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Wholesale changes - Part 1

The last time a playoff team experienced the type of turnover the Sixers have this summer was in 2010 when Miami gutted their roster to make room for Chris Bosh and LeBron James. Obviously, no one in Miami thought twice before making those moves. It's hardly a risk to jettison guys like Michael Beasley to make room for the best player on the planet and an All Star power forward to join forces with Dwyane Wade. The Sixers, however, had to give up value to get value. The first part of this series will examine exactly what they gave up.

Here's the list of players who were on the roster last season and are now elsewhere:

  • Andre Iguodala
  • Lou Williams
  • Elton Brand
  • Jodie Meeks
  • Nikola Vucevic
  • Tony Battie
  • Sam Young
  • Craig Brackins
  • Andres Nocioni
  • Xavier Silas
  • Francisco Elson

Obviously, some of those departures hurt more than others. In sum, though, these are the percentages of production the team has lost since dropping game seven to the Boston Celtics in the second round of the playoffs:
  • Minutes: 54.7%
  • Made Field Goals: 51.2%
  • Made Three Pointers: 77.1%
  • Made Free Throws: 63%
  • Rebounds: 52.5%
  • Assists: 53.5%
  • Steals: 55.1%
  • Blocks: 57.4%
  • Points: 54.4%

That's an insane amount of raw production to replace even before you take into account the roles some of those guys played, the things their specific talents allowed the team to get away with and who will be filling the roles going forward. Staggering.

Looking at it from a purely statistical perspective, you can take solace that some of those columns will easily be filled with the additions they've made (three-pointers made stands out with the addition of several shooters), but it's hard to look at the remaining roster and figure out where the added assists will come from, unless Jrue makes a giant leap forward and/or Turner proves to be a much better facilitator than he's been over his first two seasons.

Ultimately, though, these percentages don't tell the story. The Sixers were a poor offensive team last season (20th in the league in OFR). It was their defense which carried them, and beyond steals and blocks, defense isn't accounted for by the statistics above.

Without a legitimate center, with their illegitimate starting center missing 25 games, with a slow-footed staring power forward and a grossly underpowered backup power forward, the Sixers still managed to sport the number three defense in the league. An ingenious, outside-in defensive philosophy was the reason they were able to defend despite a woefully thin front court. The reason they were able to execute the defensive philosophy was, for the most part, Andre Iguodala.

In an effort to somehow put a number to Iguodala's impact on the defensive end of the ball, I put together this spreadsheet. The sheet is kind of sprawling, but I included comments to explain where I could. Basically, I went through the team's boxscore for all 79 games, including the post season, and identified Iguodala's man. I pulled his stat line from every game. Then I pulled that players cumulative season stats. Then I calculated what that player would've produced in the minutes he played against the Sixers if he performed to his season average in every category. Then I looked at the difference. For example, let's say player "A" averaged 20 points per 36 minutes on the season, and he played 36 minutes against the Sixers but scored only 15 points. That would be a -5 in the points category. It's not a perfect system, and I'll list multiple disclaimers below, but it's the best I could come up with to illustrate how the perimeter defense (Iguodala's in particular) carried this team to a dominant defensive season:

I'll skip right to the conclusion, then backtrack. The opposing team's best wing played 2,499 minutes in Iguodala's 75 games (62 regular season, 13 postseason), in those games, here is the actual production adjusted for pace (per-game numbers in parens, the Sixers played 1.75% slower than average pace in the league, so raw numbers were multiplied by 1.0175 to normalize the data):

  • FG: 356/883 (4.75/11.8), 40.3%
  • 3P: 68/225 (0.9/3.0), 30.3%
  • FT: 194/241 (2.6/3.2), 80.6%
  • REB: 412 (5.5)
  • AST: 190 (2.50)
  • TOV: 138 (1.88)
  • PTS: 975 (13.0)
  • True Shooting Percentage: 49.3%
  • Assist-to-turnover Ratio: 1.38

Now, here are the expected numbers for those players, had they played to their season averages in the same amount of minutes they played against the Sixers:

  • FG: 424.51/976.87 (5.66/13.02), 43.5%
  • 3P: 97.19/273.77 (1.3/3.65), 35.5%
  • FT: 232.3/286.85 (3.1/3.83), 81.0%
  • REB: 374.11 (4.99)
  • AST: 221.46 (2.953)
  • TOV: 149.73 (1.996)
  • PTS: 1178.50 (15.71)
  • True Shooting Percentage: 53.5%
  • Assist-to-turnover Ratio: 1.49

Here's the difference, per-game:

  • FG: 0.91 fewer makes, 1.25 fewer attempts
  • 3P: 0.39 fewer makes, 0.65 fewer attempts
  • FT: 0.51 fewer makes, 0.61 fewer attempts
  • REB: 0.51 more rebounds (.13 offensive, .37 defensive)
  • AST: 0.42 fewer assists
  • TOV: 0.15 fewer turnovers
  • PTS: 2.72 fewer points
  • True Shooting Percentage: worse by 4.2%
  • Assist-to-turnover Ratio: worse by 0.11

2.72 fewer points-per-game translates to 203.73 points over the course of the season. As a point of reference, the Sixers outscored their opponents by 270 points in the 75 games Iguodala played (including playoffs).

