Sam Hinkie has brought Houston’s offensive model over to Philadelphia. The Sixers are running (lead the league in pace), shooting lay-ups (lay-ups make up 29.2% of their shot attempts, last year that number was 19.5%), taking three’s (25.4% of FGA’s compared to 20.9% last year), and avoiding long two’s (bottom five in mid-range shots per game after ranking second last year). This is a good example of how drastically a team can improve just by better coaching. Doug Collins helped defensively, but he loved mid-range jumpers and reined in his players three-point attempts. Of course, the team’s personnel also changed to a degree that may have been overstated. Dorell Wright, Nick Young, and Jrue Holiday are gone, but Tony Wroten makes up for Wright’s absence, losing Young is addition by subtraction, and so far rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams has performed better than Holiday.
Philly is obviously going to come back to Earth as the season progresses. Carter-Williams’ production should decline after teams have the time to scout him properly or he hits the rookie wall, the team’s depth is still an issue, and the core is at risk to get shaken up if a trade for Evan Turner or Spencer Hawes occurs. Still, this team might not be much worse than last year’s version despite the incredibly low pre-season expectations.
New Coaches and Managing Player Rotations:
I was excited to see Brian Shaw and Mike Malone get head coaching opportunities this season, but not exactly thrilled about where they ended up. So far, I can’t say that I’m very impressed by either. Shaw has made some curious line-up decisions in his first two games. He’s starting JaVale McGee and Anthony Randolph, but they’ve been playing terribly and aren’t logging very many minutes. It seems like he realizes the team made a huge mistake by deciding to build around McGee, but playing Timofey Mozgov 20+ minutes is not exactly a better option. J.J. Hickson also somehow won a starting job despite Kenneth Faried being clearly better. Fortunately, there’s been talk that Jordan Hamilton and Faried will be moved into the starting line-up for Tuesday’s match-up against the Spurs. This is a positive sign, even if two games too late. Hamilton hasn’t seen any playing time this season, but he brings some much needed three-point shooting and size to the line-up with Danilo Gallinari (the team’s best player) and Wilson Chandler out. Denver has struggled from deep so far as they did last year, and at times Shaw has rolled out super small line-ups with Ty Lawson, Randy Foye, and Nate Robinson all on the court at the same time, a defensive death wish. Faried should make rebounding a strength of the team and help the team get easy second-chance points. I would like to see Evan Fournier overtake Randy Foye’s starting spot soon as well. Hopefully, Shaw will tweak his rotation and improve as the season goes along, because so far Denver looks like the worst team in the Western conference.
Malone has been better than Shaw, but he’s also making poor choices with his rotation. Given the timeline of offseason transactions and Malone’s defensive pedigree, it seemed he was one of the driving forces behind the trade for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Unfortunately, the defensive wing didn’t get any run until garbage time in Sacramento’s third game of the year. The Kings gave up a second-rounder and took on Mbah a Moute’s slightly over-priced contract only to not play him? I thought this organization had turned a corner. This wouldn’t be a big deal if the team had solid small forwards playing over him, but Malone is starting John Salmons and bringing Travis Outlaw off the bench. Salmons is shooting 5-for-22 so far, and Outlaw is still Travis Outlaw. I still expect Mbah a Moute to eventually crack the rotation, but it’s frustrating to see Malone riding two notoriously inefficient wings with a disdain for defense.
Larry Drew and the Bucks:
Speaking of coaches that don’t know how to manage line-ups, Larry Drew isn’t a rookie head coach but he is with a new team. After changing his starting line-up more than any coach last year, Drew has landed in his dream scenario in Milwaukee. The Bucks have perhaps the largest collection of mediocre players ever assembled in the NBA and Drew has rolled out a different starting line-up every game. O.J. Mayo has started at point guard, shooting guard, and come off the bench as a sixth man. Only Larry Sanders and Caron Butler have started in all three games, and although Brandon Knight’s injury is somewhat to blame for this line-up roulette, I don’t expect things to get any more stable when this team gets healthy. One of the things not easily noticeable through statistics is the value in consistent rotations. Players get used to when they come into the game and who they play with and their performance declines when they are having their minutes and roles constantly altered. Drew often gets too cute trying to match-up with opponents in the regular season, but adapting to an opponent’s line-up is a tactic that should be reserved for the playoffs, when there is more time to prepare and you face the opponent multiple times. This team is going to have some sharp variance, already coming back from a 20+ point deficit twice this season. Yet even with all his line-up tinkering Drew still manages to make the mistakes of starting Butler and only playing Sanders about 20 minutes a night. Let me help you Drew: start Ridnour (once healthy), Mayo, Delfino, Henson, and Sanders.
Just a PSA that through three games, Houston has shot only 19 mid-range shots. The next closest team? Detroit with 44. They’re also second in the league in corner three’s per game behind Miami (who is attempting a staggering 10 a game so far). Their pace has slowed a bit with Dwight Howard on board, but they might end up with a historic free throw rate as they already lead the league in free throw attempts by a considerable margin. To me, they look like the best team in the Western conference despite concerns over their perimeter defense.