By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Oct 13 2010 2:22PM
Before the Philadelphia 76ers' third preseason game, a full 12 days after they had opened training camp, new head coach Doug Collins admitted that he was struggling to find an offense that his team could run effectively.
"When you start trying to draw up a half-court offense when you don't have a dominant low-post player and you're not a great shooting team, it's like, 'OK, what do we do?'" Collins said. "That's what I'm in the process of trying to sort through right now."
Preseason is supposed to be a time of unbridled optimism in the NBA. With new players, new schemes and rust to shake off, it's easy to dismiss ugly basketball -- like the Sixers had been playing in early preseason action -- as an issue that will work itself out. So it can't be a good sign when a coach is so quick to reveal that his team will struggle to score.
But Collins isn't afraid to admit that he's got a real challenge on his hands. And history just can't be ignored.
Ugly offense is not a new problem in Philadelphia. Only three times in the last 18 seasons have the Sixers ranked in the top half of the league in offensive efficiency. They've had seven coaches since Larry Brown left in 2003, and none of them has figured out how to get the ball in the basket consistently. Brown, a Hall of Famer, couldn't put together much of an offense when he had Allen Iverson, who owns the sixth highest scoring average in NBA history, in his prime.
So, at least on one end of the floor, Collins is set up to fail. His team's personnel is no better offensively than in previous years.
The Sixers really don't have any liabilities in their rotation, but they lack a go-to scorer. Andre Iguodala is their best all-around player, but not very efficient when he's asked to take a lot of shots. Elton Brand once averaged 25 points per contest, but his game has diminished since he ruptured his Achilles three years ago.
Rookie Evan Turner averaged 20 points and six assists at Ohio State last season, but has struggled to adjust to the NBA. Second year point guard Jrue Holiday has promise, but isn't ready to carry an offense either.
On top of that, the Sixers have been the worst 3-point shooting team over the last three seasons, connecting on just 33 percent of those shots. So even if they had a real go-to guy, they don't have the shooters to space the floor for him.
"We just don't have one thing we can hang our hat on right now," Collins admitted.
Lacking anyone that will draw double-teams, ball movement and player movement will be critical for the Sixers so they can wear down defenses and find openings near the basket.
"We're not going to be that kind of team that has two guys that get us 45 for us every night," Collins said. "The ball's got to move. I've talked to our guys about valuing the ball and getting good shots."
In order to better figure out how those shots will be generated, the coach and his staff have gone back to the drawing board, admitting that two or three days of training camp were lost to an offense that just wasn't working. And even if Collins tries something new, he knows it won't be very effective.
So the coach hopes that his team will be able to hang its hat on defense. Even though the Sixers have been consistently poor offensively, they've made the playoffs eight times in the last 18 seasons because their defense has been pretty solid.
The Sixers lacked defensive focus and principles under Eddie Jordan last season, but they ranked 14th defensively two seasons ago and 10th the season before that.
After trading Samuel Dalembert to Sacramento, Philly lacks an interior presence. But with Iguodala leading a strong group of perimeter defenders, they can still rank in the top half the league defensively. And if they continue to force turnovers as well as they have over the last few years, they will flourish on the break.
"Our defense has to be good enough where we can get some turnovers, where we can rebound well enough to get in the open court," Collins said. "We're going to have to manufacture offense."
In addition to fast break points, Collins wants his offense to rank high in free-throw attempts and low in turnovers. So even if they're not shooting well from the field, they can keep themselves in games.
The margin for error is slim and the ceiling is low. But the Sixers can still improve on last year's disastrous season. That's why Collins is here.
1. PERIMETER DEFENSE
Lacking a defensive presence in the paint, the Sixers will have to be tenacious on the perimeter.
2. THE KIDS MUST GROW UP FAST
The faster Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner develop their offensive games, the better the Sixers will be.
3. A SHOOTER TO COUNT ON
Either Jason Kapono or Jodie Meeks will need to earn a spot in the rotation and knock down shots.
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LAST YEAR: 27-55, 4th in Atlantic
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
JRUE HOLIDAY, GUARD
8.0 PPG | 2.6 RPG | 3.8 APG
Just one season into his NBA career, Holiday is already one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the league.
EVAN TURNER, GUARD
The No. 2 pick could come off the bench, with Spencer Hawes at center, if Collins chooses no to go small.
ANDRE IGUODALA, FORWARD
17.1 PPG | 6.5 RPG | 5.8 APG
Asked to shoot more from the perimeter last season, Iguodala shot a career-low 44 percent from the field.
THADDEUS YOUNG, FORWARD
13.8 PPG | 5.2 RPG | 1.4 APG
After rapid improvement through his first two seasons in the league, Young was never comfortable last year.
ELTON BRAND, FORWARD
13.1 PPG | 6.1 RPG | 1.4 APG
Brand slimmed down this summer at Collins' request. He can still be effective as a pick-and-pop big man.
|Spencer Hawes||7-1||245||C||Would start at center if he could rebound and defend better.|
|Andres Nocioni||6-7||224||F||Rugged defender who only a teammate or a coach could love.|
|Louis Williams||6-1||175||G||He's the team's best one-on-one scorer, but a defensive liability.|
ADDED: Evan Turner, Tony Battie, Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, Craig Brackins, Darius Songaila
LOST: Rodney Carney, Francisco Elson, Samuel Dalembert, Willie Green, Jason Smith
EVAN TURNER, G
It's tough to put pressure on a rookie, but Turner was taken with the No. 2 pick and, with three years of Big Ten experience, should be ready to contribute. And the Sixers need him to produce right away. But Turner struggled in Summer League and early preseason action, unable to adjust to playing off the ball.
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