PHILADELPHIA – After their worst start in franchise history, one of the worst starts in NBA history, and two seasons that have become ingrained in the casual Philadelphia fan's noggin, it's no secret: The Sixers stink.
But, it's not necessarily the players' fault.
General manager Sam Hinkie has built a team that is virtually incapable of winning 20 games this season. Heck, at this rate 10 would be a successful campaign. But according to Hinkie – at least so far – the organizations is on a path towards potentially building a powerhouse team in the Eastern Conference.
Don't forget, Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant won just 43 games in his first two seasons with the Thunder/Seattle Supersonics. Yes, the number of wins is greater than the last two Sixers seasons, but the point is unswerving: it takes more than two seasons to properly rebuild a struggling franchise.
So, why are the Sixers a horrific 0-16?
It's not all because Hinkie stockpiled the team with borderline NBA talent (though, let's make it clear that they are still "NBA" talent, Kentucky couldn't touch this team), it's more so the execution from the team.
Despite the talent on the floor, head coach Brett Brown has a high level of reverence for his players and what they do.
"As a group, I have a ton of respect for a team that was 0-16 that can go on the floor…and play with a spirit and passion that the group plays with," Brown said Saturday night during his post game press conference.
"That's an incredible character quality of a group that I'm very proud of."
Primarily, they lack the ability to move the ball well enough to create enough opportunities for themselves either A) along the perimeter or B) in the high post where more than 75% of their plays (as the Mavericks matchup on Saturday proved) either originate or attempt to generate offense after a dribble hand-off to the high post or low post.
Secondarily, the Sixers have issues defensively, which should be obvious for a club that hasn't been able to win a game in 16 attempts, no matter how competitive they've been in each (and they have been competitive in a majority of these games). Through 16 games, the squad has a defensive rating of 108.3, good for 23rd of 30 NBA teams, meaning they aren't the worst defensive team in the world.
They also give up 105.7 points per contest (27th in the NBA), again, not the worst. They aren't playing completely horrible basketball. But don't get me wrong. It's still pretty bad.
On defense, they didn't do bad packing in the paint against the Mavericks, but allowed 34 of their 89 shots to be considered "wide-open" attempts.
To recap, their offensive sets have been poor, they can't move the ball, their defensive rotations can give up 34 wide open shots on a given night and, lastly, the Sixers average 18.7 turnovers per game, the league's worst output.
"A lot of this is learning how to close out an NBA game," Brown said about the turnovers. "The bad news is we haven't done it yet. The good news is we keep inching along and we sure are getting closer. We've been in a bunch of 4th periods lately where we are in a position…that that record changes a little bit."
But even with all of those statistics which tangibly describe the Sixers' season-long failure campaign, they've only lost seven of the 16 games by a margin of more than 10 points, four of them (vs. the Bulls, Rockets, Trail Blazers and Magic) were by three points or less.
The Sixers are playing competitive basketball. The players aren't tanking. But ultimately, it's their execution that's creating a losing atmosphere this season, not necessarily the players being put on the floor, though, they are a by-product of what's being set up by the front office.
"You say, 'What do you want to do?' We want to guard the paint and sometimes when you get aggressive on pick and rolls and you get Tyson Chandler rolling, you have to pick where you want to go," Brown said. "You are in rotations no matter what you do. [The Mavs] are the best offensive team in the NBA right now. They put you in those positions."
"Inevitably we want to try to avoid those as much as we can, but it's a part of NBA basketball. We hope to do a better job of closing out shorter and contesting, but to eliminate rotations is unrealistic."
- Sixers' offense came in the following ways: in transition, a lot came in transition, they were 4-for-6 from in transition three pointers, one of the worst shots possible to take in basketball. Two came from Hollis Thompson, one from Alexy Shved, and the lat from KJ McDaniels. Luc Mbah A Moute missed his only triple in transition.
- *Run a very similar play every four minutes for either the strong side or weak side of the court doing an interior dump off to the post and then having the option of A) taking it in with the big man B) dumping it off to the baseline cutter or C) finding an open man on the opposite of the court. It worked: 0/5 times
- Reacted well and "blitzed" pick and rolls defensively, the first quarter ended in this scenario: JJ Barea vs. Michael Carter-Williams on a high P&R, Jerami Grant got caught on the switch defensively and blocked Barea's shot
- *Another play: MCW at the top of the floor, dump off to the four or five on the weak or high corner at 17 feet, waits for another dump off and gets a curl from either the weak side or strong side corner for a mid range jumper. Has worked: 1/3 times, a jumper from McDaniels
- *75% of the Sixers play call was MCW calling it from the top of the key, dumping it to the high post on either the strong or weak side and more or less waiting for the defense to react to the secondary ball-handler to react, if they don't (which most times, especially the Mavs game, they didn't early in the shot clock) the possession gets wasted
- Another combo is: dribble hand off from MCW, screen and roll from the 3 or 4 and then that man looks for the wide open shot if the defense collapses on the ball.
