Hawes revival keys Sixers improved play

Last night saw the Sixers set numerous season highs offensively, including most points in the first quarter (35), most points in a half (66), most points in a game (117), as well as season highs for Thaddeus Young in points (26), and season highs for both Thad and Hawes for rebounds (11 and 12, respectively).  

It saw another great shooting night from Jodie Meeks, who shot 4-9 from three point range and has now shot a ridiculous 13-22 from deep in the three games he's started, averaging 17 points per game over that span.  The game saw Thaddeus Young and Louis Williams combine to score a combined 45 points in 49 minutes off the bench, including 26 points on 12 shots for Thaddeus Young, one shot from Young that coach Collins described as "the one he threw in out of his ass".  Young is now 5th in the league in eFG%, up to a stagging 60.5%.  

This game saw 7 Sixers in double figures, saw them shoot 51.9% from the field, make 8 three's, and get to the line 30 times, making 25 of them.  For the game, the Sixers had an eFG% of 56.8%, the third best mark of the season, and had an offensive rating of 130.6, the best on the season by a considerable margin.

Perhaps the story with the most effect on whether the Sixers can be a legitimate playoff team has been the play of Spencer Hawes of late.

Hawes minutes, and productivity, were down to start the season.  Through the first 15 games of the season, Hawes averaged just 5.8 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes per night.  He has gone on to average 8.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in just under 25 minutes per game in the past three, perhaps most importantly grabbing 26 defensive rebounds over that stretch, while picking up his productivity on the defensive end.

It's the rebounding and defense that are most relevant to the Sixers long term plans.  Hawes' was a capable, albeit not great, defensvie rebounder his first two years in Sacramento.  That number fell down significantly his third year, and he had struggled to start this season as well.

"All of it," Doug Collins said when asked how much he attributed Hawes' struggles as being due to conditioning.  "He missed 16 days [in training camp], and it set him way back.  I give Spencer a lot of credit.  He has worked very hard."

"We had the strength and conditioning coach (Jesse Wright) call the Sacramento people and I wanted to know what his body weight and body fat were when he had his best year out there."  Collins continued.  "We just mentioned it to him and he has worked hard."

Hawes agreed.

"I think so. It's not only being in shape, it's getting in that rhythm, getting in basketball shape," Hawes said.  "You can try as much as you want, doing stuff on the sideline, but until you start getting those game minutes, it's hard to get in shape."

The conditioning problems were on full display on the defensive side of the court.

"My activity level is probably the first thing that you'll notice, on both ends of the floor, but probably especially defensively," Hawes explained.  "Defensively, I think when my level of activity picks up, I think that helps the team."

Hawes couldn't deny the frustration.  "It's frustrating when you feel like you can help out, but the results just aren't coming," Hawes said.  "Hopefully all that's behind us.  Right now we're just looking forward, we're winning now.  We just need to keep this thing rolling and not focus on the past.  Just keep moving forward, keep getting better."

If Spencer Hawes continues to play at this level, the Sixers case to be a legitimate playoff team gains more credence.  Is a three game sample size enough to quell any fears Sixers fans should have?  Obviously not, and there's no guarantee Spencer doesn't revert to his 2009-2010 form, or worse, his early season form from this year.  Is there a chance, however slim it may be, that Doug Collins can get the most out of a 22 year old player?  Perhaps.  Nobody is asking, or expecting, Hawes to be a game changing defender, either man-man or as a weakside help defender.  If he could develop into an above average defensive rebounder, though, that improves his worth considerably, and would help legitimize the Sixers playoff bid.  The Sixers have won the battle on the glass (in terms of rebounding percentage) in 7 of the last 11 games.

Thaddeus Young and the electric fence

It probably didn't matter what kind of shot Thaddeus Young threw up last night, as evidenced by the prayer three point attempt he made to beat the shot clock late in the 4th quarter.  That being said, his shot distribution last night was excellent, with 8 of his 12 attempts being at the rim.  

When asked whether Young was a better jump shooter than people gave him credit for, Doug Collins answered yes, with some qualifications.

"Yes.  When he gets his feet underneath him, and when he stays in front of the three point line," Collins said.  "That three point line I told him is like the electric fence you put in your yard with a dog.  You get across [the line] and it shocks you.  Stay inside that line."

(That being said, Collins did clarify that he didn't mind the three point attempt Young took with the shot clock winding down.  "The one he threw in out of his ass, I don't mind that one," Collins said).

So far, Young's heeded his coaches advice.  Thad has attempted only 12 three pointers through 21 games this season, a stark drop from his averages of 2.2 and 2.1 attempts per game in each of the previous two seasons.  

"I'm trying to get to the basket, I'm doing whatever coach wants me to do," Young confirmed. "I know my strengths and my weaknesses, my weaknesses are shooting three's, and I'm not going to shoot a lot of them."

