Wednesday, April 18, 2012

18/4 - Pacers at Sixers

Before I get into the players too much, I just thought I'd take a second to comment on how the coaching styles of Doug Collins and Frank Vogel are drastically different. If you'll recall, I said yesterday that the Sixers and Pacers are similar in that they play without a real star or first option, have a mix of youth and veterans, and are both very talented squads. This is where Collins/Vogel come in. From the opening tip it became apparent that Collins is extremely controlling of his players, and will punish even the slightest indiscretion with an immediate benching. It has resulted in the Sixers playing hard defensively and not turning the ball over, but it has also left them afraid to think for themselves, and they suffer as a result. It seemed at times that Sixers players were afraid of having the ball for fear of turning it over or missing a bad shot and being subsequently benched. Now, Collins is a basketball genius by all accounts, but he seems to have relatively poor people skills, and I've heard it said that he's very high strung and expects perfection on every play. While it's great to have a coach who provides structure, which is what this young squad needed last season, Collins needs to give them a bit more slack to work with, so they can believe in themselves and feel confident taking chances.

Vogel on the other hand, seems to have found a way to connect with his team on a personal level, and they really play like a unit. He's generally positive in his comments, and he gets his players to play hard. It could be put down to the naivete of a young coach versus the weary cynicism of the old vet in Collins, but either way, Doug needs to take a less analytical approach if he's going to help these young players grow into confident decision-makers, rather than mindless drones blindly executing a system.

But on to the game, and before I get into it, I'd like to point out that the guys logging regular minutes on all the teams I've watched recently have looked straight up exhausted from start to finish. There's a definite lack of energy amongst the starters, and the helter-skelter pace has taken its toll on the teams which work hard on both ends. I feel as though players will start to play a lot better come the playoffs simply because of the increased rest time afforded by the post-season, and the deeper they go the fresher they'll be.

Instead of analysing individual players, because these teams are so similar I'm going to work in pairs, looking at the individual matchups and how they panned out.

First up, Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert; two guys who were vying for that All-Star reserve spot at the centre position until Hawes went down with an injury. However, they both slumped a bit after the early season, and it was great to see them battling each other. Both players have great length, being a legit 7 feet tall, both players use finesse more than strength, are relatively slow-footed and can pass well out of the post. Hawes shot well from outside the paint to impact the game, but is still struggling to rediscover his touch inside, which led to a number of missed opportunities at the rim. Defensively Hawes racked up a few fouls, but the majority came late in the game and were usually in help situations, rather than against his man straight up. Hibbert was the opposite, didn't really look for his mid-range shot, instead was happy to post up and go over his left shoulder for a righty hook shot. He went over his right only once or twice, but the Sixers couldn't stop his right hook, and you know the old saying, it ain't broke, so don't fix it. Defensively Roy did a good job contesting shots, but his slow-feet made him a little late on his rotations which led to a couple of fouls and a goaltending call. Both of these guys struggled to make in impact with their passing, as they were each looking to score a bit more. Overall, Roy got the better of Hawes, but it was only a slight edge.

Paul George and Evan Turner; the first two SGs selected in the 2010 draft, and it has since become apparent that George is a SF, and Turner a PG. That said, they did match up with each other for stretches, and they are completely different players. George was locking down defensively, hitting open shots and looking to score, whereas Turner returned to his point forward roots and ran the offense. George hit a couple of nice jumpers, including a 3 in the fourth to extend the lead, and made Turner really work to get shots off, and his length really bothered Evan. It was a quite game for George though, but he played his role defensively, and hustled throughout which is all that can be asked. Oh, and he casually threw down a spinning windmill dunk after the halftime buzzer. Turner was brought off the bench and ran the point for the second unit, he showed a nice handle, and great instincts for where players would be, finding the open man on a number of occasions for easy buckets, and pushing the ball in transition, which leads to good things in Philly. That said, he's just awful defensively, he has very little awareness of where to help, fouled a jump shooter a number of times, got lost on screens and was slow to recover. He measured in with a disappointing wingspan at the draft combine, and it was really noticeable defensively, as he simply wasn't a threat to block the shot of his opponent, or get steals. He was drafted as a SG, but he needs the ball in his hands to be effective, and while that works with Lou Williams playing the point, he doesn't fit into a conventional starting lineup because he's too slow to guard starting PGs. Turner reminds me of Tyreke Evans in that he lacks a defined position, has seemingly no jump shot and needs a very specific team around him to thrive. What he lacks that Tyreke has is a scorer's mentality, great hands defensively and the athleticism to guard 1-3 in spurts. In other words, Turner was a huge reach at number 2, and like Wes Johnson, seems destined to be another great college player taken in the top 5 of the 2010 draft who simply can't succeed in the NBA. George easily won this matchup, despite what the numbers might say.

