Nobody is ever going to mistake Doug Collins for Andy Reid. While the dearly departed Eagles coach followed up losses with nondescript answers in a monotone voice, Collins is emotional and honest with the media. It's just who he is. And even nearing the midway point of his third season in Philadelphia, it's still refreshing.
Last night, after his team lost 111-99 to the New Orleans Hornets in a game that wasn't even as close as the score would indicate, Collins took on a very realistic tone. The press conference, which basically turned into a State of The Union address, gave a look into what Collins sees in this Sixers team. Here are a few quotes, and a bunch of analysis:
On the game itself: "We couldn't get any stops. They outran us, they out-rebounded us, they beat us in the paint, they out-executed us. They beat us in every way they possibly could. So that's very disappointing."
As you can see, Collins didn't sugarcoat his team's poor effort. The Sixers defended at a high level for all of eight minutes, from with five minutes left in the 2nd Quarter until three minutes into the 3rd Quarter. They surrendered only five points during that stretch, but the other 40 minutes were laughable. The future Pelicans, who came into the NBA ranked 20th in offense, repeatedly got whatever shot they wanted. Some of the offense New Orleans ran, especially any pick and roll that involved Eric Gordon as the ball-handler or Anthony Davis as the screener, was good stuff. But that's not what doomed the Sixers for most of the night.
No, what hurt Sixers was an unending series of simple defensive breakdowns on the individual and team levels. It was plays like Jrue Holiday fighting over the same screen that Damien Wilkins was also strongly hedging, leaving Greivis Vasquez a wide-open shot when he ignored the screen. It was Wilkins and Thaddeus Young's inability to stay attached to a shooter like Ryan Anderson. It was Jason Richardson and Evan Turner's expected problems handling the athletic and physical Gordon. It was Lavoy Allen and Spencer Hawes' two combined rebounds in 36 minutes.
And there was more, a bunch more. It was a lot of stuff, pretty much all bad.
On if he thought the team turned a corner defensively against Houston: "No, no. I've got to see it more than once. 'Turning the corner' to me is consistency, and as I said before, we haven't won two games in a row since November 30th."
Consistency and talent level should always be evaluated at the same time. Looking back at the three major personnel losses from last year's Sixers, I see three consistent players. Andre Iguodala consistently played great defense and put more on the table than he took off offensively. Lou Williams consistently gave the team offensive firepower off the bench. Elton Brand consistently played great post defense and was a strong communicator from the back line.
Now consider their de facto replacements. Evan Turner is a large drop off defensively from Iguodala, and while he's carried a larger offensive haul, his efficiency hasn't made a big jump. Nick Young was on fire against the Hornets, but the way he plays offense doesn't lend itself to the consistency Williams gave the Sixers last year. Kwame Brown replacing anybody on your team is a dicey proposition, and he can't give Collins the contributions they received from Brand. When you look at Turner, Young, and Brown, many of their numbers aren't very different from what they've done their whole careers. In fact, they've been fairly consistent.
This isn't to say that the Sixers should yearn for any of these former players, who truthfully didn't have the talent to make up a championship core. But one thing they were was consistent, and what that consistency got them last season was an eight seed and what should have been a first round exit. Now with players incapable of producing what their predecessors could on a nightly basis, you technically could call it a lack of consistency, but what really happened is the Sixers downgraded in talent.
On if the team isn't picking up any of his defensive schemes: "Well, we have [a] weakness. We have lack of speed on the wings. You get broken down, and now it becomes a chain link fence that one thing is chasing another and changing another, and eventually you're going to get caught. And we don't have rim protection...."
This is important. Collins built his recent top-tier defenses, which had many of the same weaknesses that the current unit is saddled with, around Iguodala's talents as a perimeter defender. The fact that Iguodala could alone guard every top-flight wing scorer in the league made it easier for Collins to scheme around everyone else's deficiencies. As much as they apparently didn't see eye-to-eye, Collins and Iguodala worked great together on defense. Now with Turner's lack of strength, Richardson's lack of speed, and the bench wings' lack of defensive prowess, Collins doesn't have that weapon at his disposal, and the result is the house of cards that was the Sixers' stingy defense has fallen apart.
On his team: The disappointing thing for me more than anything else is night to night, I don't know what I'm going to get. And so I think maybe some of the people that are watching our games are like 'What in the heck [is Collins] doing?' Sometimes I wonder, because I can't find answers. It's not like I'm not trying."
This is another telling quote. It also leads into this one....
On The Philadelphia Inquirer's John Mitchell's question if the team's recent play suggests they are tuning him out: "Are you kidding me? Seriously, you're kidding me, right? You're digging. The answer that is no. That's not a good question, John."
Collins was sensitive about this. We could debate for days whether the question was fair or not (I think both the question and answer were "fair," personally), but the idea that the team is "tuning him out" misses the mark.
Think about this: If the team had stopped listening to Collins, wouldn't it be the guys who have been in Philly throughout Collins' tenure? Three of those four players (Holiday, Turner, and Young) are having career years (or in Thad's case, close to it), and Hawes is Hawes. I understand why the question was asked. Collins does have a reputation of turning a team around after and eventually having his emotional coaching style take a toll on his players. But that's not what is happening here.
What do people want him to do? Collins can't make Young into a smart offensive player. He can't help Hawes become quicker in defending pick and rolls. He can't make Turner into the defender Iguodala is. In last night's game, Holiday played a nearly flawless offensive first half, ending up with a line of 12 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals, and yet the team trailed by seven at the break. When he struggled slightly in the third quarter, the deficit quickly grew larger. The Sixers have a pretty small margin for error in a lot of areas, which isn't a characteristic of many winning basketball teams.
Criticizing Collins as a personnel guy is another debate (even though he has a seven-foot excuse there), but I don't see coaching as a main concern with the Sixers. Would I like to see them work a little smarter offensively? Yeah, but even that isn't going to change their record too much. Until they get Andrew Bynum back, the Sixers are probably going to continue to struggle. Could they turn it around a little bit and keep themselves within striking distance of the playoffs during this homestand? Of course, but it's going to be much more about what the players can do than any adjustments Doug Collins will make.