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Seizing Opportunity

Assuming the Sixers are done shaping their roster, the starting lineup on opening night will probably look something like Carter-Williams, McDaniels, Thompson, Young and Noel. Swapping Wroten in for McDaniels is also a possibility, but I'm hoping that's a long shot. Let's take a close look at what we can expect from either of those lineups, and maybe identify some opportunities for players to surprise this season.

Obviously, this team is going to be offensively challenged. This is essentially the same team that finished the season 4-24 after the All Star break last season, plus Noel and a few rookies who don't exactly project to be offensive stars. Here's something you probably wouldn't have guessed, however. The Sixers were actually a more efficient offensive team after trading away Hawes and Turner. Don't get too excited, though, they merely went from an OFR of 99 to 101 and change. Another oddity found when comparing the team stats pre- and post-break is the team's pace slowed considerably later in the season, by about 3 possessions/game. Maybe you can chalk this up to tired legs and disinterest, or opposing teams slowing the game down with huge leads to protect most nights, but logic would seem to dictate a faster pace without the offense run by and through Hawes, and Turner's uncanny ability to freeze the ball whenever he got his hands on it.

But I digress. I only bring up last year's team as a starting point. That team featured MCW with a .484 TS% on 25% usage, 29% assist rate and 17.5% turnover rate. Plus Tony Wroten, who was actually a bit better than MCW after the trade: .511 TS%, 27% usage, 19% assist, 17.7% turnover. And of course Thad Young, who was exposed when asked/needed to do more than fill the gaps on offense. Thad's line post-break was alarming: .484 TS, 26.8% usage, only 9.1% Total Rebound Rate (after the team's two best rebounders were traded away). All of this is to say the Sixers lacked finishers, initiators and everything in between. When you look at what they've added, well, it's not exactly heartening. Noel is freakishly athletic, and freakishly raw/untalented on the offensive side of the ball. His athleticism will get him garbage points in the half court, and probably many more points in transition than your typical big man, but you certainly can't run offense through Noel. McDaniels and the rest of the second round picks are all cut from the same cloth. Athletic guys who might learn to shoot given time, but won't be initiators.

Sounds bleak, right? Well, it is. Opponents can, and will, pack the lane against the Sixers to cut off basically their only offensive option, which is a drive by MCW or Wroten. The lack of shooters on the outside will allow them to do this. Noel's presence should open things up a little bit on these drives, because if his man cheats off, Noel will have a field day catching and finishing lobs. If there is going to be newfound opportunity on the offensive end, this is where it's going to come from. Noel's man is either going to have to cheat to Noel, giving the driver an easier look at the hoop, or Noel is going to beat him. That means teams are probably going to have to cheat down more on the perimeter to seal off the lane. If that's the case, guys like Hollis and McDaniels could be primed for a tremendous opportunity. Last season, Hollis proved to be a solid three-point shooter (41% on the year), especially from the corner (46%). And McDaniels lackluster performance in the summer league overshadowed a decent shooting performance from deep, especially when he got his feet set.

Perhaps I'm counting on too many dominoes to fall in the right direction, but the Sixers offense is going to be so unbelievably predictable and mundane, I don't think it's crazy to think teams will over compensate toward shutting down their bread and butter (the out-of-control drives from the point), and limit the opportunities for their freak big man to a mix tape of lob dunks. Thompson didn't exactly step up last season after the trades, his TS% dropped afterward, and his usage rate also dropped from a paltry 11.6%, to 10.8%. He did, however, look much more aggressive in summer league so maybe he can take that into the regular season. The hope here, if you're into that kind of thing, is that a couple guys can turn themselves into reliable threats from deep, and reliable threats who won't hesitate to take the shot. If you get a couple of guys like that, then maybe the dominoes fall the other way, driving lanes become a little bit wider for MCW and Wroten, bigs wind up leaving Noel to protect the rim, which leaves him open for offensive-boards, lobs and easy rolls to the hoop. It's not much, and it's not nearly enough to turn a putrid offense into an average one, but it's a start. And if they can develop even one of these guys into a legit threat from the outside, they'll have made something out of nothing and maybe they'll have an unexpected keeper on their hands.

At this point, my money is on Hollis to be the guy who steps up. He's light years ahead of McDaniels, Grant and everyone else in terms of shooting ability. He just needs to be more aggressive in pulling the trigger, and he needs to demand a bigger role in the offense. I'm not really sure where Thad fits into this whole scheme. Ideally, he'd be a garbage man who you never call a play for, but someone scores 12-15 efficient points anyway. Unfortunately, you can't have an entire lineup of garbage men, so he'll probably be asked to do too much (either in Philly, or Minnesota, wherever he winds up on opening night).

Speaking of Thad trades, can anyone put together a decent return for Thad in the trade machine? If it's part of a three-teamer to send Love to Cleveland and Wiggins to Minny, there just isn't a whole lot there to make it palatable. Maybe they could come away with LaVine, Waiters or Bennett, but they'd have to take back some bad contracts as well. What's the best package you can come up with which sends Thad to Minny?
by Brian on Aug 2 2014
Tags: Basketball | Sixers |