Doug Collins hasn't had much to cheer about this season. However, his coaching decisions can be both applauded and questioned.
Ever have one of those years? Doug Collins sure has.
To say that coaching the Philadelphia 76ers this season hasn’t gone as planned is like saying the Titanic had a bit of a sinking problem. When it rains, it pours, and from injuries to underachieving free agents to questionable efforts, it’s time to build an ark in the Delaware Valley.
But, at a time when Philly fans (what’s left of them) are fueling their torches and seeking a convenient scapegoat to run out of town, it could help to put things into perspective and realize there is enough blame to go around—and perhaps even some credit for keeping what's left of the sinking ship afloat.
In a year where much of what’s occurred goes beyond the realm of coaching, both good and bad can still be extrapolated from Collins’ own performance.
OK, calling out your players and questioning their dedication during postgame press conferences may not be “how to win friends and influence people” material, but, in a league which has become increasingly diva-oriented, it is also sometimes necessary.
In the Sixers’ case, it was also warranted for Collins to do so. Fortunately, since it’s quite clear that he cares about his crew, he can do it without much feather-ruffling too.
How quickly many of us forget the Eddie Jordan era, when the inmates ran the asylum and accountability was nil. In fact, it wasn’t even discussed, perhaps for fear of stirring the pot. However, when Collins sees three players not breaking a sweat come tipoff time or guys not hustling on the court, he addresses it.
And, with perhaps the exception of Thaddeus Young, every man on the roster is guilty for not going full throttle at some point.
Whether this current collection of characters decides to listen to the message being preached—to hustle, to persevere, that quitting is not an option—is a moot point. Because that’s what’s needed to win.
Hopefully, Collins’ frank and passionate style will also attract some winners come free-agent time.
Collins can’t play the games himself. Sure, many years and hair follicles ago he could. But now, only his pleas can resonate. And they haven’t.
As a team, the Sixers average less than 17 free-throw attempts per game and have had nights in the single digits on far too many occasions. Only one player—Jrue Holiday—gets to the line more than three times. According to 82games.com, 72 percent of all shots taken are outside the perimeter.
Rarely do you see someone get called for a charge, which may sound good on face value, but it’s not. It means they’re not attacking the rim or giving up too soon. They don’t take many charges, either—a further indictment of their lack of toughness.
Yes, it’s a group that was built around a man who has yet—and may never—suit up for them, consisting mainly of spot-up shooters. But when the shots don’t fall (and they typically haven’t), it’s time to try something else—like attacking the rim. To be successful is to move out of one’s comfort zone.
To watch these guys constantly settle for the low-percentage jumper as opposed to penetrating, however, is extremely uncomfortable.
(Naturally, I write this after Jeremy Pargo plays eight total minutes. But never mind that.)
One thing Collins doesn’t do is play favorites. If you produce, you play. If you don’t, you sit. The egos are checked at the door and there is no salary comparisons. It’s why the 13th man on the bench needs to be ready to go at any given moment and the leading scorer can never let his guard down.
As a No. 2 overall pick and former Naismith Player of the Year, Evan Turner learned this the hard way.
So, when the Sixers picked Pargo off the scrap heap, the coach gave him a shot. And kept giving him his shots, since they kept falling.
Since being released by the Cleveland Cavaliers (never a good thing to have on one’s resume), Pargo has averaged a respectable 7.3 points in 20.8 minutes in his first eight games while knocking down the three at a 50 percent clip. He’s basically playing like a guy who got released by the Cavs and has something to prove.
Many of his teammates could stand to learn something from that or risk sitting.
For every Jeremy Pargo who gets the chance to prove himself on the court, there always seems to be a rookie like Arnett Moultrie who must be wondering what he has to do to get a chance.
It’s become an M.O. of Collins to ease his young players onto the floor. Last year, it was Nik Vucevic, who had 15 DNPs in the regular season and barely sniffed the hardwood in the playoffs. This year, he’s averaging a double-double for the Orlando Magic and serving as the salt on the open, oozing wound that has become the Andrew Bynum deal.
This year, Moultrie’s being "protected" more securely than the Obama kids on the White House lawn. And it doesn’t really make sense.
Appearing in just 22 of the Sixers’ first 56 games, plus a stint in the NBDL, and averaging just over eight minutes per contest, Moultrie has actually shown signs of promise when given the opportunity. Three times he has played 19 minutes or more and has averaged over eight points and almost six rebounds while shooting over 60 percent from the field.
To add to the confusion, the team is woefully small and cannot rebound worth a lick. Meanwhile, the 6’10’’ Moultrie—who is one of only two natural power forwards on the roster, with second-year Lavoy Allen being the other—put up 10.5 boards a game for Mississippi State last year.
(Kinda makes me wonder what the player they traded for midseason—Charles Jenkins—has to offer. Since he's not playing either, that's all I can do.)
In what has become a lost season for Philly, Collins really has nothing to lose by throwing Moultrie a bone every now and then. Who knows? Maybe we’ll find that we have another Vucevic—one that won’t be traded away!
Based on numbers alone, Evan Turner has clearly progressed each of the three years he’s been in the NBA. Ask most people, however, and they’ll say he hasn’t progressed nearly enough.
Too often, Turner—who thrives on momentum—has gone multiple possessions without touching the rock, rendering him useless on the offensive side of the floor. To combat this, Collins has recently had ET share the point guard responsibilities with Holiday on the court playing off the ball. This has ostensibly kept his head in the game and his shot total up: 15.7 attempts resulting in 16 points per contest in his last nine after averaging 13.2 for 13.9 for the season.
True, the field-goal percentage is down and the turnovers are up during that span, but it’s an acceptable trade-off for a player who has been known to get in his own way at times and become invisible at others, especially for a team that desperately needs a second consistently reliable scorer after Jrue. Plus, a 22-point, 10-rebound, nine-point performance on 10-of-15 shooting against the Golden State Warriors on March 2 may indicate that Evan has turned a corner.
And a confident Turner can be a head turner, as opposed to a head scratcher.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But shouldn’t you first try harder to succeed the first time?
Further proof that Collins doesn’t play favorites is his notoriously (and at times inexplicably) short leash on his players. His doghouse has been a popular destination for more than a few in the locker room, where one will log substantial minutes for weeks at a time only to then go several games without cracking the rotation at all.
Nick Young and Dorell Wright have been there. Kwame Brown may now have a permanent suite.
It’s quite difficult to expect consistent play without having a consistent role. Certainly, injuries and an influx of new blood to the roster have necessitated the changes to a degree, but the quick hooks and the dizzying number of lineups (including 11 different starters) are a bit excessive.
For example, what’s the point of starting Brown (which Collins has done 12 times thus far) only to pull him several minutes in with no re-entry (which was done most of those 12 times)? Or how does Damien Wilkins go from playing 29 minutes and scoring 14 points one night only to be a DNP-Coach’s Decision the next two?
Collins will likely tell you that it’s a matchup issue. I’ll tell you that it’s an overthinking-it issue that’s hurting team chemistry.