The 76ers just finished their morning practice here at St. Joseph's University. Practice was scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., but Sixers coach Doug Collins cut it short a little before noon. Usually we're in there for about 30 minutes watching a few drills and getting a feel for who's playing where and what sets are going to be used. That's not the case today, so we'll have to wait for a more in-depth update later, but here's the news from the morning session:
Reggie Miller was at practice. It looked like he was shooting some video for NBATV and Collins had Miller teach a few pointers for an offensive set that Miller ran effectively and Collins is hoping his guys can run effectively. Collins said he had Miller come onto the court to teach.
"We have a couple little sets that we’re going to use that he thrived in," Collins said. "So I asked him to talk to our guys about how he played with that offense, the different things he did. I thought he was really great for Dre, and Thad, and Evan, and Lou, and guys who are going to be playing out of that set ... I thought we got a lot of good work done. And then I asked Reggie to come out and teach a little bit and when he did, our guys cooled off. And it’s been my experience that once they cool off, that’s it, because you can’t get them going again. That’s how guys get hurt and they mentally shut down a little bit."
As for the sets Collins is referring to, the assumption (from having watched Miller kill the Knicks year after year) is they require the main guy to make decisions off of screens, coming from under the basket and choosing to either curl, slip backdoor, or bust off the screen for a jumpshot. Now, the gut reaction to such a play -- and a guy like Miller teaching it -- is, 'But do the Sixers have anyone you'd actually want coming off a screen for a jumper?" Maybe not someone like Miller, but Lou is effective in that roll, Turner should get better and better at reading the situation, and Young and Iguodala can make the most of the to-the-basket options.
When asked it the Sixers need a legitimate shooting guard, Miller said, "How many real shooting guards are there left? A lot of guys are slashers now."
In other nuts-and-bolts news, big man Tony Battie (right knee synovitis) did not practice and Andres Nocioni (ankle sprain) is practicing but not participating in contact drills. Also present at today's morning practice was Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
Collins also offered this explanation for the light morning workout: "I thought they were sloppy yesterday in our drills and today they came back and they really focused. We got our work done and I don’t believe in just keeping them around once we get our stuff done."
With no observations or scrimmages to assess (hopefully we'll have that access tonight), here are a couple of topics worth noting:
1.) Lou Williams. One of the main storylines entering last season was the potential emergence of Sweet Lou as the team's future starting point guard. We all know the eventual saga: strong scoring in the early season, broken jaw at Washington, quick return, and then a yo-yo final few months. In talking to Williams throughout last year, you could tell there was some frustration about his role, mostly because there wasn't one. Should he still try to be a facilitating point guard? Was he back to his role as off-the-bench sparkplug?
(Williams' assessment of last season's confusion: "Jobs were in the air and it was an opportunity for me to do something different and then it was like, ‘OK, not so much.’ Like I said, the communication here is key now.")
This year (despite comments from Collins that competition is open), Williams is almost certainly back to his role as a 6th-man scorer and Jrue Holiday will be the team's starting point guard. To his credit, when asked about the shifting role, Williams said, "I think Jrue's earned it. He's earned the right to be the starting point guard. He did an incredible job last year at the end."
Williams said Collins has made his role very clear: "He’s asking me to do something that’s very natural for me, that comes second nature: score the basketball. I think the term was, ‘hired assassin,’ something like that, so I’ve been there before. I’ve been one of those before ... It’s understood from Day 1. It’s not any confusion, he’s not asking me to do anything outside of my comfort zone. He told me from Day 1, this is what I want you to do. There’s no confusion on our parts. And that’s all we ask is communication, for us to know what’s expected of us. And coach has done that, so I’m all good."
Collins said Williams scores as easily as anyone on the team. And his following quote is the dead giveaway that Williams is penciled in (if not markered in) as the team's backup guard: "I don’t know who’s going to start, but if he comes off the bench, I’ve said it before: He could be our Jamal Crawford. I think he would be in the mix to be 6th Man of the Year. If he can do that and be effective for our team, he can really, really help us."
Continued Collins: "A lot of these guys have so much coaching fatigue. They’ve heard so many different voices and so many different things and the one thing I’m trying to do is come in here and just let them know by the way we do things on a daily basis, the actions of the way we do things are far greater than anything we say. They can pick up the vibes of whether it’s going to be different or not. You can’t trick them. And I think he feels good about that."
2.) Elton Brand. Brand's role, his lower weight, where his game might be ...
"He’s lighter now than he probably even was in college," Collins said. "I think it’s important because it takes a stress off that Achilles. I always used to talk to Patrick Ewing about this when I was broadcasting games. As Patrick got older, he was getting so heavy and I said, ‘Patrick, you just can’t carry that kind of weight as you get older.’ Especially the way we want to play, we’re not going to play a muscle game. We’re going to play a skilled game. I think that’s really going to help Elton."
You can somewhat get a sense of where certain players are headed by watching even just the end of practice, and by reading into what coaches and other players are saying. And the vibe around Elton is that Collins is going to use him effectively, but the 20-point/10-rebound averages are a thing of the past. This isn't shattering news, but the previous two seasons the questions posed to Brand were more, "So do you think you're going to get back to previous form?" What the Sixers are concentrating on now, it appears, is getting strong rebounding, defense, and high shooting percentages from Brand, as well as making sure he adds to the transition game as best he can.
It feels like we'll see the effectiveness from Brand that we saw during stretches last season, effectiveness that never quite blossomed because Brand was, let's face it, in the doghouse for much of 2009-10.
"I felt good earlier in the summer last year, but burnt out with all the rehab," Brand explained. "So I needed to start a little later, on the court playing, and I feel the effects now. Because training camp – I’m not going to say it’s easy because if coach sees that in the paper it’ll never be easy again -- but I’m doing pretty well."
It's early in the season, but the reality is that the first preseason game is less than a week away: Tuesday vs. the New Jersey Nets in Roanoke, VA. There isn't a month of training camp to go back-and-forth about who might be starting. It seems like a safe bet at this point that the working starting five is as follows: Holiday, Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Brand, and Spencer Hawes. The second team is anchored by the backcourt of Williams and rookie Evan Turner, who by all accounts play quite well together.
Hopefully we'll have more x's and o's after tonight's practice. There should be a video of Reggie Miller embedded in this post. There's also a Cinesport video from today's practice. And if you want everything instantly, click here: Deep Sixer.