A year ago, it was easy to describe and analyze the 76ers’ potential style of play. Everybody within the city limits, at least those paying even just a little bit of attention, knew the Sixers would run the Princeton Offense, knew the plan was to have five interchangeable offensive parts, knew that it was a read-and-react style, and knew that – in all likelihood – it was probably ill-suited for this roster.
The Sixers won 27 games.
This year, the Sixers aren’t quite as easy to predict; there’s no gimmick offense to write 100 stories about. New coach Doug Collins has had a few months to talk to his guys, work with those staying in town for the summer, and get a handle on what style might be best for this talent. With less than a week before the opening of training camp, it’s probably time to at least put together a general idea of how Collins will have these guys playing.
After doing a little homework, here’s the tentative, we-haven’t-even-practiced-yet game plan.
1.) “Running for layups” (or, perhaps, “Running for slam dunks”?): This is no surprise. Folks around here are used to following a team that aims to transition quickly. Even before last season, coaches were saying the transition game would take precedence over the Princeton. But that never happened. So … will the team get back to running this season?
Almost definitely, yes. Aside from allowing about a dozen open three pointers every quarter, the Sixers’ biggest downfall last season was underutilizing their athleticism. I’m sure if we looked we could find at least one chink in Collins’ coaching armor, but inefficiently using his players doesn’t seem to be one of them.
If you followed the team closely last season, you’ll remember that during every game there would be a handful of botched fast breaks. A missed pull-up jumper instead of an easy layup, an off-rhythm bounce pass out of bounds, even missed dunks. It seemed the team’s transition game was out of practice. And it probably was.
This year (since there’s no elaborate offense to learn) the team should return to its young gun ways of seasons’ prior. At the start of last season, the starting ball handlers were Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala, and Thaddeus Young. Not a terrible trio, but Williams is more of a scorer than a passer, Iguodala can do a little bit of both, and Young can finish, but can’t pass. Now take into account the following: Williams was spreading himself thin trying to run the Princeton and be all things “point guard,” Iguodala seemed frustrated early at his team’s inability to understand the offense, and Young appeared too overwhelmed with processing everything to concentrate on the break.
This year’s trio would likely be Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Iguodala (with Young sneaking in there as a fast-breaking power forward). All three of those guys can pass. Holiday makes very smart decisions. And from what I’m hearing, Turner is very good with the ball. Add in that Collins won’t overload the team’s playbook with an intricate offense and these guys should have no problem finishing on the break. No one’s saying this is the formula for an NBA title, but it is the formula – given this roster – for winning more games.
2.) Playing inside out: By this we don’t mean the team will be dumping it inside first, then playing off of that. We literally mean flipping the offense inside out: putting the guards inside, the posts outside.
The team believes, right now, that one of its best assets will be strong-shooting big men. In the last seven years, with Samuel Dalembert starting at center, that belief would be laughable. But Dalembert’s trade to Sacramento brought both Spencer Hawes and a newfound flexibility on the offensive end. Yes, the team will miss Dalembert’s defense and shot blocking in the middle, but there are a lot of things the team won’t miss. We could get carried away here, but we won’t. From an on-court perspective, the Sixers could start attacking teams the same way they are usually attacked: by spreading the floor and letting big men shoot from outside.
Spencer Hawes (I’m told, I haven’t yet seen), can pass and hit from 15 feet. Marreese Speights, we all know, can (and certainly will!) shoot from the perimeter. Speights even has three-point range, although it may be a little early for him to start consistently gunning from beyond the arc. Elton Brand can hit the 15-footer, Young can hit from outside, and Andres Nocioni and Jason Smith can knock down perimeter shots.
What’s even better is that none of these guys have to be on the block. Dalembert could only score around the basket, and even sometimes that was a challenge. Now, the team has a bunch of flexible big men that can clear off the block and bring their defenders with them. Dalembert couldn’t do that. Following this strategy through, we can expect to see Collins put Iguodala on the block more often than previous seasons. Most fans will be happy he’s not slated to be teeing up from outside. We’ll likely see Holiday as a block option, maybe even Turner, too.
What it comes down to, really, is making shots. For the last few seasons, this team just couldn’t make shots. Some of it is having great shooters (which the Sixers don’t, considering their two shooters – Jason Kapono and Nocioni – aren’t main pieces), and some of it is creating an offense where each player is taking the shots best suited for him. If Collins can crack that code, the Sixers will win games.
And just to make things interesting, here’s my starting lineup for Game No. 1: G Jrue Holiday, G Evan Turner, F Andre Iguodala, F Thaddeus Young, C Elton Brand.