Inside the Sixers: Collins has a puzzle with missing pieces

Thaddeus Young dunks over the Knicks' Bill Walker in a preseason game. Over Young's NBA career, his player efficiency rating is about five points higher when he's playing power forward - but he's playing small forward.
Thaddeus Young dunks over the Knicks' Bill Walker in a preseason game. Over Young's NBA career, his player efficiency rating is about five points higher when he's playing power forward - but he's playing small forward.
Posted: October 24, 2010

The 76ers are like a boat with two sails but no rudder.

It'll catch a lot of wind and could travel at fast speeds, but it's missing a few crucial components to harness and direct that power.

In other words, the Sixers have too many of some parts, not enough of others - and once this NBA season sets sail, it's likely they'll start veering for uncharted waters.

The Sixers have an overflow of one type of player - the "swingman" - and they've created a situation in which every coach, including Doug Collins this season, is cramming square pegs into round holes.

Or round pegs into square holes. It just doesn't fit.

For 76ers fans, this geometry lesson is nothing new, but it's finally reaching the point where we're running out of common-sense reasons for why it hasn't changed.

A week ago, Collins described the dilemma quite eloquently: "It's like you're robbing Peter to pay Paul," Collins explained, when asked about his frequently shifting lineups and the difficulty of finding five players who flow freely together on the court.

Collins' initial starting lineup of Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand, and Spencer Hawes can't shoot from the perimeter, so the defense will clog the middle. The unit can defend and - in theory - rebound. But without consistent outside shooting, the offense would be forced into difficult fade-away jumpers, something seen too frequently last season.

If Collins slips rookie Evan Turner into the lineup, removing Hawes and sliding the frontcourt up a spot, the same problems exist. If Collins tries Jason Kapono as a starter, perhaps removing Young, he's inserted a shooter but lost some rebounding and added a poor perimeter defender.

In addition, without Kapono, the second unit is without its shooter, thus the "robbing Peter to pay Paul" reference.

This game could continue for hours. How about adding Nocioni? What about Jodie Meeks? But you'd quickly become discouraged with an inability to find the right mix.

Of the Sixers' top seven players, three of them are often playing out of position: Turner, Iguodala, and Young. And Brand, when he starts at center, is also stretching his 6-foot-9 self to do something just a little beyond his capabilities (i.e., guard guys such as New Jersey Nets center Brook Lopez and Boston Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal).

Playing your best players in positions less suited to their talents is a little like using a screwdriver as a hammer. Yes, eventually you could put a nail in the wall, but you're almost always going to be outperformed by the guy with the actual hammer.

And that's the Sixers' plight. Half of their roster is being shortchanged, and when it goes against a team with players suited to their positions, it takes a heroic effort to overcome that handicap.

Before the Sixers' preseason game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, team president Rod Thorn was discussing the necessary talents for an NBA shooting guard: an ability to hit a jumper off a screen and an ability to consistently hit an open outside shot on the swing pass.

Right now at that position, the Sixers are giving the majority of the playing time to Turner and Iguodala. A quick synopsis of each player's talents shows that the shooting- guard skills are not among them.

Round peg, square hole; square peg, round hole.

If we jumped inside either player's head, it's likely they're frustrated at being taken from facets they do well - handling the ball, slashing to the hoop - so they can pop off a double-down screen and miss a long jumper.

And then there's Young.

Young is a power forward, not a small forward. The less he handles the ball on the perimeter, the better he is. The more he catches on the low block, the better he is. The less he dribbles in transition, the better he is. The more he's around the basket for tip-ins and offensive rebounds, the better he is.

Over Young's NBA career, his player efficiency rating is approximately five points higher when playing power forward.

So why wouldn't Young play that spot? Because Brand, whose $80 million contract is no laughing matter, plays power forward.

So when you're watching the Sixers this season and wondering why a team with a maxed-out salary cap can't win more basketball games, this is why.

The pieces overlap. They collide, and they don't make sense together. It's like trying to start a rock band with three drummers but no lead singer, or trying . . .

Well, you get the picture.

Before the team's preseason game against the Toronto Raptors, Collins talked about the mismatched roster.

"That's why I'm here in Philadelphia," Collins said. "They've asked me to come here and try to figure out where we are and who can be here when we're going to be good and then move in that direction."

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan

at 856-779-3844 or

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