Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Philadelphia 76ers

19-63 (Missed playoffs)
Atlantic Division
Coach: Brett Brown
Power Ranking: 30th

I thought about not covering the Sixers, because this is an NBA preview and not a D-League preview; nonetheless, here they are. The tanking continued this off-season, as the Sixers traded away the best player on their roster for a pick (and washed-up vets) and used their two lottery picks on guys who won't see the floor this season.  Their biggest free agent signing was Pierre Jackson, a guy who played all of last season in the D-League.  EDIT He's since been waived.  He's out for the year with a torn Achilles.  The Sixers failed to secure the worst record in the league last year, and then failed to secure either of the top two picks.  Let this be a lesson in perseverance for you folks out there, because dammit, they're going for that #1 pick again!

The Sixers unsubtle attempt to rebuild with high draft picks has drawn the ire of owners and the league office and has sparked talks of refining the draft system.  Unsurprisingly, Philly is fighting those changes, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.  While it may not be fair to change the rules in the middle of the 76ers' plan, it's also not fair to the rest of the league that they make 82 games each year impossible to watch for the average fan.  Windhorst points out that the lack of entertainment value has flat-lined revenues in one of the league's largest markets and irked owners across the league.  This year Philadelphia's 41 road games are almost certain to be less than full, even in the league's most die-hard markets.  The 76ers' tanking plan robs every owner around the league of a few games of ticket revenue, parking and concession money and makes the league look bad.  If you can't tell, I'm in favor of reforming the lottery system to stop the Sixers from starting Tony Wroten and Hollis Thompson.  It's one thing to go young, it's another to give major minutes to guys who have no business receiving them.

Click "Read More" for the rest of the preview...

Off. Eff.
Def. Eff.
FTr 3PAr TS% OReb.% DReb.% TOV%

The Sixers played at the league's fastest pace, using over 101 possessions per game in 2013-14.  There are certain things that come along with playing that fast with so little talent.  The Sixers posted the league's highest turnover rate, lowest True Shooting% and (surprise!) the league's worst Offensive Efficiency rating.  Another year of experience for Michael Carter-Williams should curb the turnover numbers a bit.  In terms of 3PAr and FTr, Philly ranked in the middle of the league.  With more young players at all positions, the lackluster efficiency ratings are likely to re-occur unless Brett Brown can work miracles teaching the offense he brought with him from San Antonio.

The defense was slightly better than the offense, finishing in front of the Lakers, Bucks and Jazz in terms of efficiency. This happened, despite their poor rebounding numbers, because the 76ers were excellent at creating turnovers.  The Sixers' 14.9% opponent turnover rate was good for 3rd best in the league.  Adding Nerlens Noel may improve their ability to protect the paint, which is much needed.  Philadelphia allowed opponents to shoot 51.1% on two-point attempts in 2013-14, the league's worst mark.  Defending without fouling was also an issue, as Philly's opponents posted a .244 FTr.


The Sixers offense might look familiar to the Spurs offense, if you kind of cock your head and look close enough.  Rich Hoffman Jr. of Philly.com took a look at Brett Brown's offensive philosophy, which is, at the moment, a watered-down replicate of what the Spurs do.  Hoffman goes through the three main sets that Philly ran last year, which are all built on basic motion principles.  First, Hoffman took a look at the 4-out, 1-in set which is exactly what it sounds like, and the base of what Brown runs.  In this base set, the Sixers place a wing in each corner, with a big man at the block and another trailing the ball-handler.  For detailed breakdowns with video and pictures, open up Hoffman's article.  For the script of the offense, read along!

From there, the offense breaks down into three simple plays: Strong, Weak and Loop. For the breakdown of each play, read through Hoffman's article or click on over to Spurs Motion Offense's blogspot to read a detailed breakdown of how Brown's offense functions.  To keep it short and sweet, the motion offense requires a few things, which the Spurs have perfected over the years.  The first important aspect is timing.  As you can see in the breakdowns from Hoffman and SMO's blog posts, the offense involves a lot of moving parts.  Those moving parts all need to be in the right spot at the right time to create a good look.  The videos that Hoffman provided of the Sixers running this offense (specifically the video of Philly running "Strong") demonstrate what happens when the timing breaks down.  Plays devolve into one-on-ones, inefficient dribbling and a lot of standing around for guys off of the ball if the timing isn't accurate.  With young, inexperienced players, Brown will be tasked with finding the time to correctly implement the timing principles of the motion offense.

The second important aspect that has made the Spurs offense so efficient is that every player on the floor is at the very least an adequate passer.  Guys like Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan routinely post Assist Rate numbers above average for their position due to their fine passing skills and the nature of the offense.  Philadelphia doesn't have guys like that at this point, which is something that GM Sam Hinkie will be tasked with fixing going forward.  He may have a nice piece for the offense in the skilled Dario Saric, but we'll have to wait and see.  For now, the onus will have to be on Michael Carter-Williams to create open shots for his teammates.

The final aspect of what the Spurs do that makes their version of the motion offense work is that they have a trailing big man and wings who can shoot.  Philadelphia had the ideal trailing big man last season in Spencer Hawes, who was traded away at the deadline last year.  For the time being, they don't have an adequate replacement.  They also don't have a bevy of wings who can shoot like San Antonio does.  Hollis Thompson is a strong outside shooter, but Tony Wroten, K.J. McDaniels and Alexey Shved all struggle from behind the arc.  That will be another hole for Hinkie to fix, once Philadelpia decides it's time to start winning again.

