On a team with many concerns, the frontcourt is the most immediate. While I just argued in the game thread that what I was concentrating on was watching the trio of Holiday, Turner and Iguodala developing on the wings – and that still is my primary focus on this team long term – this team has enough deficiencies to allow yourself to momentarily get caught up in the day to day irritators. Today, and as will often be the case this season, the frontcourt was front and center.
The Sixers weren't going up against Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, or Kendrick Perkins. The first two -- like Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo -- had the night off as Doc Rivers rests his veterans in the middle of a 4 games in 5 nights stretch. Perkins had off as well, rehabilitating from knee surgery that will likely keep him out well beyond the end of 2010. These weren't the Celtics you'll see in November, much less what you would see come April if Boston is healthy and making aplayoff push. Against the JV team, the Sixers were physically beaten.
The power forward/center combination of Thaddeus Young and Elton Brand managed one defensive rebound between them in over 57 minutes, with the Sixers losing the points in the paint and rebounding battles convincingly. The Sixers were outscored 36-30 in the paint, with the Celtics shooting over 73% on shots in the painted area, at 19-26 from the field. The Sixers were also outrebounded 38-29, with the Celtics grabbing 8 offensive rebounds off 31 missed shots to the Sixers grabbing the same amount in 39 opportunities.
Can Young/Brand compete up front should Hawes miss significant time? Would Collins consider starting Speights in place of Hawes? Can Speights physically handle playing heavy minutes? Will Young be moving back to primarily play small forward once Hawes returns?
For a team desperately looking for answers, the frontcourt came away with more questions. After being juggled back and fourth between small forward and power forward, Thaddeus Young put on all his defensive shortcomings on display against the Celtics. From being severely overmatched in the post against the much bigger Glen Davis to losing rookie Luke Harangody on the perimeter, Young's man scored early and often. Young himself scored 3 points on 1-9 from the field after the first quarter.
Young admitted after the game that switching back and forth between forward spots has been difficult at times. "It's real hard [bouncing around positions]," Young said. "[It's hard] when you go out, and you've prepared for the 3 the whole training camp, then you come out and have to learn the whole 4 spot in 1 or 2 days."
Young's not positive what the future holds for him once Hawes returns from injury. "Not sure," Young said about his position once Hawes comes back. "Right now we're just trying to get him healthy and then we'll go from there. "
Even Marreese Speights, who scored 15 points on 5-6 shooting from the field in the decisive fourth quarter – while playing the entire frame – comes with question marks on his performance. After the game, Sixers coach Doug Collins called into question Speights' conditioning.
"I told him, I said 'you played about 21 minutes tonight, and that was about 2 minutes too much'", Collins said. "He's about a 19 minute a game guy right now, and you could see with about 2 minutes to go he started to get a little tired." This isn't exactly the first time Speights' conditioning has been questioned.
As much as the Sixers backcourt will determine the teams future, they are still basically starting a junior and senior in college, as Collins quickly pointed out after the game. It's natural to worry that Turner may not be able to create at this level the same way he did in college, but he will get better as he adjusts, both to his teammates and the league. While the Sixers backcourt has a much greater impact on their future, they are still relative pups in the NBA, either by age, experience, or both. They have time to prove their naysayers wrong, and we'll have plenty of time to debate, worry, and, hopefully, appreciate them for years to come. The frontcourt, meanwhile, is filled with players we should be able to get good reads on, with enough experience to be able to expect a certain level of productivity and enough minutes played to realize we're continuing to see weaknesses repeated.
Neither Holiday nor Collins were particularly happy with Holiday's performance through three quarters on Tuesday.
"I thought when he came back [from sitting in the 3rd], I thought he was a much different player," Collins said about Holiday. "If he'll guard the ball, then everything else will open up for him. It'll get him opportunities to get out and do what he does. I just thought in watching the game the other day, I didn't think he had the activity that we needed from him, and tonight he did."
Holiday agreed. "I think in the first half we didn't play with as much intensity as we needed," Holiday said. "I think picking up on the ball and pressuring the guard is contageous. It'll gravitate throughout everybody. The first half of this game I wasn't doing that."
Holiday did pick up his play down the stretch, scoring 8 points and dishing out 4 assists in the final frame while playing much better defensively.
That doesn't mean there wasn't anything good to be taken from last nights game, although considering the competition it's hard to know what kind of value to place on that. The Sixers had 30 assists on 35 made field goals after having just 40 assists in the first 3 games combined. Combine that with the three point shooting -- the Sixers shot 10-12 from downtown after coming into the game shooting only 6-22 in the previous three games -- and the Sixers offense certainly clicked better than it had at any point before this game. Again, that has to be taken with a huge grain of salt considering the competition.