Thanks to the lockout, Philadelphia 76ers Head Coach Doug Collins had more time than he originally anticipated to evaluate his team's performance last season.
The Sixers' coaching staff spent much of the offseason reviewing game film, and trying to figure out how to best utilize the players they'll go to battle with on December 26. While there is plenty of room for improvement on last year's 41-41 record, the 2010-11 76ers did quite a few things remarkably well.
After the debacle known as the "Eddie Jordan Era", Collins arrived in Philadelphia 19 months ago. He immediately began to stress fundamentals and team play. It appears that his charges heeded his advice: six players had double-figure scoring averages last season, yet no one averaged more than 15 points per game.
As a team, the 76ers made it a point to make the extra pass and find the open man for the best shot on each possession. That effort is evident in the box scores: Philadelphia finished sixth in the league in assists last season with 22.7 per game.
That—combined with their league-low 13 turnovers per game—led to an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.75-to-1. Good for second-best in the NBA.
Even more impressive? The 76ers' turnover rate (the percentage of possessions that end in turnover) was a league-best 12.28 percent. A strange occurrence for a team with a roster full of so many inexperienced players.
But while the 76ers clearly took care of the ball last year, they weren't entirely efficient on offense. Now that Collins is familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of his players, we should fully expect him to maximize the talent that he has on the roster.
In Thaddeus Young (currently a restricted free agent) and Andre Iguodala, the Philadelphia 76ers boasts two of the best finishers in the game. Both players are extremely effective at getting to the basket, and both converted more than 70 percent of the time that they got to the rim.
As a team, the 76ers were fifth-best in the NBA in field-goal percentage around the basket (66.9 percent). Typically, a stat like that is directly proportional to a team's free-throw rate (the total number of free-throw attempts in relation to the total number of field goals taken). In fact, it was quite the opposite last season for the 76ers. Their free-throw rate of 27.3 percent was third-worst in the entire league.
Clearly, the 76ers as a whole need to do a better job of drawing contact from opposing defenders. The best way to do that is to make sure that the team's talented wing players—Iguodala, especially—are more aggressive in attacking the rim instead of settling for contested 16-footers.
According to 82games.com, the 76ers had their most success last season when they went with a smaller lineup during games. In their best five-man unit: Jrue Holiday, Jodie Meeks, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, and Elton Brand; the 6'9" Brand was the tallest player on the floor.
With Holiday, Young and Iguodala running the floor, and Meeks spotting up on the wing, the 76ers were a terror on the break. Last season, Philadelphia was third-best in the league with 18.5 fast-break points per 100 possessions.
Defensively, it was clear that the 76ers lacked a notable interior presence last season. The Philadelphia 76ers finished tied for 23rd in the NBA in blocks in 2010-11 (4.3 per game). They routinely had difficulties guarding elite-level power forwards/centers in the Eastern Conference.
In order to address the issue, the 76ers elected to go big with their two picks in June's NBA draft. They selected 7-foot center Nikola Vucevic out of USC, and 6'9" power forward Lavoy Allen from Temple University.
While their defense at the rim was pedestrian, their overall defensive numbers were better than the league average. For the season, they allowed opponents to shoot 45.1 percent from the floor (ninth in the NBA), and held opposing teams to 34.0 percent from beyond the three-point line—tied for fifth-best in the league.
Of course, the most important statistic of all is points per game. The 76ers scored 99.0 PPG last year, which is just a shade under the league average of 99.6.
Doug Collins is already on record saying that he wants Elton Brand to score more this season, but the burden will be on the team's young stars—Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner—to carry more of the load on the offensive end.
With a sharper focus at the frontcourt, coupled with a bit more intensity while on defense; Philadelphia is primed to improve statistically on both ends of the floor. But if you were to ask them, the only numbers the 76ers care about this season are wins and losses.
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