Two wins, eight losses and many, many more questions than answers. The advanced stats show some surprising trends, but most are more alarming. We've got a slight body of data, so let's look at the numbers from the first ten games and hand out some credit and blame, if we can.
We'll begin with the advanced stats and try to walk through them in an order that brings some order to the madness. Up first is the pure offensive and defensive ratings. How many points to the Sixers score and allow, per 100 possessions. (Pace is the number of possessions per 48 minutes. Numbers in green are the games the Sixers won):
Offensive efficiency is down by about a point-and-a-half from last season. Defensive efficiency is nearly two points better than last season. Pace is much, much faster: 90.75 possessions/48 minutes in 2009-2010 to 94.59 in the first 10 games.
The Sixers have improved their eFG and FTF (free throw rate) over last season. Unfortunately, they're grabbing fewer offensive rebounds (0.276 last season) and turning the ball over more (0.131 last season). Probably not coincidentally, fewer offensive rebounds plus more turnovers equals more possessions per game, so maybe the Sixers are playing looser and not extending offensive possessions instead of simply playing faster under Collins. My guess is that it's a little bit of both.
Dramatic improvement in the first three categories, led by eFG allowed (0.519 last season). They're forcing more turnovers and the defensive rebounding shows a .001 improvement over last year. The problem, though, lies at the free throw line. Last season, the Sixers allowed .231 made free throws per field goal attempt. This year, that number has ballooned to .331, an increase of almost 50%.
Finally, here's the game-by-game and cumulative update on the key indicator I've been tracking since the opener. The Sixers have had three games where they did an excellent job of attacking the basket and didn't settle for the low-percentage jumpers that kill a team, imo. Their worst performance came against the Spurs, which was also their worst game of the season, by far. On the defensive end, you can really see how much Dallas loves shooting jumpers, and they shoot them pretty well. Personally, I think being that type of team makes it very hard to win in the post season. The oddity here is that the worst performance the team had in this metric came in a decisive win over the Knicks. New York, however, eschews the long two for threes, so the metric may not have all that much meaning.
From a "suffering through every minute of game play" perspective, here are some cobbled-together thoughts:
- The lack of any type of interior defender is infecting other areas of team defense, but blocking shots isn't the biggest problems with bigs, it's their shoddy play on the pick and roll. Jrue has been poor in stopping penetration off the dribble, and he absolutely needs to get back to moving his feet, but the vast majority of penetration is happening because bigs aren't showing, hedging or really doing anything to slow down the ballhandler in pick-and-rolls in the middle of the court.
- Collins asked for more leadership from his veterans in the summer, and I can definitely see it from Elton Brand. He was pretty passive, almost like a passenger last season. This year, he's doing much more talking on the floor, sort of mentoring the young guys, and I've seen him get in people's faces when they miss an assignment on several occasions. Good to see. I haven't seen any of that from Iguodala.
- I think Collins is going to have to start running plays specifically for Turner. He's not looking for his shot, and it seems to me like he's sort of taking a back seat and trying to fit in too much. When he has the ball in his hands, a lot of the time it looks like a game of hot potato, he just wants to pass it on to someone else. He needs a little direction and saying, "You're going to run off these two screens, catch on the wing and either shoot or hit EB in the post because his man switched on to you, or vice versa." Treat him like a rookie quarterback, limit his options, but make sure he knows the play is being run for him to score first, set someone up for a score second. I think that type of direction would have good results.
- I do believe Collins is doing a good coaching this team. He's at a disadvantage in nearly every game, he's trying some things out, he's experimenting. With that is going to come some drastic failures, but he's also going to learn who can and can't do what's needed in any given situation. If he's here for the long haul (and the players are), that's going to be extremely valuable to have when the games start to matter.
- I will never, ever understand why anyone would foul Lou Williams on jump shot, but it's easily happened double-digit times in the first ten games. After an extremely efficient start, Lou has hit a brick wall with his shooting. His frequent trips to the line are the only thing holding his head above water on the offensive end. Eventually, a coach is going to lose his mind when a defender fouls a sub-40% shooter on a 20-foot faked attempt.
Collins made a point of talking about the foul discrepancy earlier today. -8 per game at the line is ridiculous, and this isn't a "well they have no superstars, they don't get the whistles" type of thing either. For the most part, it's getting beat, getting lazy and then just taking the foul to prevent a dunk.
So ten in the books, 72 more to go. Hopefully games 11-20 will be more productive than the first ten.