This is a new feature I want to post here from time to time. I want to look at three specific aspects from an individual game, and because last night’s was a win, I thought it should skew positive. This one is front-loaded, with the first section taking up the majority of the post.
The Good: Inside-Out Basketball
Before the season, the conventional wisdom on the Sixers’ offensive plan of attack was fairly simple: Throw the ball to their newly acquired big man on the block, where he would run roughshod against an Eastern Conference center crop that produces about as much fear as "Here Comes The Sixers." Then, after opponents would start doubling to get the ball out of Andrew Bynum’s hands, space the floor with shooters to make the defense pay. It was a good plan and even better, simple enough that you didn’t need to be Will Hunting to draw it up on a chalkboard and understand its possibilities.
But then Bynum was hurt, and then he went all Roy Munson on us, and ipso facto, the Sixers are a bottom three offense in the league. Even worse, there’s no reliable timetable for Kingpin’s return to the lineup. So how the Sixers manufacture points without Bynum in the lineup will be a key storyline, and so far the results have been "a gutterball." (OK, I’ll stop).
With a lineup that prefers three-point shooting, playing inside-out basketball is a key to generating quality shots. Passing the ball around the perimeter isn’t going to get it done without a Ray Allen "run off screens" type shooter, in my opinion. Getting the ball into the paint or near the hoop collapses the defense, forces help, rotations, and all of that good stuff that is vital to freeing spot-up shooters.
So one way to accomplish that is to spread the floor, play pick-and-roll or isolate with Jrue Holiday and then have him play the drive and kick game off his penetration. They’ve done this with some success, even with Holiday’s high turnover rate. But there’s another way the Sixers can get inside-out action, and that’s by posting up their guards. There are three guards in particular that I’d like to see Doug Collins post up more: Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Jason Richardson.
It’s fair to say that all three guys are big, physical and can pose a matchup problem against smaller guards. Thanks to Synergy, their post-up numbers in past seasons are available, and the numbers are encouraging. Richardson’s best points per possession year was three years ago with the Suns when he scored .91 PPP, which makes him a threat at least. Last year, one where he was widely reported to be out of shape, Richardson was at .87 PPP in the post. To give you some context, .87 PPP is what the Sixers’ offense is doing total this year.
Quick note: My version of Synergy’s points per possession numbers only include a player’s shots and turnovers, so look at them through the lens of the threat that the players pose scoring out of the post.
The two young guys have even more encouraging numbers. Even during his offensively challenged first two years, Turner put up .94 and .97 PPP, which is good offense. For a frame of reference, the Oklahoma City Thunder scored .97 PPP last year, good for 2nd in the league. Now obviously what the Thunder did is far more impressive, but it shows that when E.T. shot the ball in the post, he had success. Oh, and Jrue Holiday’s last two seasons? 1.00 and 1.19 PPP respectively, which to quote Larry David, is pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Here’s the problem (and also a reason that their totals need to be taken in context): Collins doesn’t utilize this option enough. Jrue only has 42 shot attempts out of the post over the past two seasons, and Turner’s total is 73. With both of those players trending inefficient on the whole, it’s interesting why Collins wouldn’t experiment with something they both seem to do well. Sure, there are the possibilities of turnovers, but they are accounted for in the Synergy numbers, which are still good. And there are floor balance issues in regards to transition defense. But, still, wouldn’t you like to see this fail a few times before going away from it?
Here are two plays from last night where the Sixers got post ups for guards:
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The first one is a Richardson post up, and the result of the quick pass out of the double team is an Evan Turner corner three, the most efficient shot in basketball, and something Turner would do well to make a part of his repertoire. The play shows one of the main benefits of posting up guards: they often have passing skills that exceed those of big men out of double teams.
The second play is of Jrue and Turner recognizing that Turner has a smaller player ("mouse in the house") on him in Kyrie Irving. He quickly turns and hits a jumper. When a double doesn’t come quick enough, the guards have to score, as Turner does here.
With the way the Sixers’ personnel has changed, Turner and Holiday only having nine combined shots of the post so far this season is simply not enough. There are going to be nights where the other team has smaller guards, and when those matchups are there, Collins would do well to send his two young guards to the block. Against Milwaukee the other night for example, Turner posted up Monta Ellis a total of three times, and the results were a trip to the foul line, made jumper, and a three-pointer for Jason Richardson after Turner passed out of a double-team. Not making the even smaller Brandon Jennings, who happened to be on fire, work to defend the physical Holiday in the post was probably a mistake.
That the guards are willing passers is one reason to post them up, but the Sixers wings and big men are also jump shooters. To post up a guard effectively, you need shooters who can space the floor. With Holiday, Richardson, Turner (if he keeps to the corner three), Nick Young, Dorell Wright, and even Spencer Hawes (I don’t like it either, but 43 percent is still 43 percent, for now) as threats from three, the guards will have space to operate.
Another added benefit would be shot-creation for the second unit. With Holiday as the main ball-handler, Turner needs to become the playmaker the bench unit needs when Jrue is on the bench. Luckily for him, there are more than a few backup point guards that are much smaller than 6’7.
Posting up their guards is not something that the Sixers can make their base offense. It’s not something they can do against every team. But it’s something that their players seem to do well, and when you are almost at the bottom of the barrel in NBA offense, it’s something that needs to be done more than a few throwaway times.
The Great: Jrue’s One-on-One Defense against Kyrie
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Kyrie Irving is a great offensive player. His isolation game is deadly because he can score in so many ways: Shoot the three if you give him space, cross you over and shoot a jumper, beat you to the tin by going right, left, or a combination of both. That Irving still gets a decent shot off on this play is mighty impressive. That Holiday was able to legitimately beat Irving to the spot and turn him on five different occasions, even more so.
The Bad: The Lavoy/J-Rich Dribble Handoff
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This was just a little thing I noticed last night. I don’t like Richardson having to negotiate screens as a playmaker. He’s fine putting the ball on the floor after he spots up, but usually there’s less traffic and a clearer driving lane in those situations. And Lavoy, there’s not much to like about anything he’s doing offensively right now.