By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 23 2011 9:27AM
The Philadelphia 76ers were one of the most improved teams in the league last season even though they made minimal changes to their roster from the season before. Doug Collins' ability to coerce a 14-game improvement out of a team without a star was one of the feel-good stories of the season.
In this abbreviated offseason, the Sixers made even fewer changes. And because he seemingly got the most out of his players last year, it's hard to fathom that Collins and his team can make another jump.
But the Sixers actually have a lot of potential for improvement. And most of it comes from their young backcourt of Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner.
Playing his second season, Holiday was one of the most improved guards in the league last year. He did not shoot as well as he did in his rookie season, but he was more efficient by getting to the line more often and reducing his turnovers.
Holiday is not your prototypical pass-first point guard, but he's not a shoot-first guard either. His assist ratio -- 29 assists per 100 possessions used -- was in the middle of the pack last season. Simply, Holiday is a playmaker, at his best in the open court.
But the 21 year old has a long way to go before he can come close to Collins' 2010 proclamation that he would be a top-five point guard in the league. Among 62 point guards who played at least 750 minutes last season, Holiday ranked 21st in effective field goal percentage, 31st in true shooting percentage, 26th in assist ratio, 38th in free throw rate and 37th in turnover rate.
With two years of experience and a full season as a starter under Collins, Holiday will move up in those rankings this season. He says his goal is "taking more control as a point guard, as a leader."
Turner doesn't need to worry about leadership. He just needs to put the ball in the basket.
The No. 2 pick in the 2010 Draft was a disappointment in his rookie season. Turner struggled to get comfortable playing off the ball after dominating it in college. He was touted as a mid-range star, but shot just 38 percent from mid-range, which was below the league average. And Turner displayed little range on his jumper, making just 14 3-pointers all season.
But there was some improvement as the season went on. Turner shot 46 percent after the All-Star break and had a pair of strong games against Miami in the playoffs.
Turner worked with shooting coach Herb Magee this summer. And Collins plans on putting the ball back in Turner's hands a little more this season.
"Ball-handling is his strength ... and playmaking," Collins said of Turner. "He can play [from the] one [to] the three spot. That's what I think [when I think] of Grant Hill."
Turner will continue to come off the bench, but he should log more minutes than starter Jodie Meeks. The Sixers scored just 102 points per 100 possessions when Turner was on the floor last year, a number that must increase.
Where the development of Holiday and Turner will be most important is in late-game situations, where the Sixers really struggled last season. They were 7-18 in games decided by five points or less, with poor numbers on both ends of the floor in clutch situations (last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a score differential of five points or less).
Collins put the ball in Andre Iguodala's hands at the end of games last season, but Iguodala shot just 21-for-68 (31 percent) in clutch situations. He's a terrific all-around player, but he's not a great go-to scorer. So if Holiday or Turner can take on that role, the Sixers should have more success in close games.
And really, it's nearly impossible that they'll be as bad in close games as they were last season. Another reason for optimism was their 38-28 record over their final 66 games last season, recovering from an ugly 3-13 start.
If they can match that mark over the 66 games they'll play this season, the development of their young backcourt will be a big reason why.
1. Put the ball in Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner's hands and let them make plays. The Sixers need to find ways to score in half-court situations.
2. Force more turnovers. The Sixers will always be better on the break, but they ranked just 12th in forcing turnovers last season.
3. Use more of the Holiday, Meeks, Iguodala, Young and Brand lineup. That group was dominant last season, but only played 185 minutes together.
1. Iguodala was banged up all of last season and is now refreshed and healthy. Collins: "I think he might have had the best offseason of anybody."
2. Despite the Sixers' improvement and Philly's passion for its teams, the Sixers ranked near the bottom of the league in home attendance.
3. The team's new ownership has made a lot of changes in an admirable effort to bring more people into the Wachovia Center this season.
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LAST YEAR: 41-41, 3rd in Atlantic
FINISH: Lost in first round of playoffs
2010-11 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2010-11 Stats|
JRUE HOLIDAY, POINT GUARD
14 PPG | 6.5 APG | 4 RPG
Emerged as a consistent all-around threat in the league. Entering his third year, he is the leader of Doug Collins' offense. Averaged more assists in losses than wins (6.8 vs. 6.2).
JODIE MEEKS, SHOOTING GUARD
10 PPG | 40 3P% | 2.3 RPG
Meeks was the Sixers' best outside shooter last season. He attempted 4.7 3-pointers a game, third in the Atlantic Division.
ANDRE IGUODALA, SMALL FORWARD
14.1 PPG | 6.3 APG | 5.8 RPG
Longest-tenured Sixer entering eighth year and facing uncertain future in Philly. His defense -- second team All-NBA -- remains top-notch.
ELTON BRAND, POWER FORWARD
15 PPG | 8.3 RPG | 1.5 BPG
Thirteen-year veteran shot his higest field goal percentage in four years last season. Despite the considerable mileage, Brand is the No. 1 post option in Philly.
SPENCER HAWES, CENTER
7.2 PPG | 5.7 RPG | 1.5 APG
Hawes provides a stable presence for Doug Collins' team, but an upgrade here may be necessary for the Sixers to catapult to the next level.
|Evan Turner||6-7||205||G-F||If he makes the leap, the Sixers will be a tough out in the playoffs.|
|Lou Williams||6-1||175||G||He and his pull-up jumper will be on the floor down the stretch.|
|Thaddeus Young||6-8||220||F||Cut down on 3-point attempts and shot 54 percent last year.|
ADDED: F Lavoy Allen, F Nikola Vucevic
LOST: G/F Jason Kapono
EVAN TURNER, G-F
The 2010 Draft was not great, but there are always high expectations with a No. 2 pick. Turner did not live up to those expectations last season. He struggled to adjust to playing off the ball and shot just 43 percent from the field. After a long offseason of work, it's time for Turner to prove he's one of the best of his class.
|The Flying Green|
Josh McRoberts finds Gerald Green who flies baseline for the rim-rocking smash.
|Bazemore Goes Baseline|
Kent Bazemore drives by Matt Barnes on the baseline for the layup.
|Blocked by Whiteside|
Arron Afflalo drives and gets his shot slapped out of bounds by Hassan Whiteside.
|Harden at the Horn|
James Harden makes the step back jumper at the halftime horn.
|Thunder's Defensive Effort Rewarded|
Westbrook knocks the ball loose on one end and ends up with the two-handed slam at the other end.