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Another Night of Jrue?

Wow. This post is beyond depressed Brian. It is more like despondent.

A couple questions and a comment.

Does there seem to be any pressure on Stefanski about the Sixers poor record, wasting Brand or not playing defense? Any simmering discontent? Is it only people here for the most part? I wonder what Stefanski really thinks about the job Jordan is doing. When even John Hollinger calls Jordan out of not giving a crap about defense you know it is bad.

Even though the guys you listed are perimeter oriented PFs every single one of them has a height advantage on Thad. Diaw, Harrington and Green are all 6'9" if I recall. Thad is 6'7" in shoes. That being said he has picked up his rebounding a lot lately. If he keeps up the pace from the last few games he'll do quite well. Now, if only he'd stick with the man he is guarding instead of 'helping'.

He was just under 6'8" in shoes at the combine. And that was when he was 18, so it's not impossible he's grown a quarter to a half of an inch since.

BTW, I'm in the same stage of acceptance. This (Brand to the bench and Iguodala/Thad 2/3 abandoned) was going to happen in a month when Lou comes back anyway. Might as well get some jrue development time out of it.

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deepsixersuede on Dec 16 at 8:41
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I am real happy with Elton!s play this year, he is close to being what we wanted in the last 3 weeks.I have less of an issue with his move to the bench than HOW his move to the bench happened; a lot of coaches through the years have started less talented guys [Iavaroni] and brought better players off the bench [B.Jones] for the good of the team, but they did it by being positive and not ripping the player.We have no big that our coach likes off the bench so if Elton starts and Sammy gets 3 quick fouls than when Elton needs a blow is Thad our 5? Basketball wise it isn!t a terrible move and the G.St. game, to me, is the exception as far as him not getting his minutes.He is flat out, our best backup 5 right now because Jason has been a major disappointment.Again, basketball wise Thad and Jrue, as starters, SHOULD improve our perimeter defense using their quickness and if Thad rebounds , again this isn!t a bad basketball decision. I am a J.Smith fan, but if the choice is him and Primo or Thad and Jrue getting minutes, you know who I am taking. Brian, for the last 3 years we have talked about either planning for the future or trying to win now, well here we are again, no sure mindset, one way or another, it has been that way so I don!t expect it to change.

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Crowbus on Dec 16 at 9:10
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Lou/Iverson/Iguodala/Thad/Dalembert

Wow... that would be a brutally terrible starting lineup, considering the options at EJ's disposal. Two undersized shooting guards in the backcourt (with our true PG on the bench)... and a SF playing PF (with our best PF on the bench). Ridiculous.

See Mike's comment below. This is going to happen.

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JohnEMagee on Dec 16 at 9:40
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I admire the optimism that you believe that Jrue can supplant Lou in the next month or so. If dude averages a triple double and the sixers win every game from now until Lou's return, I still think it would only be 50:50 that Lou isn't reinserted so Eddie can run his Williams Iverson back court of doom

I'm no fan of Eddie Jordan, but I think observers should try to restrain themselves from inferring "hatred" of Brand based on less than convincing evidence. The Jordan quotes about Brand in the Dee Lynam piece didn't sound like they came from a man who hated the player. That piece just gives the impression of a coach still trying to figure out what will work best. Seems to me that he realizes he has a strong power forward who adds value but he also has a quicker lineup that runs a pace he likes to see.

I know the following are data from a small sample and shouldn't be considered conclusive evidence, but here are some significant figures from Brand's starter/sub split this season:

Gms Min FG% FTA R P/G
Starter 18 31:41 44.1 2.7 7.1 12.3
Sub 3 23:11 56.7 3.7 7.3 15

Brand's been more efficient as a sub than a starter this season. Maybe playing with our second team guys and playing against the other team's second team guys he might be a more integral part of the offense and more productive than he is as a starter.

If Jordan has some trouble with Ig's ball handling, I don't blame him. If having Jrue and Iverson in there gives him less ball handling responsibilities in the half court offense, that might be a good thing.

