The plan was for a recap of last night's game, but it's still too soon. Instead, I thought we could all use a pick-me-up. This morning, Rich is going to treat us to a closer look at the Sixers X's and O's (with video). Specifically, how is Jodie Meeks helping the offense and Thad's resurgence. Enjoy.
Let's start with the obvious: The early returns of Jodie Meeks being inserted into the 76ers starting lineup have been promising. In their last two games, the Sixers have used their offense to secure two wins. Whether that level is sustainable (doubtful) is an argument for another time. For now though, let's enjoy what we've been watching the past couple of nights. A huge part of this and the topic du jour for most of us has been Meeks and his shooting. This is for good reason too, as not many guys in the NBA hit 11 threes in two nights. For the Sixers, it's a welcome sight.
Ever since the 2007 trade of Kyle Korver, the team's lack of any reliable three-point shooters has been a major weakness. This was pointed out by fans and all the way up to Ed Stefanski in the organization. In 2009, an over-the-hill Donyell Marshall was playing crunch-time minutes and making big shots because the team had no other options. Marshall wasn't a very good player, but he provided floor spacing at the end of games. I thought he was their best option, but that wasn't good enough, and the Sixers knew it. That is why Stefanski went out and traded for Jason Kapono two summers ago. The problem with that deal is that Kapono seemingly was afraid to pull the trigger unless he was wide open, possibly in hopes of keeping his three-point field goal percentage artificially high. This year Kapono garnered some early starts, but Doug Collins quickly realized his inability to do anything else positive on the floor, and now he doesn't play at all.
I'm still not really sure what to make of Meeks, because it's not clear he does anything else besides shoot the three-ball well. To his credit, he does give a lot of effort on the defensive end, so maybe more playing time can turn him at least into an adequate defender. Even so, it seems as if Jodie can really help the other starters when he is playing the 2. He has definitely earned his spot in the starting lineup for now. My two big questions are: 1. What is a realistic shooting percentage from deep for Jodie? It's definitely not this high, but the guy really looks like he has a pure stroke. 2. Does he still help the team out even if he's not shooting great with his spacing?
Those two questions kind of go hand-in-hand with each other because how high his shooting percentage is and how consistent he is will determine how teams play him. As long as he's able to take a defender away from giving strong help on any driver, he's doing his job. That's the thing too: If someone decides to help too far off him, Jodie will get the ball. The whole starting lineup is full of willing passers, with Jrue spearheading the effort as he tries to become a top-flight NBA point guard. Iguodala is as good as they get as a passer from the small forward spot, and Brand has learned to be able to pass the ball after facing all of the double teams he's seen in his career. We all know the resurgent and ball- friendly Spencer Hawes can pass the ball, even though I'm not sure the Peyton Manning comparison is a complement anymore. Any way you slice it, Jodie will get the ball when he's open, and he'll let it fly with his quick release.
For the video portion, let's take a glimpse of the threat of Jodie making the other guys better. I can show some of his threes, but that would look like a highlight tape. Here's the first one:
Alright, seems like a pretty simple play, right? Just to set the scene, this monster flush from Andre came shortly after Jodie had made two quick threes. It also came off a broken play where Brand lost control of the ball and tracked it down in the corner where he passed the ball to Iguodala. After a bungled pick and roll coverage (Ladies and gentleman, Antawn Jamison!), Andre has a wide-open lane to the rim and he turns the corner quickly. Now, this is not good defense from Cleveland whatsoever. Someone should be stopping Iguodala at some point (especially because there are no real shot-blockers on the floor), and forcing him to give up the ball. That doesn't happen, but take a look at why. As soon as he gets a head of steam coming off the screen, the first logical guy to help is Daniel Gibson. His problem is that he is guarding Jodie, who has just made two threes, and he elects to stay with him. The beauty of three-point shooters is that they make it harder to help because they space the floor. If this play is defended properly, Varejao cuts Iguodala off and he dumps it to Brand for a baby eight footer or a dunk. No matter what, it still will be a good look and if Gibson comes to help, Jodie's getting the ball.
No matter what people say about Andre being talented enough to score 20-plus on every night, he's not really a natural scorer. He's such an explosive athlete, but he doesn't efficiently attack the rim like the league's best slashers do. Don't get me wrong, if he sees an opening he'll take it, but he doesn't have the relentless "get to the rim" gene. Another reason he doesn't get to the rim is that he won't force drives, which he had to do a lot with how clustered the lane has been since Iverson left for the first time. He'll only be helped by Jodie's spacing, and that much more of a danger to score.