I broke the numbers down further to isolate how Iguodala fared against the league's elite wing scorers. This is the group I looked at: LeBron, Kobe, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Rudy Gay, Kevin Martin, Joe Johnson and Kevin Durant (basically, All Stars, Olympians, plus guys making $10M+). 36 of Iguodala's 75 games featured one of these opponents. Those players scored an average of 2.78 fewer points than expected against the Sixers. Their efficiency was only slightly down from their season numbers (54.0% TS vs. 55.0% TS), but they struggled to get attempts (-1.90 FGA) and didn't get to the line as much (-0.8 FTA). If there were three tiers, with LeBron as the top, then the All Stars, then everyone else, the numbers would look very different. LeBron torched the Sixers this season, including his 41-point explosion when Iguodala was hurt in the second half. Overall, here's the breakdown of points scored:

  • 40+ points: 1 game
  • 25-29 points: 4 games
  • 20-24 points: 12 games
  • 15-29 points: 14 games
  • 10-14 points: 16 games
  • 5-9 points: 19 games
  • 0-5 points: 13 games

LeBron was the only one to score more than 30 points, he scored 41, 29, 28 and 19 in the four games. Kobe (28 points) and Melo (27) were the other two to score more than 25 in a game. Kobe shot 10/26 from the floor, 4/4 from the line for his 28, Melo was 9/24 and 8/8, for 27.

Now for the disclaimers: This is obviously an incomplete picture. Iguodala didn't guard these guys every second they were on the floor, nor were they the only players he guarded. The statement you can safely make here is that the opposing team's best wing scorer produced a little over 80% of his average numbers when he faced the Sixers this past season. That was their strength, their baseline. Andre Iguodala was the man who guarded them. For the best of the best, Collins would usually mirror his minutes. Iguodala handled these guys without the help of a double team. He handled these guys without the benefit of a shotblocker to funnel them to if they decided to drive. He was predominantly on an island, taking away the guy who was, in many cases, the centerpiece of the opponent's offense. He was their constant on the defensive end, and now he's gone.

On the offensive end, things were never pretty, rarely exciting, and their calling card may have also been their greatest limiting factor: turnovers...or the aversion to turnovers to be precise. Collins ruled with an iron fist when it came to taking care of the ball. Jrue Holiday received the most lessons in the form of a quick hook, but the message to the entire team was clear: Settling for a bad shot is preferable to risking a turnover. It was a maddening philosophy most of the time, but it was reliable and probably responsible for more wins than losses. This season, I don't think he's going to have the heavy-handed option at his disposal.

Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams were the guys he turned to when he needed a possession to end with a shot rather than a turnover, while Brand and Meeks were extraordinary at taking care of the ball. In fact, the guys who are gone from the roster compiled 777 assists to only 337 turnovers (a 2.3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio). The guys remaining on the roster? 676 assists to 370 turnovers, or 1.8 a:t). Even if Jrue and Turner can somehow make up for the loss of playmakers while still keeping their turnovers to a reasonable percentage, in Bynum they've added a guy who's going to probably have a usage rate north of 25% with a turnover rate of around 14%.

Of course, playing a little looser with the ball could also open up better looks for everyone, and lead to a more efficient offense overall. In fact, it's probably a safe bet to say with the roster they're going into the season with, a few more turnovers won't nearly offset the other offensive advantages, but this is a strength that has probably turned to average, at best, just like the wing defense.

Trading Andre Iguodala and spare change for Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson was a move the Sixers absolutely had to make. It was a swing for the fences, without risking all that much. If it doesn't work out, they can easily rebuild over the next two years. If it does, they won't need to. But just because it was the right move to make, doesn't mean they're going to instantly be better. This was a no-brainer, but it wasn't like signing LeBron and Bosh in Miami a couple of years ago. They paid a price to land the best center in the East. The big questions, if you're hoping for another playoff berth this summer, are whether the gains in other areas will offset the loss of Iguodala's defense on the wing, and the steady hands of Iguodala and Williams on the ball. More on this in the coming days/weeks.