The problem with following this Sixers team too closely is that small inconsistencies stand out, and they tend to carry more weight than they should. Take last year for example: Ed Stefanski droned on and on about how important defense is, then he hired Eddie Jordan and sat idly by while he dismantled the team's defensive identity. This summer, though, the inconsistencies are running in a different, positive direction.
When Doug Collins first got the job, he mostly
said the right things, but there was always something just a little bit off that left a bad taste in my mouth. The team needs to run ... but Iguodala has to play the three. Defensive rebounding is going to be an issue ... but I like how the team spaces the floor with a small lineup.
All told, there were probably about five or six things that just didn't ring true, and to be fair, I think he'd done maybe one Sixers game in the past two years for TNT. It's completely possible he wasn't 100% familiar with the roster, let alone the individual players' strengths and weaknesses.
Well, one by one, those questionable comments have fallen by the wayside. Once he got the team in the gym, he went back to basics and I think the team will be much better off because of it. The most important thing to come out of camp was definitely Collins saying he's going to use Thad exclusively at the three.
We've been dying to see this happen for the past three seasons. I firmly believe you can blame at least some of his downward spiral over the past two seasons on the nebulous role he's been asked to play, and if Collins is true to his word, this will be the first time he's going to have a fair chance to be comfortable in his natural position.
To follow the thread a bit further, think about this cluster offense Collins is running. (Kate Fagan does a great job of describing it here
). Forget about the early reports, where Brand and Speights would be handling the ball and dishing from the high post. That seems to be an afterthought. Basically, it's a pick and roll/pop on one side of the floor to clear Jrue (or whoever's playing the point) to get a pass off to the cluster. Then you have both wings running off a screen from the other big at the elbow, with each wing reading the defense and choosing between a cut to the hoop, a curl for a short jumper, a dive to the corner or whatever presents itself. The key here is that the players (and Collins) know their strengths and when there's familiarity between the passer and the cutter, this should wind up with easy looks. In Thad's case, it should result in him getting the ball in an advantageous position, going toward the hoop, and not having to make a play for himself off the dribble.
Ideally, he'd have that skill, and I believe he does to an extent, but it's not a strength of his game. Thad does his best work on short drives in the lane, maybe a dribble or two, a spin and a finish -- or when he's got an open jumper with his feet set and plenty of time to get the shot off. Everything I've read about the cluster seems to work with what I've seen of Thad's game.
This is where Collins is going to earn his money. The allure of playing Thad at the four is his quickness advantage and his jumper. It's an artificial way of spreading the floor, or it should be, but the price you pay for those advantages is too steep. A smarter use is to find a way for him to play the position he's physically capable of competing at, and tailor the system to get him the same kinds of looks, and the same kind of mismatches he'd be getting as a small four.
Needless to say, I'm feeling better about this team as camp is coming to an end than I was at the beginning, and it's little things like this that are bringing my optimism back, bit by bit. (I'm going to ignore the minute crunch at PG/SG/SF this move is inevitably going to cause for the time being).
Now all Collins needs to do is break his 20 mpg promise to Nocioni, make Hawes earn his starting spot and everything will be right in the world.