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Systematic Regression

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Will Allen Iverson hinder the development of the young players on the Sixers roster? Maybe. I think he will, but there's a chance he'll inspire them to play harder and maybe even help develop a killer instinct. What's not debatable is how our head coach is not-so-subtly using the media and playing time to shift the priorities of his young players away from defense and strictly toward offense. As far as I'm concerned, this is the opposite of developing a roster into a champion.

I'm going to use one example, because it's fresh in my mind. Here's what I wrote about Jrue Holiday after last night's game:

Jrue Holiday - A Plus. The rookie is the only Philadelphia player who should be able to look himself in the mirror tomorrow morning. He had a tough cover all night long in Russell Westbrook and he completely stoned him. I mean, shut him down. Westbrook shot 1/11 from the field, the one make being a contested pull-up jumper from about 20 feet. But forget the shooting numbers, they could be deceiving. What I want to focus on is how Holiday controlled Westbrook's penetration. All night long, Holiday got beat one time. It was on a pick-and-roll, he correctly bounced under, got tangled up with Dalembert, Westbrook reversed course and drove the lane on the same side he started on, got to the hoop, then kicked out for an open three in the corner. That was it, that was his one blip in 37 minutes of defensive work. A lot of people are going to look at Westbrook's line, see the 15 assists and try to somehow blame Holiday for that, but 13 of those assists came on jump shots, and only one of those jump shots was a drive and kick. The rest were simply guys getting stuck on picks or completely losing their men on the perimeter. Westbrook passed the ball from the perimeter to the perimeter to a wide-open man for an easy shot. That's not on Jrue, not one bit. Westbrook made it into the paint two times all night against the kid, the fist time, Jrue muscled him up, didn't need any help, and forced him to take a fallaway jumper from about 8 feet away, he bricked it. Add in the two steals and a couple big hustle plays and I feel 100% comfortable with the A+ grade for the kid's defensive efforts tonight.

Last night, as I cried myself to sleep, I thought about Jrue's game again, and the amazing 37 minutes he was allowed to play and then something struck me. The superb defensive game the kid played had nothing to do with it. Not a single thing. It was a footnote that the coach didn't even bother to mention in any post game comments (He actually did mention it, CSN had the tape, none of the write ups in the papers had the quote. I'm an idiot). The one and only reason Jordan left Jrue on the floor was his 4/6 start from the field for 11 points in the first half. That's it. Jrue shot the ball well, so he got more minutes. That is the only priority on this team right now, and it's a big reason why they are a pitiful team.

Jordan didn't come out and say he only played Jrue extra minutes because he was hitting shots, so I can't directly prove it, but there's more than enough circumstantial evidence to support the claim. For one, Jrue has really been defending like this since he took over the starting spot. Mike Bibby got hot from deep for a stretch early in the Atlanta game, but other than that five-minute stretch, he's been nothing short of stellar with the occasional blip mostly from overplaying a pick-and-roll. Take a look at the point guards he's matched up against in the first five starts of his career:
  • Rajon Rondo - Rondo scored 2 of his 10 points against Jrue. Rarely got in the lane.
  • Mike Bibby - Bibby exploded against Jrue early, did nothing against him the remainder of the game. Never got in the lane.
  • Tony Parker - Parker hit two 20-foot jumpers and had a layup in transition when Jrue was on the floor. Never got into the lane and caused damage. Jrue only played 18 minutes due to poor shooting.
  • Jason Kidd - Kidd scored 2 points on Jrue, abused Willie. Jrue continually kept him out of the lane.
  • Russell Westbrook - See above.

This goes beyond Jrue, though. The evidence is a mile high. When Brand's shot wasn't falling early in the season, he was benched for long stretches. The only player to receive any kind of praise from Jordan is Lou Williams, who has played maybe two quarters of spirited defense all year long. Iguodala was benched when his shot wasn't falling. Willie Green's minutes continue to increase, despite putrid defensive efforts on a nightly basis.

At every single possible opportunity where Jordan could dole out minutes based on offensive performance or defensive performance, he's chosen offense. For most young players, the ultimate goal is minutes. Getting on the floor, having a chance to contribute. What do you think having a coach who only rewards offensive performance is going to do to these players? What message does it send when busting your ass on the defensive end gets you a quick trip to the bench, but jacking 20-foot jumpers elevates you into the starting lineup and gives you 40-minutes a night?

Rhetorical questions, but I'll answer them anyway. Eventually, this type of reward system turns guys who take pride in their defense into apathetic (and pathetic) defenders, who focus all of their energy on the offensive end, because that's the only thing that matters in any tangible way to the guy who's doling out minutes. Considering this team's performance and problems, Jordan's approach is the equivalent of Pavlov giving his dog a treat every time he took a dump on the carpet.

Since we're talking about Jordan absurdity, consider this quote after last night's game:

"Those guys just kicked us on the boards. It might not show up tremendously dramatically in the numbers, but it was timely offensive rebounds and putbacks for them," Jordan said.

This quote is coming from a coach who played a small lineup for 37:52 out of a possible 48 minutes. Yet still, no one from the traditional media is holding his feet to the fire. No one is questioning the sanity of going small now, nor planning to go even smaller when Iverson suits up. And no one seems interested in asking Jordan, Stefanski or Snider how signing Allen Iverson is going to do anything but exacerbate the team's two glaring weaknesses.
by Brian on Dec 3 2009
Tags: Basketball | Eddie Jordan | Jrue Holiday | Sixers |