YOUR…2011-2012 Philadelphia 76ers have the 4th best winning percentage in the league. They only trail Derrick Rose’s Chicago Bulls and LeBron James’, Dwyane Wade’s and Chris Bosh’s Miami Heat. The red, white and blue juggernaut from eastern Pennsylvania is here, with perennial All-Stars Spencer Hawes, Lou Williams, Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks leading the way. Wait...who are these guys?
|Collins in his playing days.|
Looking at their career averages, starters Jodie Meeks, Jrue Holiday and Spencer Hawes and rotation players Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner are all having the best seasons of their young professional lives. Only Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand (who hasn't played at an All-Star level since suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2007) are playing below established career numbers.
Digging deeper into who each individual player is, and what skill set he has, it's easy to see that what these players all have in common. Coach Doug Collins has discovered what exactly each man on his squad does best, and has found a way to harness that particular talent.
Doug Collins recognized Meeks' strengths and shortcomings, and distilled what exactly would make him an effective NBA player. And what would make him an effective player, was to be the designated shooter from distance. Meeks routinely and lithely moves around the perimeter like a squirrel on a telephone wire, ready to catch and shoot passes from penetrators Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday. He leads the Sixers with 115 3-pointers attempted, which accounts for about 64% of his total shots taken for the season. To put that in perspective, not even famed three-point assassin Ray Allen shoots that high of a percentage of three point shots in his field goal attempts (46%). Luckily for Meeks, Collins and the Sixers, Meeks his hitting on 44% from beyond the arc.
Meeks is just one example though of how Coach Collins is becoming a MacGuyver to his group of Sixer inanimate objects and turning them into a full-automated weapon. Knowing that Jrue Holiday is not yet (or perhaps not ever going to be) the floor general that he needs, he often has Iguodala, a gifted passer, set up the offense at the top of the key. This leaves Holiday open as a shooter, a skill which he is much more adept at. In turn, Iguodala's assists per game lead the team and Holiday's three point shooting averages is at a career-high level. Evan Turner, the 2nd pick in the 2010 draft, struggled his first year in Philly and played far below the perhaps unfair ceiling set in front of him. Collins recognized that despite the promise of NBA-readiness attached to a 2nd overall pick, and especially the expectation of offensive production that is supposed to come from a shooting guard, Turner wasn't quite there yet. So Doug put him on the second unit, next to scoring machine Lou Williams. Playing in the same rotation as Williams, the notion of Turner as a devastating offensive option has fallen by the wayside, as the 6-6 guard can now focus on rebounding, defending and lastly, developing his shot that so many thought would come naturally to him in the league.
While those are all small, but powerful examples of how Doug Collins is getting the most talent out of otherwise pedestrian ballers, what is most impressive about the coach and his team is how he's gotten them to all buy into his system and defend. Simply put, they have the best defense in the league.
Defense wins championships. It might not win this particular Sixers team a title, but the saying still stands. The Sixers rank in the top five in these defense-oriented categories: points allowed, field goal percentage allowed, three-point field goal percentage, opponents points per shot and defensive efficiency. Though they routinely will get pushed around in the paint, their perimeter defense features some of the most devastating lockdown wingmen in the game. At 6-3, 6-7 and 6-8, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala customarily have the length and strength advantage over anyone in front of them. They play smart, heady basketball, evidenced by their killer D, and yet they commit the 3rd least amount of fouls in the league.
almost every coach) preaches the same hoop ideals that your coach did in grade school all the way up to the college level - take care of the ball, rebound, defend, hustle and never give up on any possession. If Doug Collins was doing his job any better, then he'd have to legally chance his name to Gene Hackman. This Sixers team should have every game recorded and shown to high school squads across the country. They are the epitome of team ball, and how much a group of limited players can achieve if they simply adhere to the fundamentals of the game.
This Sixers team has been a monument to team basketball. They should get much more attention nationally for what they've done so far. But unfortunately, this is an untenable model going forward in today's NBA. Without a star to push them over the top, they might win a playoff series, but will just stay fodder for the Rose, LeBron or Wade driven teams in the East. Until then, I'll just watch Lou Williams light it up...for 15 points a game.