Free-throws killed the Sixers this past season
The game of basketball can be looked at from three main perspectives: offense, defense and mistakes.
Offense and defense is pretty self explanatory, but mistakes is kind of an interesting one. One of the general rules about mistakes is that whichever team makes the fewest number of them will usually win the game. Even if they don't win, they'll definitely put themselves in a better position to.
Everybody knows areas like turnovers and giving up offense rebounds would fall into the mistake category, but there is one that isn't talked about too much.
It's called a lack of aggression.
Aggression is a two-sided beast. On one end, playing too aggressive will usually lead to foul trouble, forced shots and turnovers.
All mistakes and signs of there being such a thing as wanting it too badly.
On the other end, a lack of aggression leads to passive play—something like giving up a layup or easy dunk when the hard foul would have prevented it, or settling for a 15-foot jump shot when attacking the basket could lead to free-throws.
There is also such a thing as not wanting it enough.
This is an area of the game that consistently plagued Philadelphia time-after-time and potentially cost them a number of wins. There was never a sense of urgency with the Sixers play. You can say they didn't want it enough or that they never understood when it was time to turn up the intensity, but it's all the same in the end.
They were never aggressive enough.
Curious to know how important free-throw attempts per game are?
Eight out of the top-10 leaders in this category made the playoffs. If that's not enough for you, then maybe the Sixers' average point differential will strike a closer chord. Philly got outscored by an average of 3.3 points per game.Combine that with the fact they lost 11 games either in overtime or by five or less points and it's clear to see why shooting such a small number of free throws meant so much to the team's lack of success.
That is right in the middle.
If Philly did better than poor and finished in the middle of all NBA teams with 22.3 attempts, do you really think that their average point differential would be minus-3.3 points per game?
Let's play a little math game.
Just being an average team at getting to the line would have given them 5.5 more free throws per game. The Sixers also shot 72.9 percent from the charity stripe this year. If we assume that they maintain that average on the extra 5.5 free-throw attempts, then we can say that they would have made four of those per game.
That's four extra points that they left on the court.
It all stems from the fact they finished last in drawing fouls, averaging 16.2 times per game. If you're not getting your opponent to foul you, then you're not being aggressive enough.
It's as simple as that.
The craziest part about everything is that this isn't a hard problem to fix. Teaching an individual to be aggressive is unbelievably hard, but turning a team into an aggressive one is a different story.
It all starts with Philadelphia's personnel. There were loads of players who felt more comfortable settling for that jumper instead of taking it to the rim. Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes were the only players that attacked with any ounce of consistency, but even they got caught up in the shooting contests at times.
Will free-agency and a new coach be enough to change Philadelphia's aggression problems?
Finding a scorer with a mind toward getting to the free-throw line will be big this offseason. A player to come off the bench and replace Nick Young and his wild plays that he liked to call shot attempts. Signing a player who isn't known for his jump shot will be the first step.
The next and final step is to bring in a head coach who will change the culture of the team.
If that sounds like an impossible thing to do, then look back three years ago and see what former head coach Doug Collins did. Philly went from an athletic highlight-reel team that didn't know how to stop somebody from scoring, to a defensive juggernaut. Getting a team to play defense is much harder than teaching them to be aggressive, but Collins was able to do it overnight.
Philadelphia's new coach needs to be tough. He needs to know how far to push his guys without making them disinterested in the lessons he has to show and teach. If he can do that—coupled with a roster that's not full of shot-chuckers—then there's no reason for the Sixers to not finish in the top half of free-throw attempts per game next year.
That will only lead to more wins.
Philly's fans shouldn't want it more than the team does.
The Sixers need to get aggressive, and the time starts now.