More important than what needs to be fixed may be how. The answer: Baby steps.
The key to righting this ship, turning this season around, will come on a fundamental, philosophical level. It's not going to be sitting down and saying, "We need to get Andre Iguodala going." Statement, and goals like that will only dig the hole deeper.
For me, the first thing the Sixers need to figure out is how to handle the double team. With each passing game, teams have been quicker and quicker to double Brand whenever he touches the ball in the low post. It's not because he's been particularly effective down there, it's because the Sixers have been particularly inneffective at countering the double.
If you've ever seen an effective team play off its big man in the post, you've seen the ball leave the double team and swing across the floor until it lands in the hands of the open man for a jumper. The perimeter guys play hot potato with the ball and swing it before the defense can close out from their compromised positions. This has not happened when Brand has gotten double teamed, and there are a couple of reasons why not.
First, you can't start the ball moving if he doesn't have an outlet. Far too often, Brand gets the ball, then everyone else leaves for the weak side of the floor. For Brand to make an outlet he has to pass through or over the double, and make a dangerous cross-court pass. I can't tell you why the guards have been doing this, they should know better, but that's what's been happening. Andre Miller has been especially guilty of this sin. The first step to correcting the problems against the double is to make sure there's an outlet available on the strong side of the floor.
What I'd like to see, from time to time, is Thad feeding the post from the wing and staying put. If his man leaves to double, you've got a wide-open three right there, one pass away. This shouldn't be the set every time, but it would be an effective wrinkle.
After the jump, we'll look at the other problems in solving the double team, and possible solutions.
The second problem with the offense is the movement without the ball. The Sixers are a young team, used to attacking the hoop. This was fine last year, when they tried to run their half-court offense like a fast break, but it doesn't work when the ball is in the post. It seems as though everyone's first instinct is to cut to the lane. For the most part, all this does is clog the lane even more. Time and time again, we've seen double teams turn into triple teams because someone dragged his defender right to the lane, right to Brand. Cutting through the lane isn't a bad way to break the double when the court is properly spaced, but that hasn't been the case.
Which brings me to the third problem, spacing. Dalembert doesn't know where he's supposed to be, which usually means he plants himself right under the hoop and either gets called for a three-second violation, or leaves his guy in the general area, clogging up the lane. We've already talked about Miller's tendency to abandon the strong side and drift toward the foul line, again, too close to the lane. The wings, usually Iguodala and Thad, are where they should be, but usually too close to each other, allowing one man to effectively guard both of them. Although it hasn't mattered much because the ball has rarely rotated all the way across the court.
As a general rule, this is what the spacing should look like when Brand gets the ball in the low post on the left side, with the starters on the floor.
If you start with that alignment, assuming Miller has the ball on the wing and gets a clean feed to Brand in the post, you've got several options. First of all, when the floor is spaced like this, the other team has a tough decision as to who is going to double. If Dalembert's man goes to double, you've got the immediate roll to the hoop for a lob. If Miller's man leaves him to double down, there's an easy opportunity for a 15-18 footer for Miller. If they decide they want to double off Iguodala or Thad, they've got a lot of ground to make up before they can get there, which leaves Brand the opportunity to easily split the double, or go baseline, away from it. With this type of spacing, as soon as the double comes it should take three crisp passes to find a wide-open Thad for a three, if executed properly. An easy outlet from Brand to Miller, a pass to Iguodala at the top of the key and a quick swing to Thad on the opposite wing. You've also got multiple back-door opportunities at any point and probably opportunities to drive as well. The key is to be able to get the ball out of the post quickly and cleanly and keep the ball moving while the defense tries to recover.
This is what the spacing has often looked like when the ball has gone into EB in the post.
The problem should jump out at you right away. When EB gets the ball in the post any one of three defenders can leave his man to double and because the lane is clogged, it's easy for the remaining defenders to cover his man as well. Feeding the post from the elbow instead of the wing makes the outlet pass from Brand more difficult (even more so when Miller drifts to the middle of the floor, which he has tended to do). It's really no wonder the half-court offense has stalled. The Sixers offense is fundamentally flawed, and in no way looks to take advantage of the double teams.
If they can make these changes:
- Space the floor
- Provide an easy outlet for Brand
- Move the ball quickly
We're going to see a dramatic improvement. Elton Brand has taken a some heat already, and I think it's unwarranted. Without fail, whenever he's gotten the ball in the post and a double hasn't come, something positive has happened. He's taken the ball to the hoop and gotten a high percentage shot. Make, miss or foul, that's a positive trip down the floor. When the double does come, he's gotten no help from his teammates. If they can run fundamental sets, something positive will happen. Traditionally, double teams have led to open threes for teams, but that's not the only positive outcome. Crisp ball movement can, and will, open up high percentage shots for anyone on the floor. A team that has two guys who truly are talented passers at the guard positions should be able to find the right guy in the right spot. It's just a matter of running a solid set, creating spacing and moving the ball.
Once you get the fundamentals down, there are an infinite number of possibilities. Just for kicks, let's take a look at one:
Forgive my poor art skills, but you get the picture. In this diagram, the team starts out with ideal spacing. Thad feeds the post from the wing, then cycles through on the baseline. Miller fills the wing Thad left, and Iguodala moves toward the top of the circle. EB outlets to Miller on the wing, who quickly swings the ball to Iguodala at the top of the key. When Iguodala gets the ball, Dalembert dives to the hoop, drawing the defense, then Iguodala hits Thad in the corner for what should be an open three.
It would be nice to see an offense that resembles x's and o's rather than just an athlete trying to break someone down off the dribble. They've got the horses to run these sets now, it's about time we see them.