As Jordan pointed out last week, Young's shot location chart -- with the exception of the lack of three pointers -- isn't drastically different, but that doesn't tell the entire story.  It's not just where his shots were attempted, but how they came about.  Here are a few startling differences:

  • Nearly 78% of Young's "at the rim" field goals this season are assisted, only 62.1% of them were last year. [Source: hoopdata.com]
  • 72% of Young's shots inside 10 feet were assisted, only 40.5% last year.  [Source: hoopdata.com]
  • 72.7% of Young's shots from 16-23 feet have been assisted, up from 63.2% the previous year.  [Source: hoopdata.com]
  • 80.8% of Young's catch and shoot attempts have come when he was unguarded.  Last year, only 36.1% of his attempts where when unguarded.  [Source: Synergy Sports]
Overall, Young's taken better shots, doing a better job of picking advantageous matchups, being more direct with his moves, taking less three's, and limiting his jump shots to when he's wide open.  The end result has been an extremely efficient offensive player.  He's currently leading the team in PER, Win Shares per 48 minutes, while being the second most efficient player on the team, both in terms of eFG% and TS%, to Jodie Meeks.  He's having a career high in points per minute, while shooting a career high in field goal percentage, has the highest PER of his career, with the highest win shares of his career, the highest defensive rebounding percentage of his career, and the lowest usage percentage since he was a rookie.

Like Jodie Meeks, it would be unrealistic to expect him to maintain this level of efficiency.  He's at a virtually unmaintainable level.  Part of it is a fluke, but make no mistake about it, he is taking better shots.  Thad's always reportedly been a hard worker and a willing student, and it appears so far Doug Collins has been successful in getting the most out of his talent.  

Doug Collins hates small ball

After the game, Collins explained why he stuck with Hawes so long in the starting lineup.  Part of the reason, at least was Collins' dislike of playing small for extended periods of time.

"I was not going to waver and go to a small lineup. You can't win consistently in this league with a small lineup," Collins insisted.  "What we're trying to do is really monitor the matchups so that it helps us."

Doug Collins, Byron Scott reunion

Back in the early days of Doug Collins coaching career, Collins coached a young guard at Arizona State in Byron Scott.  Collins would be a mentor to Scott, helping teach him the off-the-ball game Collins perfected during his playing career, a game Scott would help show Reggie Miller later on in his career when at Indiana.  Before the game, Collins spoke about his first meetings with Scott.

"With Byron, my first experience with him was we had to run the mile for time. It was very hot in Tempe in August, and Byron did not make his time," Collins started to explain. "I was going to have him run it again, and I decided that I'd have the other players who made the time run it for him. So Byron goes "No no, I'll run it." So the second time he ran it a few minutes later and he made his time."

The next day, Scott's car broke down.  When he called Collins to ask him for a ride, he was initially refused.

"I said "no, I won't", and he asked why not.  So I said "well, yesterday you had the chance to be a real leader for our team, and you didn't run your time".  And I said "so I was a little bit disappointed in that."  So no, I'm not going to come pick you up," Collins explained.  After an apology, Collins relented, and the two have had a mutual admiration since.

Scott recalled it as a test.  

"Just like most players, I tested him the first time by not making that mile run, just to see what they would do. And they were like, ‘You're going to run it again', Scott recalled.  "These guys aren't joking around," Scott realized.

On Collins reaction to his not making the mile, Scott said he felt jumped on.  "He gave me the old, ‘If you want to be a leader, you better start acting like one.' "

That was the beginning of a great friendship with mutual respect between the two.

"I love Byron Scott.  I love what he's about, he's got a great family, he's a christian man, he's a good coach, and I really admire him a lot," Collins beamed.

Random nuggets of information:

  •  Before yesterday's game, Spencer Hawes had only seen 4th quarter minutes in three games.
  • The Sixers have only allowed opponents to shoot 50% or more in three games this season, two of which were against the Cavaliers.  The Cavs are 27th in the league in field goal percentage, at 43.3%.
  • This was the first double digit rebounding game of the year for Spencer Hawes.  He set a seaso high in points, rebounds, blocks, and minutes played.
  • Marreese Speights was a DNP-CD yesterday, the second time this season.  He hasn't played more than 15 minutes in a game since November 24th against Toronto.
  • The Sixers were +14.8% in offensive rebounding differential, their best mark of the season. 
  • The Sixers had only a 6.9% turnover percentage, their second best effort of the season.
  • The Sixers offensive rating the past two games: 130.6 and 126.3, the best two marks of the season.
  • The Sixers 30.9% free throw rate was the third best effort of the season.
  • The Sixers have won 5 straight at home.  They play 4 of the next 5 at home before embarking on an 8 game road trip to end December, going through January 3rd at New Orleans.
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