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Who's Holding Who Back? (If Anyone)

The never-ending drama swirling around the Sixers perimeter players is bubbling to the surface, yet again. If you've been following the comment thread at all today, you realize Doug Collins recent comments about Andre Iguodala have drawn a reaction, let's dive in a little bit after the jump and hopefully open the conversation up.

Instead of getting into what I think the Sixers should do on the perimeter, let's just take a look at the five players involved, completely agnostic of the Sixers as a team, and the team's needs:

  • Andre Iguodala - Versatile wing player. Can score efficiently, probably not capable of scoring efficiently with a high usage rate. Excellent distributor, takes care of the ball. Elite defender. Proved he was capable of playing almost entirely off the ball for Team USA. He's probably at his best when he's spending some time initiating offense in the half-court, and pushing the ball off turnovers and rebounds. Elite finisher.
  • Jrue Holiday - Developing floor general. Very good vision, capable of running an offense and finding open men for easy looks. Strong driver, developing mid-range game. Average three-point shooter (better on catch-and-shoot from distance, I believe). Not a good enough shooter to legitimately stretch the floor as a shooting guard. Excellent rebounder. Defensive potential is there, and production is sometimes as well, but consistency is a problem, really on both ends of the floor. His vision can be a great asset, and a hindrance. He sees things a lot of people don't on the floor, but the judgment isn't completely there. He'll force a pass for a home run that doesn't have a high likelihood of actually getting there. Sometimes, he doesn't take who he's passing the ball to into account. We also still see turnovers on lazy passes on the perimeter, though not nearly as many as last season. Definitive size advantage at the point, not so much at the two.
  • Evan Turner - Good size, good handle, excellent rebounder. Developing mid-range shot. Athleticism hurts him on his drives, he has to rely on excellent body control to be able to finish on the inside, that's not enough against the better shot blockers in the league. He seems very good at using his dribble not only to get his shot off, but to set up teammates for easy looks, and he's made great strides in cutting down turnovers as a rookie, which isn't something that usually happens. Very good defense, and just like Iguodala, adept at grabbing a defensive board (or loose ball on the defensive end) and pushing with his dribble, getting the team out on the break, where he's been making great decisions as of late.
  • Lou Williams - Gunner whose efficiency is propped up by an impressive FT rate. Relies on quickness to score on isolation moves, seems to prefer to play in isolation and dribble the shot clock down without involving teammates. Not a very good passer. Not very good at using his dribble and quickness advantage to set up teammates. Very poor at utilizing screens (he usually dribbles away from them, instead of setting his man up to get caught on the screen and turn the corner). I do believe Lou is very good at playing off the ball. He might be the second-best catch-and-shoot player on the team, and he's good at finding open spots on the floor to get his shot off. Defensively, he's under-sized and unmotivated, most of the time. When he's on the floor, the entire defensive unit has to focus on compensating for his poor ball pressure skills.
  • Jodie Meeks - The best pure shooter of the group, though he's extremely streaky. If he's on, he gets the shot up and in very quickly, he can run off screens to get space for himself. He's horrible off the dribble, though. He must lead the league in out-of-control drives to the hoop (only because Nocioni doesn't get enough minutes anymore), and he might be the worst finisher at the rim I've ever seen. A truly one-dimensional player, who's one strength happens to be the team's glaring need. Gives effort on the defensive end, but isn't going to shut anyone down any time soon. He's typically the first guy opponents attempt to attack on the defensive end.

So that's the personnel, as I see it. Three guys who make plays for others pretty consistently. One guy who makes plays for himself, at the exclusion of others, and one guy who can't make plays for himself or others, but does a good job of converting on plays that are made for him, when he's hot.

The question is, how do you use this group of players to form a cohesive rotation and get efficient play from the group as a whole, on both ends of the floor. Figure three of these guys are on the floor pretty much at all times, at the one, two and three. What does each grouping give you, specifically?

