The Sixers head to Atlanta tonight seeking to avenge one of their worst losses of the season, when the Hawks came into Philly a few months back and beat the Sixers on their home floor.
Question #1: The Sixers have taken a step back defensively this year, and one factor that has played a part in this is likely Brett Brown’s lead assistant, Lloyd Pierce, departing for the head coaching position in Atlanta. What has your assessment been thus far of the job Pierce has done?
Pierce has been amazing. The Hawks’ defense hasn’t set the world on fire (not even a teeny spark, to be honest) but that lies at the feet of the young, offensively-oriented players that dominate the rotation.
What is really impressive about Pierce is how quickly he implemented his effective offense with a starting lineup that has two rookies and one sophomore. The Hawks move the ball, rack up assists, shoot threes and finish at the rim. Other than the turnovers - which have gotten better over the last month - the math adds up on what they are doing. The funny thing is that all that good math is also what makes this team fun, something that has been missing in Atlanta for the past two or three seasons.
Also: Pierce is also the most patient professional coach that I’ve ever seen.
Question #2: Trae Young’s start to the season was brutal in every sense of the word. But in the last month or two, he’s been putting up tremendous numbers, leading what has now become a very competitive Hawks team. Simply, how did Trae pull off such a drastic turnaround?
Can I respond to a question by disagreeing with a premise? I don’t think Trae’s season started brutally. In October, he averaged 19.1 points and 6.6 assists while shooting 34 percent from three. That’s .... reasonable for a rookie?
If we break it down closely, Trae struggled at two points of the season: Summer League and a two-week stretch in November. It’s difficult to put any meaningful weight on Summer League play, and yes, those two weeks in November were ugly. (He scored in single digits in five out of six games, and made 1 of 25 threes.)
Coming out of that slump, it looked like he played with more purpose. If we grade on a curve, his defense got better. He got more aggressive about rebounding, chasing loose balls and getting back quickly in transition. He mostly just played with more force, more juice. He made a couple of tweaks to his jump shot, but really he didn’t have to change all that much about his game. Most of it was there all along – the court vision, the deep jump shot, the floater, the Steve Nash dribble – it was just a matter of getting used to being the focal point of NBA defenses.
Question #3: Last time these two teams met, John Collins sunk a game-winner. The second year standout has put up very impressive numbers. What do you think his long-term role can be on a team trying to make noise in the playoffs?
Because of Hawks GM Travis Schlenk emigrating from Golden State, everyone looked at the last draft and said, ‘Warriors East’ and tried to draw parallels between Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Young and Kevin Huerter. There are a couple of strands to try to tie comparisons there, but really a much better comparison is the one with Young and Collins and Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire. Like Stoudemire, Collins seems like someone who can put up 33 points and 14 rebounds in a playoff game while functioning as the dive man in a pick-and-roll based offense. Collins can make threes too, as Stoudemire probably would have also done if he played in 2019. The holdover question is going to be how good the Hawks can be if they are going to count on his defense inside. Right now, there’s a lot of room for growth on that side of the ball. But to be fair, Collins isn’t the only Hawk about whom that can be said.
Big thank you to Kevin for taking the time to talk with us!