David West and Elton Brand; two vertically challenged (in hops and height) PFs who make up for it with hustle, finesse and experience. The two veterans were a steady presence out there, Brand's major contribution was getting key defensive boards, getting to the FT line and guarding Hibbert for stretches. West was aggressive trying to score the ball, and while he didn't dominate the game offensively, he was there to score a bucket every so often if the Pacers were on a dry spell. Not much to say about these two, if they meet in the post-season it will bean interesting battle over the course of the series, but neither stood out to me in this game. West won the battle, and his team won the game.

Danny Granger and Andre Iguodala; between these two guys you have the exact same attributes as Paul George and Evan Turner, great shooting, outstanding D, point forward ability, great athleticism and defensive lapses - it's the distribution which is different. Andre is a lockdown defender, great passer, poor shooter and reluctant scorer, whereas Granger is an aggressive scorer, great shooter and inconsistent defender. Granger was in attack mode tonight, taking it to the rim a number of times and also hitting a few treys when given the space. Iggy decided to attack a bit more in the second half, going strong to the rim and getting fouled a number of times down the stretch, and making Granger work for his buckets for the most part. He's an unconventional SF with his inability to shoot from outside and hesitance to regularly attack the rim, but he lead by example tonight to keep the Sixers close when the game was on the line. This matchup was essentially a wash, with both players being important for their team's success.

Leandro Barbosa and Lou Williams; two undersized combo guards off the bench, Lou hit a couple of big 3s and Barbosa carved apart the Sixers D with his penetration and transition play. Williams missed the shot to tie the game with the shot clock turned off, but was a big part of the reason they were so close. Williams won this battle, but it was close, and Barbosa did a great job for the Pacers tonight.

George Hill and Jrue Holiday; both guys excel defensively, have great size for the position and are relatively young. That's more or less where the comparison ends, with Hill being a steady vet already with the experience he gained from Coach Pop in San Antonio, and Holiday seeming unsure of himself or his role at times. Hill had a couple of nifty moves, including one play where he seemed to drive in and out of the paint but reversed at the elbow for an easy bucket, shaking about three Pacers defenders in the process. As well as Hill has been playing, he could see himself replacing Collison as the starter for this Pacers team, as he does the little things necessary to make a team work; knowing when to shoot and when to pass, making sure guys are getting their touches and controlling the tempo. Holiday was the youngest player taken when he was drafted, and he still seems young a few years on. Collins has restricted his freedom to operate somewhat, and he doesn't seem confident attacking the basket or shooting at all, passing up a wide open layup off a Turner feed at one point. Defensively he player well, but overall, Hill outplayed him.

Pacers bench and Sixers bench; the remaining backups are some of the best bench players in the NBA on both sides, as both squads battled ferociously while their starters got some rest. Hansborough was huge in the second half, getting a number of offensive boards and scoring in the paint to bring the Pacers back when they were trailing. Thad Young showed some nice moves in the post, hitting a couple of running hooks reminiscent of Magic Johnson, but he seems too small to start at PF, and is seemingly destined to come off the bench for his career. He's a mismatch nightmare in transition though, racing down the floor quicker than most guards. Dahntay Jones made some nice defensive plays, and a couple of outright flops, even hitting a jumper whilst being fouled by Evan Turner in the early going. The two benches played each other to a wash more or less.

Though the game was tight in the end, the Pacers looked tired throughout, and are definitely a notch above the Sixers, as their record indicates. You never know who will burn you with the Pacers, but someone is ready to step up, as this is a team which legitimately goes 10 deep. They are going to be a tough out in the playoffs, but will struggle against the elite defensive teams like Chicago. Their bench is going to be the difference if they want to beat a team like Miami or Boston, but the Pacers still have plenty of room to grow and look to be legitimate contenders next season. The Sixers are going to exit in the first round again, and after Iggy managed an All-Star berth he has slumped with the rest of his team in the second half of the season. The Sixers and Collins need to take a long look at their players next season and evaluate who is a keeper and who needs to go, and hopefully find some regularity in their rotations so players can get more comfortable and embrace defined roles.

Tomorrow we have the last time the Knicks will play the Nets before they share the state of New York, and it's worth seeing for posterity's sake at the very least.

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