5 Steps: Fixing The 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers are one of the storied franchises in the NBA, owning three world championships and playing in the NBA Finals nine times. Recently however, the team has fallen on tougher times. They missed the playoffs in 2009-2010 after winning only 27 games, tying them for the sixth-worst record in the league. They did get a little lucky during the lottery when they moved up to the second pick in the draft and selected shooting guard Evan Turner.
This past season the Sixers appeared to right the ship as they returned to the playoffs and finished the regular season with a .500 record. They played five tough games against the Miami HEAT before bowing out in the first round. The 76ers also brought in a new coach, Doug Collins, to help bring stability to the bench after going through three coaches in two years.
So the question becomes, what do the Sixers have to do to get out of the first round? Here are five steps that will help Philadelphia grow from a fringe playoff team to a potential powerhouse in the East.
1. Upgrade the Center Position
The biggest weakness for the 76ers is their lack of a consistent interior presence. Marreesse Speights and Spencer Hawes are both nice players, but neither of them can be counted on night in and night out to produce the way Philadelphia needs. The two combined to average only nine rebounds and less than one block per game. For this team to take the next step defensively they need a better interior defender.
The Sixers go ten deep on most nights, and it’s time for them to use some of their assets to improve their front line. With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement on the way this summer, it’s quite possible several teams will be looking to dump salary that could lead to Philadelphia landing a new big man.
The Clippers seem to be moving towards giving DeAndre Jordan starter’s minutes at the center position, which would make Chris Kaman available. Perhaps the Clippers would be interested in a trade of Andre Iguodala for Kaman, or maybe Lou Williams and Speights.
After the Lakers meltdown in the Western Conference semifinals, they might be open to a trade of Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol for Iguodala and Williams. The Denver Nuggets might lose Nene to free agency, perhaps they would be willing to do a sign-and-trade to bring him to Philadelphia instead of losing him for nothing.
The bottom line is without an upgrade in the interior it’s unlikely this team will ever get out of the first round.
2. Trust Coach Collins
This past season started off poorly for the 76ers when they went only 3-13 thru their first 16 games. Instead of panicking though, Collins continued to preach patience and believed the team would turn it around, which they did.
Now the front office needs to take the same approach with Collins. Let Collins build this team, and don’t panic if they get off to a slow start again next season. If the players know Collins has the support of management they will continue to buy into his system and play hard for him. If the players believe Collins has lost the faith of management it will be much harder for him to keep his team on the same page.
After years of instability at the head coaching position, Collins has the opportunity to take this team to the next level. It’s up to management to keep him in Philadelphia and at the very least let him coach out the remaining three years on his contract.
3. Stick With the Young Guys
The Sixers are a team with a good group of veterans like Iguodala, Elton Brand, and Andres Nocioni, but it’s the young guys that are going to determine how good the team is in the future. Players like Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Thaddeus Young will be the difference makers, along with an upgrade at center, between them getting knocked out in the first round or making it to the Conference Finals.
It’s arguable that nothing is more important to this franchise then the progress these young players will make. Holiday is only 21 years old and is coming off a season where he led the team in assists with 6.5 per game and averaged 14 points a night.
Turner struggled through most of the season, but there is little doubt the talent is there for him to be a productive NBA starting shooting guard, if not a potential all-star. The former College Player of the year is a threat to score from anywhere on the court and at 6’7” could end up being a defensive force.
This past season Young moved from the starting lineup to the team’s sixth man. The move paid immediate dividends as he led the team in field-goal percentage and averaged a career-high in rebounds despite averaging a career low in minutes. Moving forward, the Sixers need to find a way to get Young on floor for more than 26 minutes a night, which is why making a trade involving Iguodala, Hawes, Speights and/or Nocioni for a starting center makes a lot of sense. Young will be a restricted free agent, so keeping him is a priority.
4. Continue to Push the Tempo
Philadelphia has all these young legs, yet they were 18th in points per game despite being in the top half of the league in field-goal percentage. With athletic twenty-somethings throughout their roster, the 76ers should be pushing the tempo as often as possible.
With a team defense that is holding opponents to just over 97 points per game, good for 12th in the league, there is no reason they shouldn’t be able to jump their win total from 41 to almost 50 next season, just by improving the tempo by which they play.
5. Decide Who is the Team’s Closer
Turner, Iguodala, Holiday, Lou Williams, and Young all had attempts to close out games against the Miami HEAT in the first round of the playoffs. While this sounds good in theory to have multiple options at the end of games, it rarely works out.
The players need to know who is going to have the ball in their hands when the clock is ticking down. This doesn’t mean one player is going to automatically shoot with the game on the line every time, but one guy needs to be responsible for setting up the play and creating for others.
A look at the clutch stats (4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points) for Philadelphia shows Lou Williams is their best scorer, but he may not be the best option. Williams shoots only 31.5% during clutch moments while players such as Brand, Jodie Meeks, and Young all shoot over 50% in the clutch.
Iguodala is often tasked with closing out games for the Sixers, but he shoots a mere 30.9% at the end of games. The best option currently for Philadelphia is to run an actual play at the end of games instead of just having guys go one-on-one. Williams, Holiday, and Iguodala are all willing passers in the clutch, as their stats reflect. Consistently running a play through one of them in order to get a shot for Meeks, Young or Brand will help them improve on an 8-17 record this past season on games decided by five points or less.
The Philadelphia 76ers are close to taking that next step. They’ve got young talent they can build around in Holiday, Turner and Young as well a good group of veterans led by Brand. With a few subtle tweaks on both sides of the ball, this team could find itself competing with the HEAT and Bulls for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Have questions for Mark Nugent? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Wednesdays at 5PM Eastern for his weekly basketball chat.