No disrespect, Brian, but for all your useful analytics, you also hang on to your own visceral likes and dislikes quite stubbornly (e.g., convinced that Iverson can only hurt and never help a team, unwilling to give Willie any due no matter what, unwaivering praise for Ig). Remember how you convinced yourself and kept banging the drum to convince all others who read this blog that the Sixers should let Andre Miller go? So far that strategy hasn't paid great dividends, has it?

You bring up some good points. We can't fairly criticize EJ for being obstinate and then blame him when he tries to shake things up. And its not like Brand starting or coming off the bench makes a huge difference this season. The bigger issue is whether the can/do trade Brand.

But Brian is right in terms of big picture with Thad/Iguodala at SG/SF or SF/PF. The team cannot afford to go another year without learning if the SG/SF combo can work. They don't have to be a great combo now, but could they be one in 1-2 years and moving forward? This hugely impacts what the Sixers should do moving forward in terms of resigning or trading Thad. And IMO, Thad at PF is not a legit long term plan if you want to be a contender down the road.

ugh. OK, I don't have a lot of time.

Brand - There's more than enough evidence for me to comfortably say Jordan has an ax to grind with Brand. If you disagree, I suggest you go back and carefully read his quotes regarding EB. Then look at how he's (a) doled out his minutes and (b) utilized him within the offense. If you still think I'm in the wrong, I apologize but we just don't see eye-to-eye.

Green - I always point out when Willie has a good game, by Willie standards. I can't help it if he's a net drain on the team 99% of the time.

Iguodala - Again, when he has a bad game, I point it out. What I won't do is start killing the guy for not being a 25ppg game scorer, because that's not who he is. People who insist he isn't good, or isn't a guy to build around simply because he isn't that type of a scorer will continue to be targets for me. It's moronic thinking.

Andre Miller - I didn't remember "banging the drum" so I went back through the archives and found one post where I said the Sixers shouldn't bring him back, not because he wouldn't help this year, but because he would demand a contract longer than I thought the team should be willing to give. Which is exactly what happened. Signing him to a three-year deal would've been a colossal mistake for this team, and ascribing this slow start to the absence of Miller is myopic at best.

Iverson - Go back and read my comments on the Iverson signing. I had two main points, (1) His presence was going to hinder development. This has already transpired, first by limiting Jrue's minutes, now by pushing AI9 to the three and Thad to the four. (2) The team's biggest issues are defense and rebounding. He will not help shore up either of these areas. I didn't say he wouldn't make the better on offense, I said I thought he could help Brand and potentially Speights, but depending on which version of AI showed up, he could hinder Thad, Iguodala and Lou. I don't think I've said anything about his contributions either way through his first four games with the team, mainly because I want to let the guy get his wind back before I pass any kind of judgment.

Overall, I don't really know what to tell you. If you don't like my viewpoints, that's fine, but I'm not beholden to anyone. I watch the games, I read all the coverage. When I have a theory I put a ton of research into proving or disproving it. Ultimately, this blog is about my feelings on this team, it's leadership, it's performance and it's direction. I'm not going to apologize for my opinions.

i think it's pretty clear that Lou/Iverson/Iguodala/Thad/Sam is exactly what the starting lineup will be when lou returns

At this point I have zero expectations for EJ or the team. If I get to see the young guys get minutes and develop I'll be happy.

I'm more looking forward to watching how Jrue plays at PG against good competition (Mo Williams tonight) than I am about watching the rest of the game. So I'll take that positive out of him starting.

In a few weeks the individuals I'd like to watch on the floor are: Jrue, Lou, Thad, Iguodala and Speights. Not saying I want them to start that group. I just want to see each of them play 30+ min a game because the rest of the players hold little or no interest to me.

I could care less who they start or how many wins they get for the rest of the season. Its not worth hoping EJ will run the team in what I or others would view as a sane fashion. They will have to blow it all up soon anyway, because ES is probably not going to be GM for more than another year.

So might as well enjoy watching how the young players do- and maybe a few of them will still be here in 2-3 years under the next regime.

"I'm not going to apologize for my opinions."

