While Andrew Bynum was, by far, the most meaningful addition of the summer, the Sixers went to great lengths to reshape their perimeter attack. Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks are all gone, their replacements....shooters.
Ever since Kyle Korver was traded to the Utah Jazz, the Sixers have seemingly been on an endless quest to find legitimate perimeter threats. They brought in Jason Kapono. They tried to mold Jodie Meeks into the role. No one ever really stuck. This summer, they got three guys. Two with a reputation (Jason Richardson and Dorell Wright) and another with surprisingly good numbers in a certain area.
Let's start with the good news. Richardson and Wright are both guys defenses must account for. They're proven quantities with quick triggers and endless range. They're comfortable floated on the perimeter, finding the soft spot and getting themselves ready to receive the pass and launch. Nick Young's resume is a bit murkier, but he was actually the most effective spot-up shooter of the bunch from deep last season. We'll get to Young in a second, but first, let's talk about the benefit of having guys like Richardson and Wright on the floor.
Hitting an open three is a huge boost to offensive efficiency, that's not exactly rocket science. What is a bit more nuanced is the effect of having shooters on the floor. And when I say shooters, I'm talking about the guys who get their names circled on chalk boards in opposing teams' locker rooms before games. Guys who coaches make sure are accounted for at all times. Those shooters open things up. Those shooters, the guys with the reputation and the production make it much harder to double a guy like Bynum in the post if you're running your offense correctly. They make it much harder for wings to cheat off their men and cut off driving lanes, squeeze the paint to keep your ballhandlers out of the paint. Guys like Richardson and Wright make things easier for everyone in a smart offense. Whether it's receiving a pass for a clean look an open three, or just standing on the weak side and occupying a man who cannot afford to cheat into the lane and help.
The Sixers haven't had a guy like that, outside of Jodie Meeks when he was riding a really hot streak, since Korver left. Now they have two. The threat they represent forces teams to make decisions. Take a look at this diagram:
So this is a basic, early-offense look the Sixers could throw at anyone. Jrue dribbles the ball up, brings it to the elbow extended. Richardson is in the corner on the strong side. Thad is at the weak-side elbow, Wright on the wing on the weak side and Bynum goes right down to the block on the strong side. Now, if Jrue just dumps the ball into Bynum on the post, where is the double going to come from? If Thad's man leaves him, he's got a foul shot, or better yet, a dive to the hoop for a dunk. If Richardson's man leaves him, it's and easy kick-out for a three. If Jrue's man follows the pass, it's again easy. If Wright's man leaves him, it's two passes to a wide-open three, probably in the corner. Having those two shooters out there makes the double an impossible decision for the defense. Of course, this is a different story if you've got Turner at the three instead of Wright, but that's another conversation for another day. There are two key takeaways here. First, having shooters on the floor with him will make Bynum a much, much better offensive player. He's going to have more room to operate. Doubles are going to be less frequent, they're going to be tentative, and there should be enough spacing for his decision-making to be very easy. Playing with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol was a huge benefit for Bynum, but he never had three point shooters on the floor with him in LA. You can make the argument that he's going to be in a better position to succeed in Philly, with a roster more tailored to making things easier for him to dominate, but we're getting ahead of ourselves, this post is about shooting.
Having recognized shooters on the floor opens things up, but ultimately, it's making shots that matters. Unfortunately, this is the bad news. What we're talking about here is catch-and-shoot, or spot-up situations. Those are the shots Bynum is going to create when he's doubled. Those are the shots Jrue has always created with his penetration. Feet set, catch the ball, get the shot off from behind the line. Here's a look at how the three new Sixers performed in those situations last season, and how the three departed Sixers performed as well (stats from MySynergySports.com):
Based purely on production, the Sixers gave up better spot-up shooters than they got. In fact, Iguodala was the best of the bunch last season. If you want to hedge the numbers a little bit, you can say Iguodala's reputation led teams to leave him open, so he had better looks than the other guys, and that might be the case, but you also have to take into account the fact that the Sixers offense was not built to create those open looks for him. This offense will be built to create open threes.
Now don't get me wrong, I do believe the new guys are better shooters, and I think the team as a whole will rely much more on the three this season than they have in the past, but in terms of percentage, I'm not sure we should expect an improvement from deep. Of course, if they're taking more quality looks, the offense will be much better overall, even if the percentage drops a bit. And there are shooting intangibles these guys give that the old guys didn't, like the ability to float to the open area, and a quick release. I guess the moral of the story might not be that the necessarily got more accurate shooters, but they got more experienced shooters. Shooters who bring the right kind of baggage with them into the system, guys who fit better and open things up for the big man in the middle.
The larger question is how will Doug Collins use them in conjunction with Bynum and Jrue. The roster screams for an inside-out game played through Bynum, with Richardson, Wright, Young and Jrue taking turns knocking down the open looks Bynum's dominance creates. Last year, they were 25th in the league in attempted three pointers. How high will they climb in that category? Will they remain effective with dramatically increased attempts? And will Collins hold too tightly to his anti-turnover offensive philosophy, or will he let them throw the risky skip passes sometimes needed to beat an aggressively rotating defense?
There's no way to tell, but one thing is for sure. This season's half-court offense should in no way resemble last year's.