The system works, but it requires smart, patient basketball players.  The Sixers don't really have a whole lot of those on the roster right now, so expect more struggles in the halfcourt again this season for the league's worst offense in 2013-14.  If the Sixers can adequately draft and evaluate talent going forward, Brown should have the expertise and patience to install this offense and get it running.  He'll need time, and the patience to not go insane watching Tony Wroten and Alexey Shved operate in Gregg Popovich's precision offense.

Acquisitions: C Joel Embiid (3rd pick), SF K.J. McDaniels (32nd pick), SF Jerami Grant (39th pick), F L.R. Mbah a Moute, G Alexey Shved
Departures: F Thad Young, C Byron Mullens

PG: Michael Carter-Williams
Had a solid rookie season considering he had minimal help.  After surprisingly shooting from the outside with success early in the year, he regressed to expectations as the season went on.  A guard with his size and lack of shooting ability needs to finish better inside the arc (44.0 2P%).  He needs to do better with turnovers too, but it's hard to say if he will, with opposing defenses being able to key in on him.

SG: Tony Wroten
Tony Wroten has no business starting in the NBA.  He shot threes so frequently and so poorly that somewhere Josh Smith is tipping his cap.  His 27.7 USG% is all the confirmation you need that the Sixers are tanking.  To be fair, Wroten may be an okay piece a couple of slots down on a decent team's bench; he's just not starting quality.

SF: Hollis Thompson
Thompson is strictly a shooter, as you can see in his low usage rate, high three point attempt rate and his stellar 3P%.  He'll need to do more this season with the lack of talent on the wings for the Sixers.  Even if he doesn't, if he can replicate last year, his shooting efficiency will be a sight for sore eyes on this roster.

PF: L.R. Mbah a Moute
A guy that they traded for simply because he will be a nice mentor for Joel Embiid is slotted in as a starter.  This starting spot could go to Henry Sims, but if you prefer one to the other, you care too much about the '14-'15 76ers.  He's a low usage forward who doesn't rebound much, but gets to the FT line at a modest rate.  Again, he shouldn't be starting in the NBA at this point in his career.

C: Nerlens Noel (college stats)
The long-awaited debut of Noel will come this season after the Sixers were sure to be extremely cautious nursing him back from an ACL injury that seems like it happened five years ago.  In time his defensive prowess should make the Sixers a better unit at that end of the floor.  Until then, expect some struggles to adjust to the game, especially until he adds some bulk.  His offensive game will be a work in progress too.


PG: Casper Ware
I really liked what I saw of Ware in summer league play, but that's never a guarantee to translate to real action (looking at you, Marcus Banks).  There's not much you can take from Ware's numbers last season, as he only played 116 minutes of NBA basketball.  He hasn't been a consistently reliable outside shooter in college or internationally.

G: Alexey Shved
Another one of the throw-ins from the Thad Young trade, Shved figures to play big minutes off the bench and maybe even start at SG.  He shouldn't though, because he may actually be worse than Wroten.  Again, three point shooting frequency and (lack of) success that could make Josh Smith take a long, graceful bow in his direction.

SF: K.J. McDaniels (college stats)
I really liked the value of getting K.J. McDaniels in the second round, as he has the talent and athleticism of a first rounder.  He'll need to develop a stronger perimeter game to become a starter, but the base is there to build upon him as a player.

PF: Arnett Moultrie ('12-'13 and '13-'14 combined)
Moultrie has had to battle injury issues, and has had some off-court trouble as well.  However, this should be his year to get a chance to contribute.  He may take advantage of that opportunity if he can stay on the court, because even at low usage, his underlying numbers look okay.

C: Henry Sims
Sims could start at PF or C for this team if asked to, because he was solid last season as a role player.  If he can further his development, he may play a bigger role in the offense going forward.  He's an adequate rebounder and has a knack for getting to the FT line.


This team may win less games than the 19 they won last year.  With Thad Young, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes out of town, they'll rely on the young guys even more than last season.  That's fine for a rebuilding team, but there aren't that many young guys with high-end talent.  The potential to see MCW and Noel do fun things may make this team watchable on occasion, but the rest of the squad doesn't offer much in the way of excitement.  Check back next year when the Sixers are rolling out with Joel Embiid on the floor.  Until then, 15 wins should be the expectation, with the internal focus on obtaining the number one pick developing their young players.  Subplot potential: With all of the quality big men available at the top of next year's draft, and a somewhat shallow pool of wing talent, will they consider dealing Nerlens Noel in the off-season? 


There you have it, the league's worst team.  Brett Brown seems to have some upside as a coach, but we likely won't be able to confirm that for a few years.  Philadelphia figures to make a more serious run at the worst record in league history this season, after falling short last year due to their surprising start to the year.  After starting 12-21, the Sixers went on to lose 42 of their final 49 games, a pace which would have equaled 11 wins in a full 82-game season.  With less talent on the roster now than there even was in the second half of last year, can this year's Sixers be bad enough to break the record of 9-73 set by the '72-'72 Sixers?  I'll predict 13 wins, and the league's worst record.

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