Welcome to The Sixer Sense’s Mid-Season Review: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. With a 20-11 record heading into tonight’s game against Minnesota, the Sixers have had a better season than many, including myself, expected. So let’s get to what made the Sixers’ first half.
Excellent Team Defense
The Sixers lead the NBA in both points allowed per game (a league low 87.1) and defensive efficiency (a league best 94.1). The points per game number is impressive no doubt, but the second number is even more impressive. Defensive efficiency measures how many points a team gives up per 100 possessions – it adjusts points for how quickly a team plays. For example, the Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns were among the worst at opponents’ scoring because they played so quickly offensively – their opponents had more possessions than normal to put up points. But by defensive efficiency, they were roughly average, because they on a per possession basis were an average team. Combined with their league-leading offense, that’s how they became wildly successful.
The league-leading efficiency means shows that our opponents’ scoring numbers are not just a product of their surprisingly slow pace (25th out of 30 teams) – they just play better defense overall than any other NBA team. Considering their personnel, with only Andre Iguodala considered an elite defender, you have to give credit to Doug Collins and Michael Curry for the job they’ve done on the defensive end.
Lou Williams leads the team in scoring, averaging a career-high 16 points per game with an all-star caliber 22.4 PER. What’s equally impressive is how well he’s taking care of the basketball – with only 1 turnover per game in 26 minutes. While not much of a point guard, Lou scores often enough to make a very positive, if sometimes frustrating, impact on the Sixers. His defense has even been more meh than horrible, which is a welcome change.
Spencer Hawes, when healthy
Spencer Hawes was one of those “in the best shape of his life” stories before the season started. As it happened to turn out, he really was playing better than ever before. Injuries have prevented him from playing over most of the past month, but his play when healthy was a very pleasant surprise and one of the reasons why the Sixers played so well to begin the season. While his field goal percentage is unsustainable (at a career-high 56.8%), his rebounding and passing filled two holes that the Sixers had: a big who could create offense, and a rebounder in the starting five.
Nikola Vucevic was originally slated as a late first round or early second round pick. Lavoy Allen wasn’t expected to be drafted at all. Vucevic got picked high because he was a center. Allen was selected as a PR move. So of course, both have become solid contributors right away in the NBA.
Vooch has shown that he is among the more skilled 7-footers you’ll find in the league already. He has legit three point range (unlike Hawes, who likes to take them but is unable to make them) and soft hands, which make him an offensive force already. His slow feet are a detriment defensively, and he’s not strong enough to defend the biggest centers – here’s looking at you, Dwight Howard – but he’s capable enough with his length to be a decent defender now. When he gets more comfortable, he can be really good.
Lavoy Allen, meanwhile, came off of the inactive list to play in a couple of early meaningless games. He looked okay if unspectacular. Then, with injuries to both Vucevic and Hawes (and eventually Elton Brand), Allen was forced into action. He responded well, with a nice mid-range game to complement his solid defense and rebounding. Having seen my share of Temple games, I expected him to be a decent defender and rebounder if he could gain strength. While I still think he has a ways to go in those areas, there’s no doubt he’s gained strength since last year. It shows in his production. He could be a solid role player for years to come.
Andre Iguodala – All-Star
All-star elections have largely become team awards, so the whole team gets a nod here with Iguodala representing the team in Orlando next Sunday.
– A home loss to the New Jersey Nets, 97-90, where the Sixers failed to contain Deron Williams after getting off to a lethargic start. The Sixers played decently late, but couldn’t stop the Nets when it counted in overtime.
– A road loss to the Orlando Magic, 101-87a good team who may not be for much longer. The Magic hit nearly every open attempt they had. Despite this, if the Sixers came out with any energy in the first quarter, they would have had a chance at the win.
– And finally, Friday’s home loss to the Dallas Mavericks, where a figurative lid topped the rim and prevented the Sixers from scoring any more than 24 second half points in an 82-75 loss. The Mavericks zone defense, which often featured Lamar Odom at the 2-position, confounded the Sixers. Too many long shots by people who weren’t hitting them (namely Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday) doomed the team.
Jrue is my age and playing point guard in the NBA. He had more responsibility than most his age – paid millions of dollars to lead a contending team to a significant playoff berth. We should probably give him more of a break than we do now. It’s not a good thing that he’s struggling, and I’ve offered solutions as to why he may not be playing as well. Maybe expectations should be tempered, as I’ve often proclaimed. Maybe we should change his role up.
Spencer Hawes’ Back and Achilles
Please, stop hurting Spencer and let him come back!
Late Game Execution
This has been a problem for a year and a half now – the Sixers simply cannot finish close games. While most plays that determine outcomes occur well before the end of the game, talented teams won’t be getting blown out by us. So it’s important that, when we play good teams, we at least have a plan for the final minutes. Not “give it to Lou in a corner and not even get a shot off within 35 feet”. Something. A play, even. Late game execution failed in losses to Utah and the Clippers, especially.
Alright, so that’s a low note to end this on, despite the first 31 games being pretty great overall. It shows again that we have a long way to go until the Sixers are where they need to be to compete. But it’s been a fun ride, and I hope it continues.