Inside the Sixers: Collins showing Turner the blueprint for success

Evan Turner wants more playing time, but 76ers coach Doug Collins wants to make sure the rookie works - and improves - within the team's system.
Evan Turner wants more playing time, but 76ers coach Doug Collins wants to make sure the rookie works - and improves - within the team's system.
Posted: April 10, 2011

Evan Turner is in the fire.

Coach Doug Collins is holding the 76ers rookie to the highest standards - demanding balanced strength when guarding a post-up, correcting each poorly defended drive, encouraging him daily to maintain extended focus - in the hopes that Turner becomes molded with these habits.

There is no rift between Turner and Collins. There is, perhaps, the standard clash of youth's shortsighted exuberance with maturity's endless patience.

Turner wants to play - now. Collins wants Turner to play the right way - always.

Turner is looking toward an undefined future, while Collins easily calls upon high-definition examples from his past: He coached Michael Jordan, Grant Hill, and Lindsey Hunter early in their careers.

Turner and Collins exchange daily text messages. There are none of the head games that occasionally accompany spotty minutes, no "entitled rookie vs. stubborn coach" soap opera playing out behind the 76ers' closed doors.

There is this: Collins' decision that he won't use Turner for 25 empty, frequently sloppily played minutes just because he's the No. 2 pick of the 2010 NBA draft.

Collins wants more. Turner must respond.

For those watching, the quality of Turner's minutes often boils down to made shots, but understanding the detailed demands of the Sixers' system becomes trickier. Turner's performance assessments often can be superficial: How many points did he score? In some games, his stat sheet has massive curb appeal, but if you peek inside the front door, you'll find there's a leaky faucet or a door off the hinge. You'd never see these nuisances unless you possessed a professionally trained eye or you watched tape of Turner's minutes.

Kind of how the Sixers coaches do.

So if you want to know precisely why Turner isn't playing, whether you agree with the reasoning or not, here it is.

Let's look at the first half of Friday night's win over Toronto:

With 5 minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Turner was defending Toronto's explosive swingman DeMar DeRozan on the right wing. Turner was crouched low, prepared for defense. DeRozan faked left toward the baseline but drove middle toward the lane. Turner's stance opened wide - too wide, really - and he couldn't cut off DeRozan's angle, eventually fouling DeRozan as he pulled up for a mid-range jumper.

Collins jumped from his seat on the bench. He beckoned Turner toward him and motioned with his hands as if the angle Turner had allowed was incorrect, demanding that Turner focus on making the change. Collins looked bothered, as if this was an exchange he'd had more than once.

Within the team's defensive system, there were two problems with Turner's individual defense: He didn't force baseline, and the middle angle he allowed prevented adequate help from arriving.

The Sixers prefer forcing baseline because it's like pushing someone to the back corner of the room instead of letting that person dart toward the front door. At the front door, as in the middle of the court, all options are available. Along the baseline, as in the back corner of the room, everything is cramped, and the baseline and sidelines serve as additional defenders.

First, aim to force baseline. But if your man makes it to the middle, make his path rounded instead of direct. On the aforementioned play, DeRozan went middle, and he went middle on a direct line; that's not just bad, that's the worst.

This play breaks down to trust, which is vital in Collins' system as opposed to those on other NBA teams. As one defender in a codependent system of five defenders, Turner must avoid only one outcome: his man driving middle on a direct line.

You can almost imagine one of Collins' text messages to Turner: "Attention to detail, Evan, stay focused on each part of the game."

You can argue this is small in the world of an NBA game involving thousands of such movements. You could say it's one leaky upstairs faucet in an otherwise good-looking house.

But since Collins is a fixer, and since he's always been a fixer, he's holding Turner accountable.

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan

at Follow her on Twitter at, and read her blog, Deep Sixer, on


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