Inside the Sixers: Forging a game plan for the season

Coach Doug Collins (right) talks with his players during the Sixers training camp at St. Joseph's.
Coach Doug Collins (right) talks with his players during the Sixers training camp at St. Joseph's.
Posted: October 03, 2010

You can almost imagine the scene inside Doug Collins' head: a scrambled game of tic-tac-toe.

X's and O's everywhere.

His mind spinning with potential plays, keeping him awake at night deciding which guy goes where, who does best off of a double screen, who needs a pick-and-roll, or will that set really work?

Last year, the Princeton offense was premade, and on this team it was about as flattering as a garbage bag. No matter how often adjusted, it was still just a one-size-fits-all that was baggy in all the wrong places.

It's a nice change, knowing this year's offense is being tailored specifically for this year's roster.

But it will also be more varied, harder to explain, which, come to think of it, is probably the way it should be.

The Sixers are only a week into training camp, but they're just a couple of days from Tuesday's first preseason game against the New Jersey Nets in Roanoke, Va.

What follows is a cheat sheet for opening (preseason) game expectations.

Unless Collins is actively misdirecting, which is unlikely, he'll start a lineup of point guard Jrue Holiday, shooting guard Andre Iguodala, small forward Thaddeus Young, power forward Elton Brand, and center Spencer Hawes.

It's hard to decode exactly what is happening with rookie Evan Turner, the No. 2 pick in the draft and at one point the projected starting shooting guard, but when folks are saying "most importantly he's having fun," and "he's still learning," chances are good that Collins isn't staying up at night building his offense around the 6-foot-7 star from Ohio State.

It appears Collins' decision to keep Iguodala at shooting guard - something he seemed against earlier this summer - was influenced by the strong play of Young, who Collins didn't want to waste with an off-the-bench role.

(Also, and here we're just reading between the lines; Turner isn't ready to start.) On Tuesday, the aforementioned working starting five will be the first unit to attempt the execution of Collins' two favorite words: the cluster and connectedness.

Let's break down each.

One of the most crucial components of the team's new offensive sets is the "cluster," which appears to be a three-man game away from the ball. Collins has been heard evoking the name of his former pupil, Michael Jordan, who ran the play to the tune of something like 25,000 points. With the Sixers, it's a three-man read between - using the starters as an example - Iguodala, Young, and Brand. Brand runs interference while Iguodala and Young make cuts off of him.

Either player can dive backdoor, flare to the corner, curl around the top, or pop out to the wing while Holiday, keeping himself occupied with a pick from Hawes, decides to whom the ball should go.

The most important part of the cluster is that it's simple and reactive and, one would hope, won't take practice time from the defense like last year's Princeton.

Collins also has repeatedly discussed the necessity for his team's play to be connected; he often emphasizes the word by interlocking his fingers.

For a team without a superstar, this is the only antidote.

Maybe Collins clasps his hands together when talking about connectedness because there's no precise explanation for it. When you watch it, you can feel it.

Last year's team didn't have it.

And Collins is working those X's and O's to make sure that changes.

Inside the Sixers:

Blog response of the week

Posted 01:57 p.m., 09/30/2010


People, people, it's day two or three of training camp! Turner might not emerge until early 2011 or even next year. Iverson didn't "hold his own" until at least the second half of the season. Give the guy a break, root for him, and let him adjust to the NBA so he and Jrue can lead this team for a long time. Turner was the player of the year. I repeat, THE NAISMITH PLAYER OF THE YEAR. Other Naismith winners include: KAREEM, MARAVICH, BIRD, WALTON, AGUIRRE, SAMPSON, JORDAN, EWING, DUNCAN, and more recently DURANT. (Elton Brand also won.) Future all-stars/dominant players are way more prevalent than no namers. Just sayin'. Give ET time to grow.

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at 856-779-3844 or

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