Being able to space the floor is a simple concept, and this example won't blow people's minds, but it makes the Sixers a much more dangerous team. Let's say Turner is in there on that play. Things may go wrong because, he won't be past the three point line thus making it an easier help, or he wouldn't be viewed as a threat out there inviting Iguodala to pass it back out there. Right now, Jodie is the right fit in the starting lineup, although Turner's minutes are a whole other topic. Even getting one or two of those easy looks a game is HUGE, when your point differential is close to even, and the team is still 7-14.
There are other examples of a subtle difference Jodie makes if he's shooting well. We know that he will make Jrue and AI9 better players by creating driving lanes, but there is another guy who stands to benefit: Elton Brand. In the third quarter of last night's game, EB scored eight quick points. The first one was an offensive rebound where his man (Hickson) wildly ran out to contest a Jodie three, and he was able to grab the board and get an easy put-back. The other three were isolation moves where he had single coverage. For this team, EB with only one man on him usually means good things. He's the 2nd best isolation guy on the team (we'll get to the first guy later) and he just really understands what he wants to do depending on how a guy is playing him. If Meeks is a threat, he adds another guy you don't want to leave along with Jrue. As long as Hawes gets himself into a good position (which he's done the past couple of games), he can be a threat. It just gives the defense less options on what to do. It's only a two game sample so don't go crazy, but they were two very good games.
Now that we seem to have the first quarters figured out, the bench needs someone that they can rely on scoring the ball. That's been pretty easy all season, as our best 1 on 1 player has had a great year. No, that's not Lou Williams, who is shooting 36 percent from the field. It would happen to be Thaddeus Young, who has been deadly efficient scoring the ball.
Doug Collins is no fool. He understands players' strengths/weaknesses, and Thad has been playing at the 4 a ton this year. Yes there are negatives to Thad at the four namely defense and rebounding, but he does have one huge advantage: There doesn't seem to be a power forward on the planet who can keep Thad in front of him. Thad accomplishes this despite a real outside jump-shot (which opponents are fully aware of) and a very strong tendency to go to the left side of the rim. Defenders routinely play off of him, but Thad's killer first-step and whirling dervish moves have allowed him to shoot a hair under 60 percent. This is even more impressive considering Thad is purely a scorer. Playing off him should hurt him, unlike a guy like Rondo who can probe a defense and make plays for other guys with all of the space.
Thad really has become a great isolation guy, and he really does it starting in one spot. He starts about 15-18 feet from the hoop, somewhere at the top of the key. I personally think he likes to be a shade to the left of dead on because he loves his left hand, but he can start anywhere from the top of the key. Back to Collins, he routinely gets the ball to Thad in this spot, where he can succeed. Here's an example of him calling a play specifically for Thad, and telling everyone else to get out of the way:
You can't see it in this video, but Jrue had just taken a quick three and Collins decided to call a play to settle the offense down. I couldn't really hear what it was exactly called, but it had the word 'Thad' in it. No rocket science here, just let him catch it with his back to the basket outside the elbow, let him face up, and blow by Jamison here. Good to see Thad is used as sort of a stabilizing force for the offense.
That's one way to get Thad the ball there, but even against very good defenders Thad should get regular touches. Here he is matched up against the rugged Gerald Wallace, who will fight for every inch, making, a post up hard to accomplish. So Collins elects to do something he's often done this year, start Thad low:
This is the simplest one I could find, with just one down screen. Hawes goes down and gets enough of his body on Wallace where Thad makes a catch, and shows his improvement going right. He takes it two dribbles because Wallace is completely giving him that side, and he gets back to his left hand, a lot like Manu Ginobili. Collins has more complex ways of getting Thad the ball when he starts him low. Sometimes Collins has him screen for a guard who is running the baseline towards the wing. Thad sets this screen and then pops out to his comfort zone and isolates. When you have a guy like Thad that you can iso, it's just a matter of getting him the ball.
Sorry about the quality of the video, my laptop isn't very fast and I have trouble with a lot of videos. Hopefully I'll find a way to get rid of that problem. All comments and thoughts are welcome. Brian actually suggested the Thad part, and I would be open to trying to find some trends that people are interested in seeing if they exist.