No one is suggesting that you should. Just be a little skeptical of them from time to time. I am also pointing out, as a reader with significant amount of graduate work in data analysis and research methods, that you sometimes function more like a partisan politician than a scientist: you have a viewpoint and you then highlight data that supports a pre-existing position. Are the selected analystics driving your feelings or are the feelings driving the selected analytics? Having read this blog for a couple of years now, I'd say a little of both.

Do Iverson's minutes have a detrimental effect on player development of someone like Jrue? Quite possibly, but the Sixers acquired Iverson for little money after multiple injuries and a long skid. Maybe you feel differently, but I think punting the remainder of the season after only 20 games so a rookie can get more minutes might leave a bad taste in the mouths of the majority of fans and even quite possibly some of the players. If there were 20 games left, the incentives may be different.

All I said about Iguodala is I would like to see him handle the ball a little less in half court situations. I said nothing about expecting him to have a 25 pts. per game average, so you must be confusing me with some knucklehead.

If you ever have a question about my research methods, feel free to ask. I'll walk you through exactly what I did, why, and even share the spreadsheets used with you. Don't have the time to search the archives right now, but I know for a fact that on several occasions I've had a theory, done the research, and the results pointed in the exact opposite direction, and I've posted them here and eaten crow (One example is a post I wrote about Lou and Willie last season, no idea when, though).

As for your Iverson comments, you're not connecting the dots. My position was never "Don't bring Iverson in because he's going to hurt our chances at a high draft pick." Not once did I say that. I also never said I wanted to see Jrue start because it would give us a better chance at losing. I want to see Jrue play as much as possible because (a) he's the future of the franchise, like it or not and (b) this team wasn't losing because of their offense. For the most part, offense hasn't been an issue this season. They were losing because their defense is atrocious and they weren't rebounding. Now I'm not saying Holiday is a better player than Iverson, but if you're looking to address the two issues that have plagued this team all season long, is Iverson going to help you more in those two areas than Holiday? There's a simple answer to that question, and when you factor in moving Iguodala to the two and Thad to the three, it was a no-brainer for me, and remains so.

I don't have a problem challenging my opinions, and when evidence points in the other direction I always re-evaluate. To this point, Jordan hasn't done a single thing to make me doubt my assessment that he is a terrible NBA coach.

Obviously a small sample size, but Iverson has the best +/- on the team by a decent margin since his arrival.

Yes, he does. He's +29 when he's in the back court with Jrue (+28 in the Warriors game alone), +1 in every other combination since he rejoined the team.

AI/Jrue backcourt effectiveness might be a good thing to keep an eye on moving forward. Out of curiosity, what is Jrue's +/- with and without AI?

Jrue with:

Willie: +10
Ivey: -9
Lou: -9
Iguodala: -46. wow.

My question on the Iguodala +- would be at what position? EJ has not put them in the back court together that often.

As you know, Iguodala's plus minus have been out of whack because he's been at PF and/or played a ton of minutes in some atrocious lineups.

That's strictly at the two. His overall +/- w/ Iguodala on the floor is -52. Though the number w/ AI9 at the three is skewed by a +25 in the GSW game.

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Jesse reply to Brian on Dec 16 at 15:12
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I think I might be missing something here, but what is Jrue's +/- with Iverson. It's being pretty much assumed that Jrue is helping Iverson's numbers (likely), but perhaps Iverson is also helping Jrue's.

Looking at how AI and Jrue played off of each other last game, I found myself wondering if Jrue could help lengthen AI's career.

That presumes AI stays a Sixer for several more years- which obviously is not likely.

Eddie Jordan simply desires a small lineup with four perimeter players to make his offense more efficient, this has nothing to do with defense. In fact, defense never even enters into the equation.

Brian, I would agree with this statement based on what Jordan has been saying for the most part this year. But one of the startling conclusions from your excellent "People vs. Eddie Jordan" post is that the numbers support just the opposite conclusion: the Sixers are a better defensive team with a small lineup and a better offensive team with a big lineup. The question is whether we trust one conclusion and dismiss the other as an aberration -- because Jordan could rightly claim, if he actually looked at the numbers, "I'm making this change to make our defense better."

