How far can a team go that doesn't play defense and can't shoot?
With the preseason down to one final game on Wednesday night, it's time to assess our overall performance so far. I'm not going to lie, it hasn't been pretty. We are struggling in almost every facet of the game and that offseason prediction of sneaking into the playoffs as an 8th seed isn't looking too good. So I'm taking a look at the biggest concerns that a post-concussed Doug Collins needs to fix before the real show starts on Oct. 27.
Entering Tuesday, the Sixers were averaging the 10th fewest points per game while allowing the 10th most points per game during the preseason. In other words, we were the only team to have both our offense and our defense rank in the bottom third of the league. And remember, this was before we lost to the Cavs by 16. Now through six preseason games and with one remaining, our point differential is -7.3, good enough for 26th out of 30 teams. It's clear that our offense won't ever be confused with the Suns or Warriors and thought of as an offensive juggernaut (our FG% ranks dead last in the league); thus, we need to focus our efforts more on the defensive end to be more successful.
As I mentioned in a previous column, Doug Collins' success as a coach is based upon his defensive techniques. In each of his first five seasons as a head coach, his teams finished in the top five in allowing the fewest points per game. So I know that his current team giving up an average of over 100 points per game doesn't have him too happy right now. Yes, I know that it is preseason and much of preseason is about giving young guys a chance to prove themselves and get noticed. But in Tuesday's game, it was the starters and key reserves that allowed nearly 40 points in the second quarter and 66 points in the first half. Twice in Collins' coaching career, he's had his team allow fewer than 66 points in an entire game so 66 in one half likely got the Sixers a tongue-lashing at halftime from fill-in coach, Michael Curry. The second half was much more copacetic with Philly giving up just 45 points.
One of the biggest problems defensively for this team has been in the post. It's one thing to give up 47 points in two games to Brook Lopez, who was second among all centers in scoring last year; but it's another thing to give up 22 points to J.J. Hickson, who was just one point away from matching his regular-season career high. What's troubling is the fact that our post players seemed to not even make Hickson work to get those 22 points as he did it on just 16 field goal attempts and no free throw attempts. When you're a power forward who plays with his back to the basket and you play 32 minutes and take 16 shots without drawing a single shooting foul, that tells me one thing: there was no defense involved. Elton Brand might as well been a matador out there yelling Olé as Hickson went by him for a score. No fouls!?! Well at least Brand made up for it on the offensive end with four points and three rebounds in 23 minutes. *sarcasm*.
Apart from our defense, another major concern has been our simply horrible shooting percentages. We rank dead last in FG% and if not for Tuesday's 8 for 22 performance from three-point range, we would be last in 3-point percentage as well (we're currently 28th). There are nine teams whose 3-point percentage eclipses our total FG%. The main culprits have been Marreese Speights (35%) and you guessed it, Elton Brand (36%). So our two best low post scorers have combined to shoot 31 for 88 from the field. Yeah that typically brings down your shooting percentage.
Just about the only good thing that came out of Tuesday's loss to the Cavs was that Andre Iguodala looked to be in mid-season form with 19 points, 10 boards and six assists. He looked passive through the first four preseason games he played in which come on the heels of him purposely taking a passive role on the U.S. National Team at the FIBA Games. After being dormant for so long, it's good to see that he still has that assertiveness but as I mentioned before, he needs to display it more often.
Despite all of our problems, I'm still sticking by the one promising saying that's been in the back of my mind all along, "It's just preseason." After all Kobe Bryant is shooting just 27% from the field and the Suns, who had the second highest 3-point percentage of all time last season, are currently dead last this preseason in 3-point percentage. Chances are that they'll work out their kinks and be back to usual standards once the real season starts. As for us? Well with all the offseason changes, we don't really have a standard to be judged by, but that unpredictability is what makes this game so exciting.