  • Jrue (1), Meeks (2), Iguodala (3) - With this group, Jrue is pretty clearly defined as the point, but Iguodala will initiate offense maybe 10-20% of the time. Meeks spreads the floor, theoretically, opening up driving lanes for Jrue and Iguodala. Defensively, Meeks is the weak link, but he can hold his own in a fair amount of matchups.
  • Jrue (1), Meeks (2), Turner (3) - Pretty much the same as above, except the defense takes a step down and Turner is probably a better catch-and-shoot guy than Iguodala. Fewer transition points without Iguodala getting stops on the defensive end.
  • Jrue (1), Turner (2), Iguodala (3) - Best defensive unit they can put out there. This group gets into the floor and converts in transition (especially if Thad is playing the 4). The distribution of playmaking duties is vague, and both Holiday and Turner need to convert their catch-and-shoot opportunities to make it work in the half court.
  • Lou Williams (1), Jrue (2), Iguodala (3) - Technically, Jrue is probably still called the point guard for this group, but in reality, he handles the ball the least of the three players. The offense pretty much changes to Lou isolation, with a rare pick that he won't use. When Iguodala has the ball, this unit functions pretty much like the first unit when Iguodala has the ball, with Lou taking Meeks' catch-and-shoot role (which I believe he's good at). For the most part, Jrue becomes a catch-and-shoot guy who never gets the ball unless Iguodala is initiating the offense. Defensively, Lou is consistently on-the-ball, with the rest of the defense focused on covering for him, which is not ideal.
  • Lou Williams (1), Jrue (2), Evan Turner (3) - Pretty much the same as above, with Jrue and Turner initiating on a rare occasion. Defense and playmaking are both downgraded in the Iguodala-to-Turner switch

Those are pretty much the only combinations we see. Far too many of them have Lou at the point, which I think is a misuse of his talents (and he does have talent, this isn't a bash Lou post). I'd like to see more of Jrue legitimately running the point, obviously, but that doesn't mean Lou's minutes need to be cut. What it means is that the team should not stop running its offense the second Lou Williams checks into the game, and especially not when the game is on the line. Lou can thrive off the ball, and if/when the shot clock is winding down and you need someone to get a tough shot off, then you go to Lou. Maybe he can bail you out of a bad possession.

As far as this Iguodala point forward debate, I'm fine with it. When Iguodala's initiating offense, he gets good looks for whoever has the advantage. He doesn't play favorites. Jrue gets good looks at three off Iguodala's penetration, the bigs get easy layups.

I have a hard time believing Iguodala and Jrue can't play together effectively, and find a good balance of who's making plays/handling the ball, and who's playing off the ball. I find it especially hard when I see what those guys have done over the past two games, especially in the third quarter of each game, the quarter in which the Sixers blew the doors off their opponents. Here are their combined numbers from both third quarters:

  • 7/11 FG
  • 1/1 3P
  • 1/1 FT
  • 11 assists (7 for Jrue, 1 for AI9)
  • 3 turnovers (1 for Jrue, 2 for AI9)

Not only has it worked, but it has looked organic. Most of the time, Jrue was bringing the ball up, setting the play, then executing from the top of the key. Once in a while, the ball would be swung to Iguodala on the wing who would initiate from there. Everyone was involved, they were pressuring the ball on the defensive end, getting out in transition, and finding bigs for easy scores in the half court.

I honestly don't think Jrue's struggles have much to do with Iguodala, and how much Iguodala needs the ball. Jrue's problems come when he's playing in a different combination in the back court, and usually when he's forced off the ball. It's a shame that we rarely get a chance to see what Jrue, Lou and Iguodala could do with Jrue at the point, because I think that group could have a chance to be effective.

The "can Turner play with Iguodala" question seems to be less important now with Turner finally finding a comfort level and producing pretty regularly. The next step will be to get Jrue on the same page, I'm just not sure what Doug Collins' plan is to get there.
by Brian on Jan 31 2011
Tags: Basketball | Doug Collins | Sixers |