- What never worked no matter how many times they tried it: a 1-3 P&R with LMAM, it never works.
The Sixers keep using the play giving the four the ball at the high post and facing up with the opposition as an option. It rarely works.
They've created the most of their opportunities simply with good ball movement. Good ball movement accounted for three wide-open three-point shot attempts for the Sixers in the fourth quarter when they had the opportunity to seal the game. If they have fluid, moving, passes around the wing or from inside to outside, it would make the offense better than their play call initiating a lot of offense from the forward position from the high post.
Combine that with the fact that they don't have anyone who can truly take over a game at any time and the Sixers are almost destined to fail with their current roster.
A lot of their plays come from dribble hand offs or dump-ins to the post and then look for either a cutter or an open man on the opposite side of the floor. That, or high 1-4 or 1-5 screen and rolls using MCW and Henry Sims or MCW and Nerlens Noel, but the P&R's don't account for much offense for them, easily less than 10% of it coming from the P&R ball handler or the receiver.
So many points from this team come from second chance opportunities and transitional plays, coupled with playing off the mistakes of their opponents, but they give up so many points by not boxing out hefty big men and losing track of players in rotation which accounts for multiple wide open shots.
The offense is coming from ISO situations, but there really isn't any "actual" offense is there? It becomes a seesaw battle between the Sixers and the opposition that the team will never win because there isn't enough talent on the floor. If a team with even a marginal amount of talent (i.e the Mavericks on Saturday without Dirk Nowitzki, Ricky Ledo, Raymond Felton or Jameer Nelson) can't make enough mistakes to give the Sixers a win, then it's the poorly constructed team.
Now, let's look at the actual film from Saturday's loss to the Mavericks:
1) Turnovers leading to transition buckets
The Sixers turned the ball over an abysmal 24 times which in turn led to 16 fast break points and 27 points off their turnovers for the Mavericks. In this shot, the Sixers turn the ball over and just don't get back to start.
The Mavs use their advantage and get Jae Crowder with two men on him and Charlie Villanueva in the corner just waiting for one of those 34 wide-open shot attempts.
Villanueva slides to the corner and finishes easily with no one around him.
2) Defensive breakdowns, like everywhere bro
This shot is Barea and Tyson Chandler and it was just a complete breakdown by the Sixers defensively, especially looking at Noel who, by this point of the game, already got dunked on. Though he did say post-game that he though the interior defense was "solid" and they really "packed it in."
It starts like this:
Somehow, there was a miscommunication and Chandler is just rolling to the basket while Sims is late to react to the ball. This is one of those things about Chandler rolling that Brown was talking about. I guess they picked their poison here too.
Um, yeah, this is how it ended.
3) Sixers offense: the silly dribble dump-off play that never works and the 1-3 P&R that sometimes works
A lot of what the Sixers do offensively doesn't work. It just doesn't. It might be the fact that the talent level for the club is at an all-time low or it might be the fact that they simply can't execute what Brown draws up for them. Either way, after a while some of it is laughable.
The dribble hand off where they give the ball to the high post on either the strong or weak side is supposed to be initiated by the point guard. In this clip, Thompson initiates the play, but then follows the ball, something that he was supposed to wait to do until the defense collapsed on the ball.
Because a quicker player, Devin Harris, was guarding him this was the result.
On the 1-3 P&R that actually worked, because doing a screen and roll with LMAM is the worst idea possible, MCW controlled the floor, got the switch he wanted and found McDaniels in the corner for a triple.
It started like this:
Then McDaniels slides to the corner after LMAM gets the P&R and draws Monta Ellis off of MCW.
The rest ends pretty simple, McDaniels hits a big triple to cut the lead to four with almost six minutes left. Who says the Sixers don't play competitive basketball?
Those three plays define how the Sixers have played competitively and what they've given up all season. Ultimately, a lot of their difficulty when it comes to winning games stems from the lack of talent they have on the floor. But, when it comes to the execution of these plays, the one's aforementioned that rarely work combined with the poorly run 1-3 P&R's, the Sixers are doomed from the start.
At the bare minimum, until Tony Wroten returns, the Sixers will continue losing. Unless, by sheer luck in the third or fourth quarter they don't turn the ball over.
Until next season at the earliest, if you're going to a Sixers game, it better be for a player on the opposing team or be content with the outcome after 48 minutes of basketball.