The Sacramento Kings are heading into town tonight and with them comes their leading scorer (for the moment) John Salmons. Salmons was the Sixers' first-round pick in 2002, the year after they made their run to the finals and began their decline. He fits the mold of a lot of Sixers draft picks, good driver, bad shooter. His return is a mildly interesting plot line, and really the only thing about the Kings I care to speak about (other than Spencer Hawes' production for my fantasy team).
After the jump we'll talk about the 1-2 Sixers, and what the hell is going on with them.
Two games against playoff teams from last season, two losses. You could take it as a sign that the Sixers didn't improve that much this offseason, but that would probably be jumping to conclusions. I figured heading into tonight's game we should take a minute and look at what's been happening on the court.
Before I get ahead of myself, tonight's game has to be a win. The Kings are 0-3, they're terrible. The lost to Minnesota, Miami and Orlando. Miami blew their doors off after losing to the Knicks. That should tell you everything you need to know. So when you watch the game tonight, keep an eye on these players, and see if they can turn the corner.Lou Williams
- So far, Sweet Lou is playing pretty poor basketball. In fact, we've seen the worst of Lou. This isn't new, and honestly, we probably should've expected it. He's young, and he has a history of a dip in performance when the pressure is turned up. Last year, after the Sixers traded Kyle Korver, Lou's role and importance shot through the roof overnight. He didn't handle it well
, at first. Once he got comfortable, he settled down and became a weapon off the bench and a guy who could run the team. This offseason, the Sixers made a pretty bold statement by signing him to a long-term deal. He came into this season knowing this team believes in him, and also knowing that he's going to be a big part of the rotation. A lot of pressure for a young guy. Add to that the new focus of the offense on Elton Brand and you've got plenty of upheaval for him to handle. The good news: This is the worst of Lou, by no means is he really this bad. It's just a matter of time before he snaps out of it and we see the best of Lou.
- Speaking of pressure, how about an $80M+ contract extension that a lot of people don't think you deserve. Or being named captain of the team at 24 years of age. (Did anyone realize the three captains are Iguodala, Miller and Theo?) Again, Iguodala has a history of letting added pressure get to him. Last year, at this time, Iguodala was being slammed for turning down a $55M extension. He started the season as the team's number one option, and he pressed way too much. The result: Poor shooting and too many turnovers. Sound familiar? Again, a young guy who just had a ton of responsiblity added to his plate. Just like Williams, we've seen the worst of Iguodala so far. He's looked like a guy who's trying to do too much, mainly because he is. He bounced back last season, and I expect him to do so again this year. Hopefully the transition to the two guard doesn't throw too much of a wrench into Andre finding his rhythm. Andre Miller
- Is he out of shape? He's notorious for taking his summers off. Two years ago, Denver was livid with him for starting the season out of shape. Last year, he got off to a slow start as well. To me, he doesn't look out of shape. His quickness is there, but his jumper is looking flatter than ever. Maybe he doesn't completely have his legs under him. His shooting percentage will come up from the 41% it sits at right now, hopefully it'll rise in proportion to his FGA/game dropping. Right now, he's averaging 15.3 shots/game, second only to Elton Brand, and not by a wide margin (EB is averaging 15.7). Eventually he'll settle into his facilitator role more completely and I expect his mid-range game to come back.Samuel Dalembert
- Here's an ultra-simplistic metric to judge Sammy on. Does he have more blocks than turnovers? Right now, the answer is no. This is completely unacceptable, and the truly maddening thing about this stat is it doesn't take into account turnovers he causes for other guys on the team when he drops passes they throw to him. Sammy's effort has been there, he's averaging 12 boards and 2.3 blocks per game, but he absolutely must stop killing this team on offense. At some point, he's going to fumble his way right off the floor. I also think 9 shots/game is probably too much for him on this team. He needs to get his points on easy opportunities, alley-oops and maybe the occasional 15-foot jumper. Don't give him the ball in the post, period.
- In his tenure with the Sixers, especially this young, Iverson/Webber-less version of the team, Mo has proved to be an excellent coach as the season wears on. He's made the changes he's needed to make and he's done an excellent job of keeping his players motivated. The most troubling trend I've noticed so far is his reluctance to play his new guys. Willie Green, Lou Williams and Reggie Evans are dominating the bench minutes thus far. Kareem Rush, Donyell Marshall, Theo Ratliff and Marreese Speights have essentially been buried on the bench. Marshall and Ratliff weren't really counted on for big contributions, but I thought Rush would be a steady part of the rotation. Speights impressed in the preseason and in the limited action he saw against the Knicks, but he's a rookie, so I don't have a problem with working him into the rotation slowly. Rush, however, should see some of the 43 minutes Lou and Willie Green are playing, combined, per game.
All told, the Sixers are 1-2 with 4 of their top 6 players severely underperforming. The good news is that three of those guys have to play better (the Andres and Lou). They absolutely will. When they do, a lot of the problems that seem so dire right now will fade into the background. That does leave the linger question of how Iguodala and Lou will handle real pressure down the road. I'm talking game 7, on the road type of pressure.
As the season wears on, the focus will shift to Mo and his usage of these guys. He probably isn't going to stick with an eight-man rotation the whole season, and if I does, I pray it won't be this eight-man rotation. It's going to take solid game-planning to get the ball moving around the perimeter and winding up in the right hands for the open shot. He's going to have to work with Lou on his court vision. He's going to have to get in Iguodala's ear about playing his game and not trying to change his game to justify his paycheck. He wasn't paid to be Kobe Bryant, he was paid to be Andre. Just relax and play your game.
The short-term goals of this team have to be to get these guys playing up to their ability. Only then will we be able to accurately assess what changes need to be made to the gameplan and offensive sets to get the most out of this roster.