Thankfully, I was unable to watch the Sixers' third preseason loss. I'm not sure exactly how a team can cough up a 7-point lead in 15 seconds, but I'd venture a guess Andres Nocioni's epic toughness (pictured above as he fights his teammate for a rebound), grizzled veteran-ness and non-existent defense played a large part. Wins and losses in the preseason don't mean much to me, though, so I'd like to talk about how the game started, rather than how it was blown.
Doug Collins did not have Spencer "Ball-Friendly" Hawes at his disposal for Saturday's preseason rematch with the formidable Nets, so he had a decision to make with his starting lineup. He could stick with the "big" lineup, and simply swap in Marreese Speights for Hawes, or he could do what he said he would not do about a week ago, and shift Andre Iguodala to the three, Thad Young to the four, Elton Brand to the five and insert Evan Turner at the two. Collins chose the latter.
This move wasn't just a flip-flop from what Collins said last week, it was the ever-elusive double flip-flop, with Collins flopping back to the lineup he talked about shortly after taking the job. At the time, I thought it was a pretty ridiculous idea, but at the time the Sixers also had Sam Dalembert, and maybe an outside shot at making the playoffs this season.
Fast forward past one ridiculous trade and several months of bluster from the Sixers brass, and it's time to take another look at this lineup. (It certainly doesn't hurt that Turner played his best meaningless game as pro in said lineup, when we're making the argument.)
First, we need to make one thing absolutely clear. No matter what combination of "bigs" Collins trots out there, the team is probably going to rebound poorly and fail to defend the paint. That's simply a fact of life when we're discussing the roster Stefanski and now Thorn have assembled.
Personally, I think the playoffs are a pipe dream. I know some of you don't want to hear it, but nothing I've seen, read or heard is compelling enough to change my mind, no matter how badly I want to be swayed.
With that in mind, this season has to be about developing the young talent. If development is the goal, you have to take a step back and seriously ask yourself who the priority should be among the young players. For me, it's Jrue and Turner. Those guys need reps together. Those guys need to get comfortable playing with each other, and their dynamic needs to get sorted out, in whatever way it's going to sort itself out. Having Turner mesh with Jrue is one thousand times more important than learning if Thad can play the three in advance of signing him to an ill-advised extension next summer.
Beyond development, though, with this roster, the best team you can put on the floor starts with Holiday, Turner and Iguodala on the perimeter. Period, end of sentence. Doug Collins appears to be having a meltdown already in trying to figure out how this team will score in the half court. The answer is that they probably won't do so efficiently, so you need to get points in transition. How are you going to get into your transition game if none of your bigs can rebound, nor block shots? The answer isn't to put a sub-par defender at SF and hope for the best. The answer is to put a plus rebounder at the one, two and three positions. The answer is to put three guys out there who can not only force turnovers on the defensive end, but can also turn those turnovers into instant offense going the other way.
These three guys may not be perfect offensive weapons, but they all rebound well, they all force turnovers, they can all ignite the break and, more importantly, they can all run and finish on the break.
In the grand scheme of things, we're talking about a marginal difference in terms of wins and losses, most likely. With Hawes and Brand up front, or Brand and Thad, any team with even an average offensive player in the paint is going to absolutely punish them in the half court. Any team that sets its mind to it going to kill them on the boards. Any team that doesn't actively decide to settle for long twos is going to get into the paint and face little-to-no resistance on forays to the hoop. The only difference is that with the smaller lineup, you've got a better shot at cutting off possessions before the ball gets dumped down low, or the missed shots turn into offensive rebounds.
The title of this post is apt. In all honesty, I could care less who starts up front. I think with Thad up there, the running game would probably be a little better, but the rebounding would be worse. With Hawes in there, I think we're slower and lazier, but he'll luck his way into a blocked shot every once in a while. Neither of those options is tantalizing in the least, but if Collins is intent on having Thad in the starting lineup, then let it be at the four so he doesn't mess with Jrue, Turner and Iguodala. That's the future, if there is any kind of a future in this roster. This team isn't going anywhere, so we may as well put it on the floor and see what happens.
As for the coddling of Turner, well, playing between Jrue and Iguodala is protection enough.