Before Saturday's 109-91 drubbing of the Bobcats, Doug Collins met with members of the media to address the team's end of game collapses. There is no single problem, or solution, but Collins seemed to have some ideas, and didn't dance around the issues.
"These teams crank it up in the last 5 minutes. That's what teams do in this league," Collins stated. "I'm not sure we're experienced enough yet to handle that."
Looking purely at the numbers, it may not seem like the Sixers have that much of a hill to climb. The Sixers average age is 26.22 years, and their players average 4.57 years of experience, just below the NBA averages of 26.79 and 4.85 years, respectively. Those numbers don't perform justice to the task at hand.
The average age is brought up by Battie (34), Songaila (32), Nocioni (31) and Kapono (29), none of whom are logging major minutes, although Nocioni and Battie are at least getting meaningful minutes. The Sixers are starting three players 23 years of age or under in Jrue Holiday (20), Jodie Meeks (23) and Spencer Hawes (22). In the previous two years only 4 of the 32 playoff teams have had three starters so young, and the Sixers don't have a game changer like Derrick Rose or Kevin Durant among their youth.
Even that figure doesn't really show the mountain Doug Collins and his staff has to overcome, when you consider the first three off the bench are oftentimes Lou Williams (24), Evan Turner (22), Thaddeus Young (22) and Marreese Speights (23).
For Doug Collins, progress is the key.
"We're going to grow. We're going to get it. Was I disappointed [against the Hawks]? Obviously. But no more disappointed than the players," Collins said when he spoke with the media before his teams bounce-back win against the Bobcats.
Collins stressed this game as a teaching tool. "What we will be able to do as a teaching point is we'll take some of the tapes, and show some of the possessions, and did we do the things we wanted to do," Collins said. Collins cautioned against the negative affects of focusing too much on dissecting the loss. "I think tape sometimes can be very negative, and I don't want to use it like that with these guys because we're fragile when it comes to that stuff. I want to keep their spirits up."
Perhaps a bigger hurdle to overcome, and the harder one to rectify for this front office going forward, is obtaining that star player that can take over a game late. Collins didn't directly say nobody on the team was capable of fulfilling that role, but a day after Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala and Louis Williams shot 2-13 from the field during the 4th quarter collapse, Collins words might have some bite to them.
"I think you'll find out that most teams in the last 3 or 4 minutes of close games get the ball in the hands of their best player," Collins said. "You've got to keep the game simple at the end because with the pressure, you're not going to be able to run some intricate play. You might be allowed two passes, get the ball to your key guy, and have him attack. Usually that's what happens at the end of the game. That's why closers are so vital. The guys who can make those plays, either for themselves or for their teammates, and that's areas where we're still trying to grow in."
Whether or not that's an area the Sixers can grow in or whether that closer will ultimately have to come from outside the organization is one of the big question marks on this team, both in an attempted playoff push this year and from a long-term architectural standpoint. Can Jrue Holiday develop into the top 5 point guard Collins envisions? Can Evan Turner, who was the closer at Ohio State, translate his game well enough to the professional level to alleviate these problems?
Thus in lies the crux of the Sixers problems. Relying far too much on young players, underdeveloped as much in experience and moxy as they are in enhancing their physical skills. Young players who are being asked to take on roles beyond what their skillsets dictate because of the lack of a go-to player, a closer, they can augment.
Experience is an enemy they can tackle, and it's why the reaction the team showed Saturday night was so great to see. It would have been real easy for the Sixers, after suffering a heartbreaking loss just the night before, traveling on the tail end of a back to back against a tough, physical (albeit under-performing team) could have come out with a lackluster effort. But they didn't. They came out, competed, and ignited by a quarter-of-a-lifetime by Jodie Meeks won a wire-to-wire victory, similar to how they did against Indiana after the first debacle in Washington. That says something about their pride, their passion, and their developing moxy.
The talent? The closer? The franchise centerpiece to make everybody better ? That's the question. That's the role the Sixers hoped they lucked into last May when the 2nd pick fell into their lap, the guy Doug Collins envisions Jrue Holiday becoming. The guy we all debate whether we have, and if not, how to get.
Only time will tell. Right now, the lack of one is evident by these painful late-game mishaps.
Slow-paced Doug Collins?
When Doug Collins was hired a number of our astute readers pointed out that Collins' teams were generally near the bottom of the league in terms of pace. This year, the Sixers are in the middle of the NBA, and actually well above both the previous two years, where they ranked 23rd and 21st out of 30 teams. After the game Saturday, Collins addressed the strategy against the Bobcats.
"[Because of the Bobcats big backcourt] I told our guys before the game 'we do not want to get into a half-court game with this team'. We felt like that if we could get the game up and down [the court], it would benefit us with our speed".
And up and down the court they went, collecting 20 points off Bobcat turnovers and 27 fast break points for the game.
Phil Jasner Tributes
Saturday was the first home game since the passing of long time journalist and Phil Jasner. The Sixers had a nice tribute for Phil before the national anthem, and left a memorial in the press room.
Collins, who has known Jasner since he played with the Sixers, had much to say about his departed friend, calling him a "throwback", and "a guy who loves his sport".
Collins also explained why he thought Phil always went easy on him.
"I really got close to Phil [Jasner] through his wife. When I was playing for the Sixers I was sort of her favorite player," Collins joked. "It always helped with me with the press, with Phil, because she would never let him be too tough on me."
I've only gotten to know Jasner on a professional level for the past few months, a time when he wasn't around the team as much as he once was. Even though it was short, I'm very thankful for the few times I did get to meet him and pick his brain about the topic he most enjoyed talking about. That being said, it was the times I exchanged emails back and forth with him as a college student simply curious about the inner-workings of my favorite basketball team that remain in my memory the most. Not once did I send an email to Jasner, and email that from his vantage point was entirely inconsequential, that Phil did not respond to. It was these exchanges, much like Larry Coon so eloquently describes, that left the biggest impression on me.
Rest in peace, to one of the men who so profoundly shaped the Philadelphia sports landscape.