At times, watching the Sixers' halfcourt offense can be painful. The movement isn't quite there, there's too much dribbling, not enough spacing. For long stretches, the Sixers can be forced to settle for long jumpers. The stretches are usually broken up by pretty drives, or maybe a nice screen-and-pop to Brand for a 13-foot jumper. But overall, the halfcourt offense seems to have gotten worse this season, despite the improved play of Jrue Holiday. Why?
There are plenty of reasons why the Sixers offensive efficiency rating has dropped from 106.1 last season to 104.9 this year. The popular ones hinge on the lack of a shooter and the lack of a superstar in the regular rotation. They don't have a guy who can create his own shot with regularity, they also don't have a guy who can hit a difficult shot at the end of the shot clock. Essentially, they don't have a superstar who can bail out team when all else fails. Maybe you can chalk some of the dip up to the change from Eddie Jordan, who only cared about offense (and handed out minutes accordingly), to Doug Collins, who favors defense, and maybe requires his players to expend more energy on that end of the floor.
These are all viable explanations, but there's one that's flown under the radar. They aren't getting as many easy hoops as they used to. The reason: Sam Dalembert is in Sacramento, not Philadelphia. Bear with me while we take a look at a stat available from HoopData.
Last season with the Sixers, Sam Dalembert converted 197 shots at the rim, of those 139 were assisted. Since we know how effective Sam was in the low post, you have to assume the vast majority of those made attempts were lobs, or basically some kind of spoon-fed dunk from one of the perimeter guys. That translates to 1.69 assisted made shots at the rim per game, 2.35 per 36 minutes.
Dalembert's replacement, Spencer Hawes, has 24 assisted makes at the rim this season. That translates into 0.72 per game, and 1.27 per 36 minutes.
It shouldn't be news to anyone that Dalembert was a much better player for the Sixers than Hawes has been, on both ends of the floor. If you need further evidence, check out this comp. You don't have to look much further than the TS% difference between the two, even though things don't get better for Hawes as you read left to right.
The point here isn't that Hawes is terrible and they never should've made the trade, though. It's not that they should try to trade to get Sammy back at this point, either (though I'm secretly hoping Sam's value is destroyed by this miserable season in Sacramento and the Sixers sign him for like $3M/year this summer). The point is that within the offense, Hawes' ball-friendliness and average shooting on long twos doesn't even come close to having the same impact that having an athletic big who can finish on the inside would.
Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala are gifted passers who are always looking for their bigs around the rim. Think back to last season, how many times did we see a screen and roll wind up in a dunk for Sammy? How many times did a weak double lead to a lob over the top? That's halfcourt offense. That's how you bolster your numbers. Think about all the times Jrue has driven to the hoop and drawn the weakside help. Hawes isn't capable of diving to the rim, going up to get the pass and throwing it down.
If you want to be a top offensive team, you're going to probably need a superstar capable of bailing the team out (or you're going to need Jrue to continue to make strides), but if you're talking about going from a bad offensive team in the halfcourt to a decent one, an athletic big would be a solid, solid first step. Playing with Hawes up there (and even Speights with his sapped athleticism) is a true handicap for Jrue and Iguodala, and it's holding the team back.