Countdown To Sixers Basketball: Day 1
Disclaimer: I, unlike most of you out there, believe the 2011-12 Philadelphia 76ers are going to be a very, very good basketball team. Over the next four nights, I will count down the four biggest reasons for another season that will result in postseason basketball (along with the first back-to-back .500 or better seasons since '01-'02/'02-'03) in the Wells Fargo Center. Why? Because A) I love this sport and B) It's time the people of this area got on board with a young, exciting basketball team.
Day 1: The Doug Collins Factor
At some point, the NBA community will begin to realize what kind of instant results come from hiring Doug Collins to run a basketball team. There might not be a coach in the NBA who can consistently get more out of a group of players as compared to his predecessor than Doug Collins.
The four head coaching stops in the career of Doug Collins have all been remarkable in their own way, including the 14-game improvement his Sixer team of last year brought forth. In 1986, Collins took over a Bulls team coming off of a 30-win season. They proceeded to win 40 in his first year at the helm, and 50 during his second. In 1995, Collins took over a floundering Piston team transitioning away from the championship era of the late 80's and early 90's. Despite taking over a team with overwhelming youth in the form of their best players (Grant Hill and Allan Houston), Collins led the team to an 18-game improvement in year one and to 54 victories in year number two. Perhaps his best job, though, came in Washington about a decade ago. The '00-'01 Wizards stunk out loud. 19 wins only tells some of the story. The franchise actually allowed Jahidi White, Hubert Davies, and Tyrone Nesby to each log over 20 minutes per game on the floor. Yet, you-know-who stepped in and won 74 games over the next two seasons despite being handed limited additions such as old Michael Jordan, Kwame Brown, and Larry Hughes.
Some would say the Sixers overachieved last season. I would say it's right on par with what Doug Collins is all about. It's no coincidence that Jrue Holiday is taking steps to becoming an NBA All-Star since his coach said he is destined to be a top-five point guard in the league. Although his shooting percentage dipped last year, almost everything about Holiday's game improved under the tutelage of Collins, a former star point guard himself. He was more efficent in getting to line, turned the ball over at a lesser rate, and at only 21-years old, is a natural play maker in the open court.
It's also hard not to notice the way Collins talks about Andre Igoudala, his defacto star player. While we all can agree that the team would be in a better situation, both financially and possibly on the court, if Iggy were dealt, he's not going to be anytime soon. Which means Collins needs to get the most of out him. Unfortunately, that didn't happen last season. Injuries and fatigue from a summer of playing with the national team, not to mention the pressure of being asked to carry a team he isn't capable of carrying, clearly weighed on Iggy. But it seems at every turn, including this preseason, the coach finds a way to praise his star.
And then there's the case of Evan Turner. The #2 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft had mixed results in his rookie campaign. Unlike some coaches who walk into a scenario with a top two or three pick, Collins wasn't handed a franchise savior. While I believe Turner has the skill set to be a good to very good NBA player as the years progress, he isn't a Kevin Durant/LeBron James talent. Never has been, never will be. But, despite his struggles shooting from the floor last year, Collins sees the improvement and ability.
He was sold to us out of Ohio State as a guy who could nail the mid-range jumper, but just shot a meek 38 percent from mid-range, which was below the league average. But there was some improvement as the season moved along. Turner shot 46 percent after the All-Star break and had a pair of strong games against Miami in the playoffs. Turner worked with shooting coach Herb Magee this summer. And Collins plans on putting the ball back in Turner's hands a little more this season.
"Ball-handling is his strength ... and playmaking," Collins said of Turner. "He can play [from the] one [to] the three spot. That's what I think [when I think] of Grant Hill."
Belief in Jrue. Trust in Iggy. Faith in Turner.
There's a reason that Doug Collins has gotten the type of results he has at so many stops. He wasn't/isn't just a better coach than Stan Albeck, Don Chaney, Leonhard Hamilton, and Eddie Jordan. He gives young players a plan, backs them when they lose confidence, and can teach from a perspective of someone who as been a star in the league.
Why am I optimistic that a better than mediocre season is brewing in Philadelphia. All the reasons outlined above.
And the fact that Doug Collins doesn't just improve from Year 0 to Year 1. He improves from Year 1 to Year 2. By an average of eight more games over his past stops. That would equate to a 49-win season for this Sixer team over the course of a full 82-game tilt, or about 39 victories in a 66-game year.
Coming tomorrow: Day 2: Continuity