At the season’s midway point, the Sixers currently sit at 13-28, the third worst winning percentage in the NBA. The team’s first half was characterized by a few thrilling victories and seemingly more blowout losses.
The season’s second half could very well feature more of the latter. Consider this: According to Basketball Reference’s simple rating system, a metric that factors both point differential and strength of schedule, the Sixers’ -9.13 rating is only better than the lowly Milwaukee Bucks’ -9.73. Nobody else in the league has a lower rating than -6.09.
Basically, the Sixers are a worse team than their record indicates. Also, three of the team’s best four players — Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, and Evan Turner — are rumored (and in some circles, expected) to get traded at some point before the February 20th deadline. This season has the potential to get uglier.
With that in mind, we’ll take a look at what the Sixers’ young guards (i.e. ones unlikely to get traded) can do to improve individually and help the team at least somewhat weather any roster shakeup.
Michael Carter-Williams and finishing at the rim: As Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry recently noted, Carter-Williams has been one of the league’s worst shooters from an efficiency standpoint. Deep breaths, everyone. He’s still on track to win Rookie of the Year and have an excellent NBA career.
While Carter-Williams’ scoring and assist averages are inflated by the Sixers’ league-fastest pace, I think you can make a reasonable argument that his shooting and turnover percentages suffer because of it. There’s no incentive for him to be selective, as head coach Brett Brown wants his rookie point guard working on individual elements of his game. A quick three-pointer can be beneficial to Carter-Williams from a repetition standpoint, but also hurt the team overall.
Still, Carter-Williams hasn’t been a good shooter by any means. An inability to convert around the rim has particularly hurt him. Per NBA.com, he’s only shooting 49 percent on attempts within eight feet of the rim. Give Carter-Williams credit: He’s putting his head down and getting there, averaging 8.2 drives per game, but only shooting 40.9 percent on those plays.
My biggest complaint is that sometimes Carter-Williams tries to emulate Carl Lewis and takes off from too far. More specifically, he takes off from too far when there’s traffic in front of him. In the shot below, Carter-Williams has already taken a long hop step to get around the defender, and his momentum is carrying him toward the baseline.
On this next play, he attempts to jump around Josh Smith. Bad idea.
In this last shot, Carter-Williams’ defender is right on his hip, while two others anxiously wait around the rim. Instead of shooting the ball, a kick-out pass to Evan Turner for an open corner three is probably the correct play.
It’s not as if Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-6 guard with length and good hops, can’t finish after taking off from far away. Mostly, you just want him trying to with a full head of steam and a clear path to the basket. Carter-Williams could benefit from creating more open shots on the ground instead of trying to improvise while airborne.
Tony Wroten’s pick-and-roll passing: I wrote about Wroten earlier in the season, and touched briefly on his high-risk passing style. According to mySynergySports, Wroten is turning the ball over on 21.3 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions.
If any of the Sixers’ “veteran” pieces are traded, Wroten’s offensive responsibility will increase significantly. The second-year guard, who has been a pleasure to watch but also an objectively bad player, would be the only shot creator on the floor for long stretches.
Last week, Brown trotted out a lineup that consisted of Elliot Williams, Hollis Thompson, Brandon Davies, DeWayne Dedmon, and Wroten. Those are five guys that play extremely hard, but who will also really struggle to consistently create good shots. Here are some of the turnovers Wroten committed against Charlotte and Miami last week.
Wroten’s passing hasn’t been his biggest individual bugaboo, as that would be his inability to score efficiently. It’s just that with such a lack of firepower potentially surrounding him, Wroten needs to improve significantly as a playmaker for the Sixers’ bench to survive (in any sense of the word) after a major trade.
Wroten, who has trimmed his turnovers from last season somewhat at the expense of his assists, will have to try threading the needle on a more consistent basis. He’s actually being presented with a decent opportunity here: Nobody will fault Wroten if he can’t keep a patchwork bench afloat. If he somehow does, then maybe the perception of him starts to change around the league a little bit.
Rich Hofmann Jr. can be contacted @rich_hofmann.