Anyone who wondered about the ability of Doug Collins to adapt, to change his coaching style to best suit the new personnel that his (literally his, Collins is very involved) front office acquired over the offseason, need not look further than his wardrobe. Collins, who is entering his third season at the helm in Philly, decided to go the route of Gregg Popovich and ditch the necktie.
And why does this fashion move, which many will chalk up in amusement to the 61-year-old coach simply "not giving a shit" about how he looks anymore, in anyway correlate to his coaching style? Because similar to the collar on his dress shirt, Collins seems to be loosening up as a coach. And that is precisely what his team needs to be successful right now.
While franchise big man Andrew Bynum is out for an unknown period of time, it’s up to Collins and his team to hold the proverbial fort until their major reinforcement is healthy. With a fairly friendly schedule to start the season, the goal is to keep the team afloat, at or around .500, until Bynum is healthy enough to play.
This opening part of the season, the Before Bynum era (B.B.), is where Collins’ willingness to adapt will largely come into play. If the preseason and last night’s opening win against Denver are any indication, the Sixers are going to resemble last year’s team very much and at the same time, not at all. Just like so many wins last year (including seven in the playoffs), the Sixers won ugly last night, but this victory was also completely different. The team’s ugliness had finally found a way to manifest itself in an exciting manner.
Don’t believe it? Here are some numbers from the Sixers’ box score that serve as a stark contrast from last year’s edition: 25 attempted threes, 21 attempted free throws, 92.9 pace factor, and 15 turnovers.
Gone are the days where turnovers were seen as a crime punishable by death and where Collins played the role of Oprah in spreading out the offensive responsibilities ("two-point jump shot for you, and for you, and for you"). Coming in are pull-up threes in transition, more attacking of the basket, and a generally hectic play that was missing from Wells Fargo Center last season. So yes, while the Sixers may still play an aesthetically unpleasing brand of basketball at times, they won’t be boring.
Truth be told, that was exactly what the upstart Philadelphia 76ers were last year to the average NBA fan: boring. Even though there is some value in rooting for the underdog playing in a suddenly energized building, nobody likes watching a team shoot jumper after jumper after jumper, especially when barely any of said jumpers are threes. The Sixers played excellent fundamental defense and mistake resistant offense, but again, that’s not fun. While the style was effective and probably maximized the performance of an average team, things simply needed to change if the franchise wanted to take the next step. Just as the team had a ceiling, so did its general strategy, which was too preventive.
This all fell on Collins, who, for all of his praises, has the reputation of the needler, the guy who cares so much that he overcoaches his players to a fault. Collins’ personality has led to flameouts in his other coaching stops right around his third year, a reputation so ingrained that many national pundits wondered when, not if, during this season that the Sixers will tune him out.
So far, which isn’t far at all, Collins has learned from his mistakes, and because of that, his team’s offensive philosophy is much more open. In his time in Philly, Collins has always given his players plenty of freedom, as long as it’s a controlled freedom on his terms. After young guards Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner had seemingly taken turns at heaving the ball against the rim against Boston in last year’s playoffs, Collins told them to keep shooting. As long as they weren’t turning the ball over and the floor was balanced, he could live with the shots. And they eventually had to drop, which some did, but that wasn’t the point. They weren’t good offense at all.
Collins, by nature, loathes turnovers, so much so that you over the last couple of years that they visibly made him physically sick on the bench. But this year, he isn’t going to pull Jrue Holiday or Evan Turner out of the game after a couple of bad passes, because he knows there will be growing pains in trying to find the balancing act between playing faster and too reckless. Collins also has three-point shooters in Dorell Wright, Nick Young, and Jason Richardson, and he wants them shooting threes.
"Last year we were a medium range shooting team because that is what we were comfortable doing," Collins said during training camp. "I am hoping this year we can be a team that can shoot the ball more from distance."
Oh yeah, they are stiil probably going to play pretty good defense, with personnel that largely suggests they shouldn’t be able to. Collins and assistant Michael Curry are employing the NBA’s version of the Tampa 2, except with Spencer Hawes in the Derrick Brooks role. Well, for one game in his life, anyway.
Early on this season, there are going to be ugly games that the Sixers lose, where the play of last night’s 4th quarter extends over a full game. There are going to be games where Hawes doesn’t look like the next coming of Dikembe Mutumbo, all of them actually. But there are also going to be nights where Wright, Richardson, and Young shoot a decent percentage from three, which they didn’t last night. As long as they defend, they’ll be free to take them as well. Amazingly, Doug Collins, like the Honey Badger before him, don’t care.
There is a long game in this as well. When Bynum comes back, the Sixers won’t have to work as hard to manufacture points. They’ll combat a dry spell by throwing the ball to their workhorse on the post and he’ll do what Andrew Bynum does. When the double teams come and Bynum eventually adjusts to reading them, three-pointers will be open, and players will hopefully find themselves in roles that aren’t a radical departure from the ones they have currently.
The Sixers are going to play some ugly basketball to start the year, but they hope it’ll be effective enough to keep them afloat while their star rehabs. For now, even if they are only kind of open, three pointers are going up in droves in Philadelphia, and whether or not they’re going in, it’ll sure be interesting. Just like if Collins keeps tie off, both literally and figuratively.