Alright, now that the team is seven games in, we have a better idea of what Doug Collins was trying to install offensively in training camp with the so-called "cluster" offense. The phrase Brian has said a lot in his hopes for the team is "Good Basketball," which is the way I feel about the team too. I want to win, but only if guys like Jrue and Turner are making solid basketball plays and developing good habits. This is where the offense kicks in. In other words, Collins needs to do his best to put his guys in positions where they are comfortable making plays. So far, there have been ups and downs, but the team looks pretty good when they are actually running the plays.
Through seven games, the offense has been better than the defense so I figure I'd talk about why the Sixers have been better offensively this season. Actually if you look at a lot of the team stats, they are average or slightly above in many shooting and other offensive categories. Here are some points about what we've seen:
- The starters (Jrue, Iguodala, and Brand especially) do a good job of running the offense to start the games. Typically a team starts out running the plays well because the coach just drew them up in the locker room and they are fresh in their minds (I think football is similar). Jrue and EB simply have great chemistry and seem to enjoy playing the two-man game together. Iguodala is still an underrated playmaker and is averaging just under six assists because Collins' system puts him in places where he can make plays instead of just a basic isolation. Since the Miami game, the Sixers are averaging 28 points in the first quarter, which includes the stinker against Cleveland.
- Conversely, the ball movement tends to stop when the second unit comes in. The biggest reason for this is probably Lou Williams, whose game isn't suited to running sets. I think Lou has been pretty brilliant offensively this season, but his style of play isn't conducive to team basketball. When he's going bad on the offensive end, like in the 1st half against Washington, it really kills the team. On the other hand, when the team doesn't run any offense, he is their only real chance at getting them consistent points by himself. Don't let the Cartier Martin three-ball make you forget that Lou almost single-handedly won that game, with support from Brand. I also think that this offense flows better with guys who can make plays for other people, and guys like Thad and Speights may not be hardwired to run the offense efficiently because that's not a skill they possess.
- Speaking of Thad, he's done a great job of scoring early in the season within the offense. Collins seems to like posting up Thad 10-15 feet away from the hoop where he can turn and face. Thad has been making quick decision on whether to shoot the mid-range jumper or try and get to the rim (which he has done well).
- The way I would describe the offense is by saying that it's not one basic thing. Collins runs plenty of cluster sets, but he also runs flex sets, and straight up pick and rolls. He has talked about simplifying the offense for his players, and they really need to look at it this way: A successful offense has ball and player movement which makes the defense move and become more vulnerable in the process. Once the ball has moved, it is easier to attack whether it's with a ball screen, handoff or dribble drive. When the Sixers run their offense, they make the defense move to the point where the players are able to make quick reads and get open shots.
- Even before the half court offense, the team is doing a good job of pushing the ball and seeing if they can get a mismatch early in the shot clock. The emergence of Elton Brand has been huge here because if he is able to get down the floor fast and get solid position, he has to get the ball. Jrue seems to like to run side pick and rolls if he gets the ball up the floor fast, and he is always looking to attack.
I'll finish with three specific sets that I liked early in the season:
- This set has two cluster screens on it for our two best playmakers, Jrue and Iguodala. Jrue quickly passes the ball to Iguodala and dives to the strong-side corner. Iguodala quickly swings it to the trailer in Brand and runs off a quick Hawes screen to the opposite box. Brand reverses the ball to Nocioni and then goes to set the first cluster screen along with Hawes for Jrue. The Mullet swings the ball to Jrue at the top of the key and Iguodala runs off the same two screeners Jrue just had and pops out to the wing. Jrue passes to AI9 and he has to read the cluster screen. This is good because you want Iguodala making reads close to the basket because he's a good passer with excellent size. Hawes correctly floats out to 10 feet and when Iguodala is basically doubled, Hawes' man has to protect the rim against Brand. Iggy smartly makes the quick pass and Hawes makes the jumper. That's a great possession right there because all five guys touched the ball and it was reversed from side to side twice.
- Here is an example of two things: 1) A simple ball screen made much more effective through good ball and player movement and 2) A player breaking down a play when he sees that he has an advantage. Jrue passes the ball to Turner and goes through to the other corner. Turner dribbles out toward Hawes who mercifully gets out of the way. Iguodala and Jrue replace each other on the left wing and Jrue gets the ball on the wing. The key here is that Brand is already coming to set the pick before Jrue has the ball, making the screen more difficult to defend. Jrue sees an opening and gets into the lane drawing not only Brand's man, but Turner's as well. After a simple kick out to ET, the rookie knocks down the open jumper.