Sixers Update – The Road Ahead

Posted: March 30, 2012 in Hoops, Sixers
Tags: , , ,

Hardwood Blacktop’s Sixers coverage has been a little bit spotty (or non-existent) of late, thanks to the series the “royal we” put together on some of the best hip hop albums of the first quarter.  That said, it’s still the mission here to cover the Sixers, the Blazers, and rap music, and various other things.  So – no change in venue.

I came across a couple of really interesting reads immediately relevant to the Sixers, one of which was March’s issue of ESPN the Magazine from John Hollinger on “Hero Ball,” which breaks down the ineffectiveness of the isolation offense in clutch situations.  The article raises something I’ve often believe, which is that teams do themselves a tremendous disservice by limiting their offensive options down to putting the ball in the hands of one player (even if he is their most efficient offensive player), during crunch time.  Theories that I’ve heard to support hero ball, generally revolve around the notion that defenses become tighter, during crunch time and it becomes much more difficult for teams to run a play involving multiple parts effectively.  That explanation has always seemed simplistic to me, for two main reasons:

1) if teams could play tighter defense for 48 minutes and routinely drive a much higher level of offensive inefficiency in their counterparts, you’d think coaches would’ve figured that out by now (although some might argue that Coach Collins has).

2) when teams overplay on defense, usually other options open up on plays (like backdoor passes, lobs, open shots in the corner, etc)

The notion that the Sixers offense could be so efficient for 43 minutes and so inefficient for the last 5 seems absurd to me, unless you look at the fact that they’ve gone with an isolation offense for the last 5 minutes of close games for two years now (last year primarily with Iguodala, this year primarily with Lou Williams) which, as Hollinger explains, are much less effective on a per possession basis than off the ball cuts, put backs (which generally come off of penetration), and pick and rolls.  Isolation plays are the least effective, and that fact is probably compounded by the fact that Sixers have run most of their isolation offense in crunchtime about 30 feet from the hoop.

The second piece, which was directly about the Sixers and was featured on ESPN Insider (but I can’t find the link to right now) was also written about Hollinger and actually explained a very weird phenomenon with the Sixers.  It’s been well documented how awful the Sixers have been in close situations down the stretch.  You have to chaulk a lot of that up to their youth, but the fact that they have an elite wing defender in Iguodala, a good team defensive concept, and a very solid low post defender in Elton Brand, should help them in this category quite a bit.  What’s interesting about Hollinger’s article is that it suggests that the Sixers are much poorer defensive team in the crunch than they are an offensive team.  This is confounding mainly due to the fact that the Sixers have been one of the best defensive teams in the league this year.  In observation this makes sense to me though, as I’ve felt all year, with the exception of a few games, that the Sixers play great team defensive, often run weaker or slower teams out of the gym, but don’t have the ability to get stops when it really matters.

After a disheartening loss to the Wizards tonight, the Sixers will have to really dig deep tomorrow night against the Hawks, as they’re now in a dog fight for a playoff spot, and they’re going to have to play their hearts out if they a shot at the division.  The way Iguodala looked tonight, I’m not sure he should be back on the court yet, but we’ll get a closer look tomorrow night.  Hard to say if the game was an outlier.  The Wizards are a completely different team with the removal of McGee and the injection of Nene (although they may have lost him tonight), and the Sixers were probably looking ahead to tomorrow’s bout with the Hawks.  Either way, things are not trending properly for the Sixers.

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