, and most importantly, committed to endearing themselves to Philadelphia, a city that holds blue-collar work ethic on high. Wednesday night’s effort was a good start to the Doug Collins Era, even if it doesn’t show in the win column.
One interesting subplot heading into Wednesday Night’s game (and in the Sixers’ 2 subsequent games, but more on that later) was the fact that both Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner started the season on the bench. As it would turn out, the starter’s were that only in name as Turner logged about 31 minutes on the floor compared to starter Jason Kapono’s 13 minutes, and Young punched in about 26 minutes of work, compared to Spencer Hawes’ 14 minutes. Turner and Young, as well as established sixth man Lou Williams, all acquitted themselves well in their 2010-2011 debut, with Turner finishing with 16 pts, 7 reb, and 4 ast, Young contributing 15 pts and 3 rebs, and Williams chipping in 15 pts and 7 ast.
For the sake of time, I’ll skip full-on recaps of the Sixers’ next 2 games, both losses, as there are pressing matters I want to discuss:
Game 2 Atlanta Hawks 104 – SIXERS 101 – The Sixers had a chance to tie late, but Andres Nocioni’s last second 3 was blocked by Josh Smith. Again, the Sixers played hard, but lost to a superior opponent, their youth and overall lack of talent too much to overcome.
Game 3 INDIANA PACERS 99 – Sixers 86 – By far the Sixers worst effort of this young season. Leading by double digits in the second quarter, the Sixers were unable to sustain their momentum and fell victim to a terrible third quarter cold streak during which they were outscored 27-15.
Analysis and Fodder:
1) As was alluded to earlier, a major topic of discussion has been Coach Collins’ decision to bring young franchise cornerstones Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young off the bench. While the stated logic behind the decision is that both players have a steep learning curve ahead of them and the intention is to maintain their confidence level by shielding them from the fire whenever possible, one has to question what good this is doing the team in the long run.
Turner has been wildly inconsistent following a solid debut, posting a goose egg in 19 minutes against the Hawks and just 9 points on 4 of 11 shooting in 33 minutes against the Pacers. This inconsistency is no doubt encouraging Collins to continue to bring his young star off the bench, but, to me, it is somewhat of a chicken/egg situation. Is Turner’s inconsistency a result of his constantly worrying about being pulled for making a mistake or is he actually just inconsistent, thus forcing Collins’ hand? In my opinion, the NBA is not like the NFL, where early struggles can severely alter the career path of a young player resulting in crushed confidence and zero chance of success. Turner needs to be given the opportunity to play his way into a comfort zone, learn the nuances of the game first-hand. If Collins is going to play him for 28-30 minutes a night anyway as he has, why not give Turner a vote of confidence by allowing him to start. As small a gesture as it may seem, the “starter” label may be the confidence boost that Turner needs to free him from whatever pressure he is currently feeling which is causing him to be hesitant and inconsistent. Playing with one eye toward the bench to see if coach is about to pull you has never produced results, and I think it is what has been holding Turner back.
As for Young, this is his 4th year in the league, with each of his previous 3 seasons being an improvement over the last. However, this year, his minutes have dropped significantly and it shows on his stat sheet as he has taken a step back in every major offensive category. I understand that a major reason for Young’s move from starter to coming off the bench is the makeup of the Sixers roster, but what is the point of starting Spencer Hawes at center if you are only going to play him for 10-15 minutes as Collins has thus far? Is having a traditional starting lineup that important to Collins? With the Sixers’ stated goal being to steadily improve, it makes sense to play your most talented players and adjust your approach based on their strengths. If the Sixers are to improve as a team, it will be a result of improved play amongst their most talented players, all young and inexperienced, not sudden revivals of vets like Jason Kapono, who inexplicably started 2 of the first 3 games. Young is in a similar situation as Turner where I think coming off the bench has been a detriment to his development this season as it has caused him to be hesitant to make a mistake.
I truly believe Collins has an opportunity to speed up the process of pulling this team out of the gutter by allowing its young nucleus to learn and develop together. While they may not be the perfect roster, this will at least allow for the development of some trade value so that Collins can build what he envisions the perfect roster to be. As it stands, the veterans on this team are immoveable due to hefty contracts, and, soon, the young guys will be stuck here too, as no team is gullible enough to trade for a young player who has shown no discernible promise for the future. Collins’ insistence on playing these guys off the bench will stagnate this roster and only make the climb more difficult for the team in the long run.
2) One thing to be excited about as a Sixer fan has been the play of Andres Nocioni. Nocioni, averaging 10 pts and 6 boards a game, has played his way into Collins’ starting lineup by playing hard and taking what is given to him. He seems to have a knack for playing within both himself and the flow of the game, avoiding ill-advised shots and turnovers. His ability to hit the open shot, something severely lacking on this Sixers squad, definitely helps his cause. I think as the season wears on, you’ll notice Philly fans take a liking to this guy for his work ethic and low maintenance attitude.
3) A pleasant surprise thus far this year has been the offensive effort put forth by Lou Williams. Williams just turned 24 last week, something many fans don’t realize as he was drafted out of high school. Has his offensive explosion off the bench been a result of the game finally clicking for Williams? This week will help to answer that question as Williams has been almost unconscious from the floor in the first 3 games compared to his career averages. If, after 10 games, Williams is still maintaining this pace, I think it would then be appropriate to discuss whether he’s finally had his epiphany, but for now, let’s just call it a hot streak.
4) ESPN’s Marc Stein obviously felt no obligation to be kind to the Sixers, ranking them 28th (out of 30) in his initial NBA Power Rankings. While this team obviously isn’t very good, I don’t think they are that bad either. Just like Williams’ offensive streak, this week will go a long way in proving me, and Mr. Stein, right or wrong.
Nov. 2nd – at Washington Wizards
Nov. 3rd – INDIANA PACERS
Nov. 5th – CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
All 3 of these games are winnable as none of the above are expected to contend for anything. Hopefully, the Sixers can win at least 2 of these 3, and if not, it’s never too soon to start talking lottery.
Finally, the most recent edition of Philly Mag had a great article on the Sixers fall from grace since the turn of the century and high point of the Iverson led Finals run in 2001, and their most recent efforts to turn the tide. A great read if you have some time: