NBA PM: Continuity Prevails for Sixers
The Mavericks, Knicks, Clippers, Pacers, yada yada yada.
Nearly every team is spending the early weeks of the condensed 2011-2012 NBA season simply getting to know itself. Tyson Chandler has had a few awkward moments in New York; Lamar Odom and Vince Carter are still learning Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry; and Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups are working on sharing the basketball in Los Angeles.
But the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that ranks first in defensive efficiency and third in offensive efficiency heading into the week, isn’t having those problems because team president Rod Thorn didn’t make a big splash in free agency. In fact, the Sixers’ only major addition was first-round pick Nik Vucevic, who is already proving to be a solid backup to center Spencer Hawes.
“They really believe in the team that we have, you know, we’re a team that can go out and win by one or win by thirty on any given night,” Sixers forward Thaddeus Young told HOOPSWORLD. “We’re a grind hard team that’s going to keep going hard each and every day and I think that’s the best thing about us.
“Yeah, we always felt like we had a great team and we just tried to continue to go with it,” he continued. “It’s a matter of just having faith in what we’re doing.”
Give the credit to the front office, which re-signed Young for five years and $43 million in December, for being patient with a group that was just a .500 team last season and a 27-win team before coach Doug Collins showed up.
The addition of Collins last season also gave the team some much-needed perspective. Without overhauling the roster, Collins was able to pick out the biggest areas of concern and turn them into positives for a team that’s average player is 25.5 years of age.
“We were fouling too much,” Collins said last week. “Teams were shooting 31 free throws a game against us and we were turning the ball over too much. So we just said, if we sure up those two areas, we think we can turn it.
“We went through a stretch of 60 games where we went 37 and 23, our opponents shot 22 free throws instead of 31 and our turnovers went from 16 to 12,” Collins continued. “We ended up, last year, leading the league in fewest turnovers. And so, that was a big bugaboo with me when I was in Detroit; we take care of the ball, we do that here. You just can’t give teams easy points so.”
Collins, along with assistant coach Michael Curry, also figured out the team’s defensive strengths.
Philadelphia ranked 23rd in the NBA in defensive efficiency before Collins arrived and moved up to eighth last season because the 76ers are finally using their speed. Obviously Spencer Hawes isn’t the best shot blocker (although he’s averaging 1.6 BPG this season), so Collins turned up the pressure on the perimeter and made it tougher for opponents to pass the basketball.
“Michael Curry’s done a terrific job,” Collins said. “Like we said, we don’t have that Tyson Chandler, that guy back there that can block shots, so to speak, so we’ve got to be schematic. Guys are going to know where they’re supposed to be and everybody’s got to cover each other’s tail. So we do have speed and quickness, which helps us.”
Hawes might not be Dikembe Mutombo, but he’s turned himself into a very efficient player offensively. There was a time when he would drift around the perimeter looking for 18-foot jumpers, but now Hawes has found the paint and he’s scoring 10.4 PPG at a 59.6% clip from the field. The change in position has also allowed him to average 8.7 RPG, which is a significant improvement.
“I think he’s taking higher percentage shots,” Young said of Hawes. “He’s getting himself more inside than anything and he’s taking wide open shots. He’s playing off us as a team. He’s letting us get him in position to score the basketball and he’s just making the shots.”
And when Hawes isn’t in the lineup, Vucevic, a seven-foot center from USC, has filled in admirably, averaging 4.5 PPG and 4.5 RPG in 13.4 MPG.
“I think he’s doing a great job,” Young said of Vucevic. “He’s been going hard each and every day and he’s just learning on the fly and he’s doing a great job. He’s coming out each and every day just being big for us. He’s guarding guys and stopping guys getting in and doing a little bit of scoring, making jump shots, you know he’s doing some of everything.”
As the season wears on, the 76ers’ advantage will wither away. Soon the Odoms, Wests and Pauls will find some cohesiveness with their new teammates and Philadelphia won’t be able to rely on its familiarity as much. But given the condensed nature of the season, the first-place Sixers like the view from atop, even if it means everyone is gunning for them.
“I think everybody feels that with this short season anybody can come out each and every given night and just win basketball games,” Young concluded. “But I think with us being on top I think that target is starting to be on our backs a little bit because everybody’s not taking us for granted anymore.”
Nor should they.
When Will the 2008 Draftees Get Paid?
David Aldridge took an interesting look at the 2008 NBA Draft class in Monday’s piece for NBA.com: When will the 2008 NBA Draftees get their pay day?
With less than 10 days before the Jan. 25 deadline for contract extensions for the Class of 2008, only one of the 30 first-round picks from that Draft — Derrick Rose, natch — has received a new deal. And not too many of Rose’s fellow first-rounders are going to join him.
Aldridge lists Kevin Love, Danilo Gallinari and Russell Westbrook as three players looking for large extensions, but he points out that the larger trend is to wait on handing out such big deals.
Aldridge also communicates with one league executive who says that everyone is reluctant to set the market, which could explain the delay. In any case, there are some very talented players, like New Orleans’ Eric Gordon, who might wind up hitting the free agent market.
Final 20 for Team USA Set
Team USA has its initial 20-man roster for the 2012 London Games set. The list includes eight returnees from the 2008 Gold Medal-winning squad as well as 12 first-timers.
Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams, Chauncey Billups, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love, Lamar Odom, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook are the 20 finalists, but the team will be trimmed down to 12 before the Olympics.
Griffin is really the only player without any international experience.
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