Tonight at American Airlines Arena, the 76ers will play the second game of their four-game road trip, taking on the Dallas Mavericks at 8:30 p.m. EST. Sixers held shootaround at the arena this morning, and here's the update on their roster/player availability for tonight.
Both Andre Iguodala (right Achilles tendinitis) and Lou Williams (left shoulder) are officially listed as game-time decisions, but Sixers coach Doug Collins indicated that he expected both of them to play. Forward Jason Kapono (personal reasons) is back with the team and is expected to play tonight. Collins said he would keep Kapono activated because Dallas likes to play a lot of zone defense, so having Kapono available could be a useful weapon.
We asked Collins if, with everyone back, he'll return to deactivating guard Jodie Meeks and big man Craig Brackins (who both spent the first portion of the season on the inactive list). Since Iguodala's injury, Meeks has played in two straight games, and played very well. Collins said the team "needs Jodie to play," and that he would be activated tonight -- and will likely receive minutes as a guy who can provide quick scoring and shoot the team back into a game. Collins mentioned that he'll likely deactivate Brackins and forward Darius Songaila.
I've been getting a lot of e-mails about the play of Thaddeus Young, the reason why he isn't getting more time, and especially an explanation for why his minutes didn't increase in the absence of Iguodala. The general thought was that, with Iguodala sidelined, Young's minutes would rise and the Sixers (and Sixers' fans) could better evalute Young's play. That didn't happen. This season, Young is averaging 8.9 points and 3.8 rebounds in 21.0 minutes a game. He's shooting 58.2 percent from the field. By comparison, Young averaged 15.3 points per game during the 2008-09 season and 13.8 points per game last season. In the team's previous three games, Young has played (respectively) 14 minutes, 17 minutes, and 22 minutes.
At this morning's shoot around, we talked to both Collins and Young.
Here's what Collins said when asked about Young's decreased minutes:
"We sort of get caught in a crunch where we start two bigs, so that eats up some minutes and when we go to our bench, we normally bring in Thad as a four man. We’ve played him very little as a three. We just sort of feel it’s harder for us to play small for longer periods of time. And as I said the other day, our defensive concepts are such that when we give help we need to have guys on that backside knowing where to be and everything. And I think that’s still an area where Thad is getting comfortable."
Translation: Young's interior/help defense is keeping him on the bench. Collins made it even clearer with this: "I think Thad, a lot of his mistakes get erased when you have a shot blocker. And we don’t really have a shot blocker. And so the mistakes sometimes become a little more glaring, because we don’t have somebody back there to erase them. And that’s a little different as well."
In past seasons, with Samuel Dalembert back there, it sounds like guys could cheat on denying the ball, or be late on a rotation, and Dalembert would swoop in and clean up a lot of those mistakes. With Spencer Hawes as starting center, and Marreese Speights playing some backup minutes, there is nobody coming in to clean up those mistakes. Tony Battie provides some of that presence, but as we've gone over repeatedly, his minutes are severely limited.
Young seemed well aware of why he wasn't playing.
"Go out there and lock in on defense," said Young, when asked what he needed to do to play more. "Like I said, me and the other bigs are the last line of defense. And when we go into the game, we go in as groups: me and Marreese going in for Spencer and EB and we need to maintain that defense."
Continued Young: "They always explain everything and tell us what they need from guys. I think right now, all of our bigs need to protect each other. We haven’t been doing a good job of that. In the games, guys are getting slips to the basket and back-door lobs and we’re kind of like the last line of defense."
"It’s definitely been a tough year and a half for me, but every player has their tough times and they get through it," Young said. "I’m just looking forward to getting through it."
So that's why a guy shooting 58.2 percent from the field isn't getting substantial minutes. The thing to keep an eye on with Thad is his weakside rotations on the defensive end. Is he stepping up early to stop a baseline drive, is he in the right place on a lob off of a back pick, etc. Collins did mention that the Sixers would need Young tonight, as a defensive presence against Dirk.
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