The problem with the big lineup (Brand and Dalembert) on defense is not straight-up matchups (I consider Dalembert above average vs. centers, Brand slightly below average vs. PFs) but pick-and-roll situations where Brand or Dalembert get matched up on the perimeter with much faster players (or they fail to help sufficiently when their man sets the pick). This then leads to the penetration/help/rotate/wide-open-three sequence we've seen over and over. I wonder whether Jordan has seen this enough to conclude that the big lineup can't work on D with two below-average "rotaters," at least not without a major change in defensive philosophy. (All this presumes that Jordan actually thinks about defense.)

The X-factor, from a defensive standpoint, is Thad. If he continues to rebound as he has been (averaging 9 in his last 5 games), then it may be close to a wash between him and Brand as a defensive 4: Brand has the better help defense as far as blocking shots off the ball and has better low post defense, Thad is better at rotating and stealing the ball.

Offensively, I tend to think that Brand's huge offensive rebounding numbers tend to outweigh any other factors, so one could definitely argue for a big lineup from an offensive standpoint (and your "People vs. Eddie Jordan" post showed that the team actually shoots better when the big lineup is playing). I'm a little more skeptical than you at Brand's ability to dominate a game from the low post; even in his 20-10 games this year, he's scored the majority of the time on putbacks and jumpers (on the blocks, I recall a lot of shots blocked and turnovers).
But when he's on the blocks, he's in offensive rebounding position, and that's where his offensive value has been greatest so far.

It will be interesting to see, with a greater sample size, whether the small lineup continues to perform better defensively and worse offensively ...

1. I do not agree that Thad, even rebounding better, is anywhere near the defender at PF as Brand. Brand can close down the lane, Thad cannot. Barnd rebounds well, with Thad you are happy if he gets 7 rebounds.

2. Speights returning further muddles the PF/C situation. Regardless of who starts, I'd like to see Speights/Sam/Brand split the majority of the minutes at PF?C.

Definitely agree w/ the 3-man split of the minutes at PF/C but I don't see any way it happens. Best-case scenario, is Thad/Speights split minutes at the four and Sam/EB split minutes at the five.

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Statman reply to tk76 on Dec 16 at 15:32
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I do not agree that Thad, even rebounding better, is anywhere near the defender at PF as Brand. Brand can close down the lane, Thad cannot. Brand rebounds well, with Thad you are happy if he gets 7 rebounds.

That's just the thing, though: it's not Brand defending against other 4's that causes problems, it's Brand defending against smaller players on switches. So the question is whether you'd rather have Thad guarding a 4 in the post or Brand guarding a 3 (or 2 or 1) on the perimeter, who can (and often does) drive by him. If I were coaching against the Sixers with a Brand/Dalembert lineup, I would P/R them to death, with the 4 or 5 setting the screen -- and this is what 90% of the opposition has done to the big lineup this year.

One other note: Brand has not rebounded well on the defensive glass this year. His d-reb rate is on pace to be the lowest of his career and is below Iguodala's. Now, Brand's overall d-rebounding is still better than Thad's, but we've all noted that Thad has improved recently (we'll see if it's just an aberration).

I think you are selling Brand a bit short on his P&R defense and team defense. That said, Brand probably has more issues adapting to EJ's Princeton Defense whachy over-helping/over-switching ways. Any legit inside player playing in EJ's bizarro defense would. It's made for guys like Jamison, not real PF's.

I don't know if this is an excuse or an explanation, but has Brand ever been required to chase 2's and 3's to the three-point line on every possession before in his career? That could have something to do with a dip in his defensive rebounding rate.

Yeah, I agree 100%. The small lineup is pretty clearly the better lineup to execute his defensive scheme. Actually, the best possibly lineup they could put out there to execute his defensive scheme would be Iguodala, Carney, Thad, Jrue and Ivey. Five guys who could rotate and rotate and rotate some more. The theory being you abandon your man and start the merry-go-round almost without provocation. My main point is that the system he wants to run is fatally flawed, and even if executed to perfection, with ideal personnel, I don't believe it's ever going to be a philosophy that can win in this league.

