76ers’ training camp is over and it ended with a scrimmage in front of season ticket holders inside Hagan Arena at St. Joseph’s University. The team’s second practice of the day began with stretching, a shooting drill, 5-on-0, and it ended with two 12-minute quarters of scrimmaging.
Sixers coach Doug Collins addressed the crowd before the start of practice and finished by turning to his team and saying, “Guys, let’s get out there and show them that things are going to be different this year.” It does seem the team feels it’s genuinely important to shed the embarrassment of last season.
Also of note, this team is filled with players who have something to prove. Jrue Holiday should be focused on having a breakout season, Andre Iguodala wants to be an all-star, Thaddeus Young needs to play well after last season and with his first negotiated contract looming, Spencer Hawes has an opportunity to reinvent himself after being (somewhat) disappointing in Sacramento, Jodie Meeks will get a chance to prove he belongs in the NBA, Evan Turner wants to perform for obvious reasons, Elton Brand has a shoulder-load of doubters … the list is pretty extensive. Last year, you couldn’t say that so dramatically, across the board, about the players on this team.
Now, the scrimmage. The breakdown of teams, which was somewhat interesting, was as follows:
Blue Team: Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Jason Kapono, Elton Brand, Marreese Speights, Jodie Meeks, and Darius Songaila.
White Team: Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Craig Brackins, Spencer Hawes, Chris Quinn, and Trent Plaisted.
(Andres Nocioni (ankle), Tony Battie (knee), and James Florence (hamstring) did not participate.)
The “somewhat interesting” part was regarding Collins using a Holiday/Turner backcourt. We’d been hearing so much about how well Turner was playing with Lou that it seemed that would be a backcourt pairing. Instead, we got to see Holiday and Turner playing together; more on that below.
Scrimmage result: White Team wins by about 12 points.
What follows are a few observations from the scrimmage; I know everyone who attended will have their own thoughts on certain guys, the style of play, what they liked, what they didn’t like, etc. If I’m missing something glaring, feel free to point it out.
*A general observation about the offense: it’s simple and allows the players to make their own reads. At no point during the scrimmage did you see a guy out past the three-point line, stuck, unable to initiate the offense. There were a few occasions when a team had to settle for a bad shot (I remember Hawes having to take a long three), but for the most part each team was creating things offensively, which is good for a team with so many creative offensive players.
*Thaddeus Young played extremely well. The knock on him has been that he doesn’t rebound well enough to be a power forward and he doesn’t handle well enough to be a small forward. Since Collins has said, for now at least, that he only wants Young at the small forward spot, we’ll have to assess his improvement in the ball-handling category.
Collins is putting Young in a good position; he’s almost always curling off that cluster set towards the hoop, or spaced out in the corner for a long jumper. He was very rarely expected to create off a pick-and-roll (kind of a scary thought, huh?). So right there, Collins has eliminated many of the mistakes Young made last year, most caused by over dribbling. There were two plays in particular that make you believe Young has improved his ball handling. The first came early in the scrimmage when Young caught a long outlet pass over the top. As he jumped to catch the pass, Holiday was right there – the blue team’s only defender – ready to strip Young when Young came down with the ball. As Young caught it, and before he landed, he brought it around his back in mid-air and dropped it off for his right hand, away from Holiday. Young dribbled once and then had a wide-open slam dunk in transition. Maybe we’ll be proven wrong, but that doesn’t seem like a play Young could make last season. He would have come down with the ball and had it immediately stripped by the waiting defender. Later in the scrimmage, Young had the ball on the right wing in a delayed transition scenario. He penetrated right and dished the ball off to Plaisted for an easy bucket. In past years, you knew Young would always finish well around the rim, would jump quickly for tip ins, and would make the occasional three pointer, but this year it looks like he’s ready to add at least some of these other elements to his game. And maybe not all the time, but even if Young has the ability to make these plays occasionally, he’ll be that much more effective.
*Back to the aforementioned backcourt of Holiday/Turner. In theory, this combo is exciting. But so far, it’s just not happening out there on the court. For any season-ticket holders at the scrimmage who beg to differ, please do so, we want to be convinced otherwise. Holiday looked good in moments (he had a fantastic finish in the lane early in the scrimmage), but at no point in the scrimmage – not once – did he and Turner connect. Turner took a total of (I believe) three shots: two pull-up jumpers that he missed and a layup in transition that he made. One pull-up jumper came off a hesitation move in the half-court, the other came when he pushed the ball in transition and stopped just inside the foul line. At one point, Turner ran a nice pick-and-roll with Songaila.
Surprisingly, the problem with ball dominance (both Holiday and Turner need the ball to make plays happen) is actually not being overplayed. Set after set, we watched Holiday run the point and watched Turner try to get himself open off the cluster screen. He wasn’t getting open. And when you consider that waiting for a fruitless cut turns the play clock from 18 seconds (we have time for anything) to 12 seconds (we better get going), it becomes an issue.
And a few more quick-hit items:
*Iguodala, the man who is not supposed to take so many three-pointers, took two within the first few possessions of the scrimmage. Those threes were the last he took all night, (and the second was a must-take off of perfect ball rotation).
*If I’m a Sixers fan watching Spencer Hawes, I’m excited and worried at the same time. First he makes a three pointer without it seeming like anything out of the ordinary, and then he throws down a monster jam on Evan Turner. I’d be remiss not to mention this moment in the scrimmage. It was in transition and it was just Turner and Hawes. And Hawes just absolutely tomahawk slammed the ball on Turner. Turner kind of turned and shrugged like, ‘Wow, what can you do?’ Hawes let out a roar. But for the remainder of the scrimmage, Hawes was relatively absent. It kind of left you wondering where the first Hawes – the one jacked up about his slam – went for the second quarter of the scrimmage.
*Meeks shot the ball well. He made two long three pointers. He’s looking more and more like a guy who has to play at least a few minutes every game. He plays aggressively on defense, too, and seems to be able to stay in front of whomever he’s guarding.
*The jury is still out on what Brackins’ impact might be this season. He can definitely spread defenses with his shooting touch, but he just doesn’t play like he’s 6-foot-10. He plays like he’s 6-foot-6.
That’s it for now.