A first take

The NBA season comes so quickly, and with so little preseason camp, that even a scrimmage on the second day of camp is worthy of analysis. We’ve talked about a lot of items already – Spencer Hawes’ passing ability, Elton Brand’s slimmer physique, Jrue Holiday’s skyrocketing potential – but there are still so many holes to fill in as 76ers coach Doug Collins works to make this 27-win team something much better.

It wasn't much, but we watched about the last 15-20 minutes of the team’s night scrimmage on Wednesday. We’re just beginning to form answers to some major questions – will Evan Turner make an impact? What kind of offense is Collins running? Who looks good right now? – and Wednesday night provided a solid amount of information.
Plus, it's the best we can do right now.
Collins had the team broken into a Blue Team (by all accounts the first team) and a White Team. Here were the sides:
Blue: Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala (not playing, resting due to USA), Jason Kapono, Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, Darius Songaila, and Chris Quinn.
White: Lou Williams, Evan Turner, Jodie Meeks, James Florence, Marreese Speights, Craig Brackins, Andres Nocioni (not playing, ankle), Trent Plaisted, and Tony Battie (not playing, right knee synovitis).
Not surprisingly, the blue team dominated and won the scrimmage by about 10-15 points. Some of the key takeaways from watching:
1.) When we walked into the gym, Turner was matched up against Holiday. Now, let me preface the rest of this section by saying, again, that we only watched this last section of the scrimmage. In talking to assistant coach Aaron McKie afterwards, he said Turner did well off the pick-and-roll and hit a couple of three pointers/a few outside shots. McKie said Turner is exactly where the coaching staff wants him. In the section we watched, Turner did not score and he had trouble with Holiday defending him. He just could not shake Holiday, either while he had the ball, or in trying to get a handoff back on the elbow, or in trying to free himself on the wing.
We’ve been hearing from Collins all week that Turner is “hard on himself,” and you could see some of that coming through in his frustration with not being able to get open or get past his man. Again, it’s so early, and perhaps the rest of the scrimmage was more productive. Lou, who was often running the backcourt with Turner, seemed to be making an extra effort in explaining certain offensive items to Turner. In the segment we watched, Turner brought the ball down the floor.
2.) A few people, and some on Twitter, have been calling for a Jodie Meeks update. Well, here it is. The guy can shoot! He made about three long three-pointers while we were watching. When Meeks came to the team at the trade deadline last season, he struggled in his first few games. Towards the end of the year, he was making almost every shot. It was tough to gauge if that was something we’d see more of, or if that was just bad end-of-season NBA defense. Ok, so it's too early to say for sure, but he looked darn good in the scrimmage. The good thing with Meeks is his long-range shot is difficult to stop because his release is quick, he can jump, and his range is so deep. Realistically, Meeks isn’t battling for a starting spot, but he looked very much like a guy who could play solid minutes and drain shots like he did at the end of last season. 
For that matter, let’s toss Jason Kapono into that mix as well. Those were the two peripheral guys that stood out the most in the scrimmage (yes, Holiday looked good, and we could post another blog entirely about what the PG has going for him).  Kapono hit two three-pointers and looked more like the player the Sixers thought they had last season.
3.) Just to get a little bit into the offense, as best we can from that quick glance, here are a few samples of what happened during the scrimmage. We’ve been talking about the “cluster” movement/action on the midblock. It appears the cluster is a three-man read for the point guard, with the action happening between a post and two wings/guards. Early in the scrimmage, here’s what happened: Darius Songaila was the big man, with Kapono and Thaddeus running the reads off of Songaila. Kapono’s read was first and he took his man back door, cutting towards the rim and then (when he didn’t get the ball) clearing out to the weakside. Thad popped out off Songaila and caught the ball on the left wing, which seemed to trigger a pick-and-roll play with Thad and Songaila. Thad penetrated baseline, drew the defense, and found Kapono wide-open on the weakside baseline. Kapono nailed the three. Tough to say how much of that was within the offense and how much was freelance.
On another occasion, the blue lineup was Chris Quinn at point guard, (Perhaps we’ll talk later about how Quinn actually wouldn’t be a bad addition to this team), Kapono at shooting guard, Young at small forward, Brand at power forward, and Hawes at center. The play was called “Stack” and Quinn brought the ball to the right side, where he and Hawes ran a pick-and-roll. While that was happening, Kapono and Young were running their “cluster” cuts off EB on the mid-lane/block area of the left side. That’s the basic framework of the set.
You could see how with a complementary pair running the cluster set (i.e. a shooter and a slasher) it could work quite nicely. If Kapono is making the first read off of EB, he’s going to force EB’s defender to help in one way or another. Then, right off his heels, Thaddeus or Iguodala can take advantage. If the order is reversed, same thing happens, except it’s Kapono freeing himself for a nice jumper.
OK, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. But it was good to see some of the sets – and new players – in action. This team is five days away from playing the New Jersey Nets in the first preseason game. As far as importance, the game is totally meaningless, but as the preseason schedule wears on – especially in the last two games of preseason – it’s going to be a clear indication of where this team is headed. Collins has used the word “connectedness” to convey how his team – without a real superstar – will need to play this season if it’s going to compete for a playoff spot. Even in a preseason game, you can sense whether the team is building that connection. As Collins often says, "you can't fake that."
Sixers have only one practice today, a night session at St. Joseph's. If you want more updates on Twitter, click here: Deep Sixer.