This defensive system with the small lineup can look very good against teams who are in a rush to get jumpers up in their half-court offense and can't rebound worth a damn, like the Warriors. In fact, that's pretty much the only type of team the combination is going to have success against. GSW, NYK and maybe Toronto.

From the research I did, we were talking about degrees of poor defense. I believe heading into last night's game the big lineup had a defensive efficiency rating of something like 113 and the small lineup was 109.8. So either 29th in the league or 25th. (the spreadsheet is at home, I'll try to remember to check the exact numbers tonight)

You may be right about Thad being the X factor in this system, his rebounding to be specific. But that in and of itself is a huge problem. Thad doesn't even come close to Brand's level on the defensive end for a PF. Brand has the strength, length and skills to lock down his guy on the post, provide weak side help on drives to the hole, and he even gets more steals than Thad.

Much like on the offensive side of the ball, this system devalues Brand's strengths and puts him in a position where he's continually asked to do something you rarely see PFs on other teams asked to do in rational defensive systems.

As for the pick and roll, do they even have a philosophy? Now I don't know if this is on the players or on the system, but you essentially have four choices, assuming the guy with the ball is a good shooter and you can't just go under the screen. Either you hedge, then retreat, you double hard, you fight over the screen, or you switch.

Now what do they do on most possessions? It's somewhere between a hedge and double, which is the worst possible thing you can do.

If you hedge, the idea is to simply slow the ballhandler down and let his man catch up, without compromising the rest of the defense. This should be the preferred method if the big is not a threat to pop out to the three-point line and hit a three.

The trap is designed to suffocate the ball, and it absolutely must be applied hard. You have to cut off the passing angles, and the defenders who are one pass away have to go into a hard denial of their men. This is most effective when the ballhandler has questionable skills/decision-making abilities and you have solid man-to-man defenders on your wings (which the Sixers do).

Fighting over can really only be done when you have an exceptional defender and/or a slow ballhandler, or maybe if the guy setting the screens isn't really committed to it (like Dalembert on offense). Rarely a workable option.

Switching can be effective, but usually it creates two mismatches immediately. If you have a guy like Rasheed Wallace setting the screen, and a guy like Ray Allen handling the ball, I'd probably consider this, but tandems like those two are rare.

When you get stuck between hedging and trapping, you essentially give the opposing team's ballhandler a loose double that isn't preventing him from picking apart the rest of your defense, which is now playing 3 on 4. If you're talking about the Sixers, you have the big rolling right to the front of the hoop and the other three defenders converging on him. The ball goes to one of the open perimeter guys, then the defense rotates to him, if they're quick enough, or they make one more pass to a wide-open shooter, and the defense can never get to that guy.

Ultimately, though, I think pick-and-roll defense is a symptom, not the underlying problem. The Sixers defend like they've botched a P&R assignment even when they haven't. That's the killer.

Offensively, both lineups have really been pedestrian, at best. They take too many jumpers no matter who's on the floor. When the big lineup is out there, they grab a ton more offensive rebounds and convert. The big lineup also produces a much greater number of running opportunities (steals, blocks and defensive rebounds), which lead to easy points.

The Sixers P&R defense is designed to "save their legs" and dare the opposition to shoot. Its not so much a systen as a respite from playing offense.

It does save their legs. Can't argue with that.

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Statman reply to Brian on Dec 16 at 17:06
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Brian, thanks, that's really an excellent summary of defending the P/R. My observation is that the Sixers tend to switch too easily, which leaves Brand (or Dalembert) having to defend the perimeter guys (and Lou Williams guarding the center, for example). The solution would be to hedge or trap more aggressively, do something to prevent the dribbler from making a quick and decisive move, and don't switch except as a last resort. Being in Boston, I see the Celtics a lot, and Garnett (when healthy) is the ideal big to defend the P/R -- he bothers the dribbler a lot before getting back to his man. (It's an unfair comparison, I know, because we're talking about one of the best defenders of our generation.) Hedging or trapping aggressively, however, would require more of a defensive mindset, not, as tk76 puts it, thinking of defense as a respite from playing offense.

