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NBA PM: Collins Makes Push for C.O.Y.
Posted By Alex Raskin On January 10, 2012 @ 5:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
It should go without saying that this season’s team previews were somewhat rushed.
Some teams may not have received enough consideration during the free agency monsoon that followed the end of the lockout—particularly teams that weren’t actively engaged in the daily player auctions.
The Philadelphia 76ers fit the bill on all counts. They didn’t add any major pieces; they didn’t change anything schematically; so the media—including HOOPSWORLD—referred to last season’s .500 record and simply turned the page.
The problem was emblematic of the NBA’s recent history of player movement. Fans and media want stars to fill out some sort of basketball eHarmony questionnaire, find another star to partner with and push a backroom deal to seal the union. We want recognizable names playing together in big markets with cool uniforms and that’s the way it is.
Only nobody told the Sixers or their coach Doug Collins.
The 60-year-old improved Philadelphia’s win total by 14 games in his first season thanks to a dramatic turnaround on defense. Prior to his arrival, the Sixers ranked 23rd in the league in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) and within one season they shot up to eighth overall.
At the end of December, we wrote that another improvement of that magnitude “and Collins would deserve Coach of the Year consideration.”
And now, with the 76ers riding a five-game winning streak while holding opponents to less than 90 points per 100 possessions (best in the NBA), it looks like Collins is an early favorite for the Red Auerbach Trophy—something he’s yet to win.
Obviously we’re only eight games into the season, but Collins’ Sixers have a smorgasbord of improvements to consider.
As good as Philadelphia has played defensively (opponents are shooting a league-low 39.1% from the field) it’s been the offensive improvements that has this team perched atop the Atlantic Division.
The 76ers are averaging 106.1 points per 100 possessions (third in the NBA, up from 17th last year) while making 47.5% of their field goals (fourth this year, 15th last year) and 35.5% of their 3-pointers (10th this year, 15th last year).
They’ve also looked more cohesive as a team through the season’s first few weeks. While the rest of the league is still searching for offensive rhythm, the 76ers are averaging 1.22 points per shot. That’s only a .02 improvement from last year’s average, but they currently rank fourth in that category now as opposed to tied for 18th last season.
Philadelphia still lacks one true go-to guy, but that doesn’t seem to be an obstacle when you look at all of the individual improvements everyone is making.
First and foremost is center Spencer Hawes, whose own improvements allowed the team to deal Marreese Speights to Memphis.
Hawes, who was once chided for his aversion to the paint, has become a force down low. He’s averaging 1.8 blocks per game and is sixth in the league in rebounds per game (10.3) and second in field goal percentage (62.7%) all because he’s no longer wandering around 18 feet from the basket.
Combo guard Lou Williams has improved his field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage. The results have been staggering: He’s averaging 16.6 points per game in just 26.3 minutes per night and his Player Efficiency Rating is nearly 23 (15 is the league average).
Jrue Holiday is averaging fewer assists and rebounds, but that could be because the other Sixers are taking on more distributing and rebounding responsibilities.
And the team’s one real addition, rookie Nikola Vucevic, has been a revelation. In 37 minutes over his last two games, the USC product has made nine of 15 field goals while grabbing 18 rebounds, blocking two shots and scoring 20 points. He currently leads all rookies in PER (29.34).
Again, this is still terribly early to be engraving Collins’ name on anything, but it has been a victory for continuity. The NBA has been a fantasy league for the last few seasons and it’s good to see a team succeeding without slapping a few big names together and giving them free rein.
Do the HEAT Have a Center Yet?
The HEAT need a center. Anyone who watches them roll out 6-9 Joel Anthony against Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler knows this. Last season Miami’s centers had a -3.1 PER differential against opposing centers, which is a fancy way of saying they were outplayed on a minute-per-minute basis.
But of course, they have limited trade and financial resources so the team has been trying to develop a big man in 6-11, 308-pound Dexter Pittman.
“Big body,” forward Shane Battier told HOOPSWORLD, “that’s what we need. We need him to be a space eater and just occupy space down low. We’re going to run into some big teams, Chicago and New York and Dwight Howard. We need big bodies.”
But Pittman wants to be known for more than just his (big) body.
The former second-round pick sees himself as a back-to-the-basket center and told HOOPSWORLD that he prefers to emulate Al Jefferson and Nene.
“That’s my strength,” Pittman said of his post-up game. “Really, on this team, you don’t have to do that because you got guys that are driving to the lane and you just got to be ready for the ball to catch it and go up and score it.
“My teammates are comfortable with passing me the ball with my back to the basket because they know I can score there,” he continued.
Pittman did score 10.4 PPG as a senior at Texas, but even at the collegiate level he was only able to average 19.1 MPG because of his conditioning.
So that’s just one of the reasons Pittman’s not being asked to post up. He’s not being asked to face up, square up or even cowboy up. He’s being asked to play defense and battle for rebounds, so Pittman spent the extended offseason getting in better shape and he’s even continued that into the season.
“I condition every day,” he said. “People don’t know that, but I condition before the game, condition in the morning when I wake up, so at least twice a day.
“Just getting quicker and endurance, building endurance,” he continued. “That’s what I was focused on.”
After playing in only two NBA games last year, Pittman has played in five so far this season and has shown brief glimpses of being a contributor. Ultimately his problem remains mobility. If he can continue shedding pounds (and he’s definitely done that) he’d be better equipped to defend pick and rolls. Pittman already has long arms and a strong frame, so he still has a chance to be the interior presence that Miami so desperately needs.
Check Out: Yi Jianlian
Many assumed Yi Jianlian would return to China during the lockout, but the former lottery pick kept his options open and now he’s going to be in uniform for the defending-champion Dallas Mavericks in Detroit tonight.
Yi was signed back on Jan. 6, but has played the last two games in the D-League where he averaged 23 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks per game.
Not many see this as a significant move, but for a team that’s suddenly struggling to find post players, Yi’s arrival is a welcome opportunity.
Here’s what the seven-foot power forward can do: He’s a decent mid-to-long-range shooter who hesitates to put the ball on the floor, but can work well off a pick. Despite a poor defensive reputation, Yi defends the pick and roll well because of his athleticism and length.
Here’s what Yi can’t do: He’s not going to dominate the paint. Yi has never taken advantage of his size and barely uses his athleticism. He’s often too timid to finish on alley-oops, which is a shame because that’s the type of player he should be.
The good news is that Yi hasn’t always gotten the most attention from his coaches as he’s gone from one organization to another in his brief career.
If Rick Carlisle and his staff want to turn their practically risk-free investment into a huge bonus, they’ll work diligently to improve Yi’s offensive and defensive understanding of the game while trying to resurrect his confidence. There’s no reason Yi can’t contribute on an NBA team.
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