7 Reasons Doug Collins of the Philadelphia 76ers Deserves Coach of the Year
Throughout his persistent, four-stop coaching career, Doug Collins and his beautiful basketball mind have been stricken with Marty Schottenheimer luck.
Then he got canned by Detroit 45 games into the 1997-98 season, a year after squeezing 54 wins out of a washout All-Star team (Christian Laettner, Loy Vaught, Cedric Ceballos, Bison Dele, etc.) plus Grant Hill.
Finally, his perpetual misfortune reached its crescendo when Jordan tabbed his former coach to oversee the Capitol Hill circus featuring the selfish return of His Airness and the worst No. 1 draft choice in the history of sports (Kwame Brown).
Through it all, the former four-time All-Star's prowess as a color announcer left no doubt in the minds of most pundits that he would give coaching one more shot if provided with the right situation.
But it would have taken a truly deep and colorful basketball mind like Collins to see potential in the muckraking Sixers, a team that hasn't been past the first round of the playoffs since 2003. With virtually the same nucleus that has propelled this season's hot start, the Sixers bottomed out with a 27-55 season under the hapless and disinterested Eddie Jordan the year before Collins arrived.
They had no star, minimal fan support and Jordan was Philly's sixth coach in seven seasons between 2004 and 2010.
At best, the Sixers were an easy five games out against the powerful Eastern Conference ruling class. At worst, they were a lottery team with fewer bullets than Jack Sparrow. Either way, it was a multimillion dollar retirement plan for any candidate loony enough to accept the challenge.
At this very moment, the Sixers look no different than the outcast band of mediocre check mongers Collins inherited in 2010...except in the standings.
For bucking just about every NBA middle-class conception and transforming his perpetually mediocre squad into a one-percenter, Collins is the most obvious early candidate for Coach of the Year in recent history. Here's a closer look as to why.
7. Face of the Franchise
This one is plain and simple. All fanbases need that popular individual entity to give them a reason to believe that their team can be a champion.
In almost all other cases, this is a star player. The Los Angeles Lakers have Kobe Bryant. The Oklahoma City Thunder have Kevin Durant. The Miami Heat have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But the Sixers have Doug Collins.
Philadelphia simply doesn't have that front-and-center star who, as the face of the franchise, can make fans truly believe in the team's title aspirations.
This is why, as a former Sixer star player who's always held a strong affinity for his adopted home city, Collins fills this role with refreshing sincerity.
He stars in the team's ad campaigns and is featured on billboards. But most importantly, Collins' ability to back up his original promise of swift and steady progress has made him the most relevant Sixers frontman since Allen Iverson, a dynamic the franchise has been trying to recapture in the five-plus years since AI's departure.
6. Finding the Right Role for Andre Iguodala
Speaking of Iverson's departure, no player has been more victimized by the Sixers' lack of star power than their erstwhile, do-it-all swingman. After the "Answer" was traded in December 2006, Andre Iguodala was easily the best candidate to step up and fill the void.
But his stat-stuffing floor game and suffocating one-on-one defensive capabilities were always better suited for a complementary star. For this reason, Iguodala has always been viewed from a glass-half-empty perspective by unappreciative Sixers fans. The fact that he's never made an All-Star team is a reflection of his perennially poorly casted scenario.
But with six Sixers players averaging double figures in scoring this season, Iguodala is no longer depended on to carry the load. The plethora of scoring options allows Iguodala to focus more on his all-around, defense-centric role.
Just to put it in perspective, Iggy's scoring average of 12.8 is his lowest total since 2005-06. But his rebounding average of 6.8 is the highest of his career.
Instead of forcing Iguodala into an unnatural leading role, Collins has maximized his capabilities by balancing the supporting talent.
5. Steady Improvement of Young Players
No player has been more pivotal towards taking the scoring load of Iguodala's shoulders than Lou Williams, who leads the Sixers with a scoring average of 15.1 points per game on the season.
But the youthful core is barely limited to Sweet Lou.
Twenty-one-year-old Jrue Holiday is already the team's unquestioned floor general and just a small step below the elite point guard echelon in what has become a point guard league.
Twenty-three-year-old Thaddeus Young is providing his usual bench alpha dog 12-plus-point, five-plus-rebound production at the most efficient rate of his career (54 percent field-goal percentage).
Twenty-three-year-old Spencer Hawes is finally starting to validate his "one and done" collegiate potential (10.7 PPG, 8.5 RPG). And sophomore 2010 No. 2 pick Evan Turner, with a vastly improved jump shot (raised his shooting percentage by over four points since last season), is gradually making a case to supplant Jodie Meeks as the team's starting shooting guard.
The scary part? With Collins in their corner, this young nucleus is only scratching the surface of its bountiful potential.
4. Team Defense
Between the departure of Larry Brown in 2003 and the arrival of Collins in 2010, almost every Sixers coach made the hollow promise to improve the team's defense.
With the team giving up a paltry 86.5 points per game in 2011-12, Collins has made good on his promise with flying colors.
You win with defense in the Eastern Conference, especially when you don't have a dynamic scorer who can take over a game.
While the Sixers have had the athletic horses to be a quality defensive team for a few years now, it took a bright defensive mind like Collins to teach them how to combine their athletic capabilities for a common cause.
No development has been more essential to Philly's meteoric rise, as the Sixers have lost just once this season when giving up fewer than 90 points.
3. Margin of Victory
Pegging an upstart as a fluke is perhaps the easiest conviction in sports. The Sixers, in this regard, are no different. Sure they're 17-7 but plenty of fluky footnotes have started 17-7.
The telling statistic here goes deeper than the win-loss record.
The Sixers aren't just beating teams; they're pummeling them like the ancient Romans or the '07 New England Patriots. Their average point differential margin of 10.25 is almost two full points higher than the next-closest competitor (Chicago at 8.73).
Thirteen of Philly's 17 victories have come by double digits, including eight 20-plus-point wins.
These convincing numbers are a pure reflection of Collins' commitment to defense. When the Sixers are having a hot shooting night, they're almost impossible to beat. Philadelphia is 7-2 when scoring 100 or more points.
2. Rebounding After a Loss
From 2004 to 2011, the Sixers never went more than two weeks without at least a two-game losing streak. This season, they've managed to go five to start the season.
Nothing reflects the influence of a coach more than a team's ability to respond to a loss.
With an average age of 26, the Sixers' mental strength, thanks to the steady guiding hand of a coach who's spent more years around professional basketball than virtually all of his players combined, has superseded their youth.
Perhaps the most impressive test example came this weekend, when Collins' team responded to a 20-point, home-measuring-stick loss to Miami with an 11-point road win at Atlanta the very next night.
1. Bucking the NBA's Preeminent Trend
There's a common belief in the NBA that you have to hit rock bottom before rebounding with a meaningful, championship-caliber upswing.
For years, the Sixers were mired in the 40- to 45-win quicksand that netted them supposedly unproductive mid-level draft picks.
But almost miraculously, Collins has made that slower-than-Brian-Scalabrine process look like a worthwhile model of perseverance.
By molding the Sixers' cast of lower-echelon lottery prospects, Collins is slowly establishing a new building model for future middling franchises.
If you stockpile enough quality players and put them with the right coach, there doesn't necessarily have to be a lucrative diamond in the richly balanced jewelry store.
The Sixers are from a finished product. But if they continue to buck the NBA's era-defining trend, it will all come back to the man in charge.