One other point about Thad defending at PF: it's worth pointing out that there simply aren't that many dominant PF's (esp. in the East) that will "abuse" Thad in the low post. The Sixers somehow made the playoffs, playing .500 ball, with Thad starting (or playing the bulk of his minutes) at PF the last two years, so the defense had to work to some degree. I'm not advocating Thad at PF in general (I agree that the idea of maximizing Brand's skills with the big lineup is the best one), but with this coach implementing this defensive philosophy (or lack thereof), it's the best way forward. My question is, what did Cheeks do to get the team playing good defense with Brand before he got fired? (Brian, you've noted before that the team was defensively stellar at the beginning of 07-08.)

That's an excellent question about Cheeks. Wish I had an answer because they were stellar in almost every facet of the defensive game under Cheeks, including 3PT% against.

As for Thad at the four, you're right. Not a lot of dominant low-post scorers at the four these days, but as Orlando showed in the playoffs, good teams will figure out that inherent weakness and exploit it. Rashard isn't even a big PF and he ate Thad's lunch in the post. And isn't the goal to be able to beat the good teams, who know what they're doing, rather than putting together a team that can just win enough games to get to the playoffs?

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Statman reply to Brian on Dec 16 at 17:24
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And isn't the goal to be able to beat the good teams, who know what they're doing, rather than putting together a team that can just win enough games to get to the playoffs?

Agree, but the big lineup under Eddie Jordan isn't going to beat anybody, let alone good teams. Given the choice between watching a team that won half the time (and put up a good run in both playoff series) and a 5-18 team playing for draft picks, I'd choose the former every time. Can they get back to where they were last year with this team and Thad at the 4? It's possible. In any case, I think we both agree that the optimal solution (which isn't going to happen) is to fire the coach and find someone else who can make the big lineup work defensively.

Yeah, we're both in the same place. I want the guy gone, I want to see AI9/TY at the 2/3. I want to see Brand properly integrated and I want to see Jrue get plenty of minutes. Not all of those things are going to happen with Jordan here, in fact, we'll be lucky if one of them happens, but it's just banging your head against the wall to keep asking for changes that just won't happen, and that don't really help the team at all under the current head coach.

I agree they can be a decent team with Thad at PF- but they won't be a great team.

I guess I'd be fine with Thad's minutes at SF/PF being divided 66/33. More tha that is too mkuch gimicky small ball- which every Sixer coach for the past 3 years seems to love.

Also, at some point we need to see if Iguodala/Young works on the wings. And every year we seem to bail on the experiment after 25 games. Its frustrating.

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JohnEMagee on Dec 16 at 16:02
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Calling out Brand for poor P&R defense while ignoring the fact that the sixers roster as a whole hasn't been able to defend the P&R for nigh a quarter score of years is a bit silly in my estimation.

This entire roster sucks at defending the pick and roll

I'm not really sure where to place the blame for that, to me it looks like indecision kills their P&R defense, see my lengthy comment directly above.

You know, while I've enjoyed this conversation immensely, I do want to bring it back to the main point of this post. Elton Brand is basically nothing more than a backup center on this roster, maybe a decently effective one, but it's folly to expect anything more than maybe 20-25 minutes a night with occasional stretches of very good play. Neither the offensive, nor defensive systems are conducive to his skill set and Eddie Jordan will not be changing the system to fit his personnel. If we accept that, which we're going to have to, then starting Thad at the four and Jrue at the one is the best possible lineup Jordan can trot out there.

So I, for one, will be hoping and praying Jrue can make a monumental leap before Lou Williams returns, because Lou/Iverson is simply a horrible idea.

Here are those defensive rating stats:

Big lineup
1229 possessions
1377 points
112.04 DFR

Small lineup
873 possessions
954 points
109.28 DFR

These numbers were calculated from the rotation data available at basketballvalue.com

Oh yeah, these stats were through game 23, same as the stats I used in the People vs. EJ post.


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