Collins: Developing consistency crucial for young Sixers

Collins: Developing consistency crucial for young Sixers

March 31, 2013, 2:15 pm
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Evan Turner followed up his 23-point performance in Friday night’s win in Cleveland with a 22-point outing in the victory over the Bobcats on Saturday night.

The three-year veteran shot at a 17-for-31 clip during that span as the Sixers put together their fifth three-game winning streak of the season.

That’s the good part.

The reality is Turner has struggled since the All-Star break. Though he’s scored 45 points with 20 rebounds in his last two games, it equaled the output for Turner over the previous seven games. Call it a microcosm of Turner’s season.

One day Turner is down, like when coach Doug Collins talked about getting him “unlocked” during the early days of the season when he scored 19 points on 6-for-21 shooting over a three-game span. Then there was the 20-game span that followed where Turner scored in double figures in 19 games and was one of the team’s most-productive players.

Instead, Turner has proven to be one of the Sixers’ most maddeningly inconsistent players. But it’s not like he’s the only one. Last month Lavoy Allen had a two-game stretch where he grabbed 24 rebounds and scored 18 points. But he got 22 of those rebounds and 14 of the points in one game.

Spencer Hawes, the 24-year old center, could not get his game together during the first half of the season when he was coming off the bench. But as soon as Collins put him back into the starting lineup, Hawes has been a double-double machine.

When it comes to consistency, the Sixers have been consistent with their inconsistency.

If the Sixers are going to take the next step in the future, more consistent play is going to be at the top of the agenda.

“All young players you have to get to a point in time where you are consistent. I think it’s the hardest thing to do because there is so much that factors into it and it has nothing to do with the game itself,” Collins explained before Saturday’s win over the Bobcats. “You factor in winning and losing, you factor in injuries, you factor in how your team fits and where you fit into that. Then there is the mental aspect of every single night of playing.

“It’s little things like that. We had a three-hour delay [returning from Cleveland on Friday night] and guys didn’t get to bed until 4 o’clock.”

All players go through a stretch where they have to learn how to be consistent. Last season Jrue Holiday followed a 1-for-8 shooting night with an 0-for-9 performance. In that two-game stretch, Holiday had six points, six turnovers and seven assists. At the time, Holiday’s struggles were so profound that even point guard Jason Kidd even offered a bit of a pep talk.

“He’s a young point guard and I’ve been in those same shoes,” Kidd said last season.

Then again, everyone has.

“LeBron James did not make the playoffs in his first two years in Cleveland and if you look at (Oklahoma City’s Kevin) Durant and (Russell) Westbrook, in Durant’s first year they won 20 games and they got Westbrook and won 23,” Collins said. “Sometimes you see the finished product and we don’t know what people went through to get there.”

Holiday had the luxury of playing for a playoff-bound team during his days of inconsistency. After getting to the postseason in his first two seasons, Turner and the Sixers have a difficult road ahead of them if they are to steal the No. 8 seed from Milwaukee. With nine games remaining in the season, the Sixers are 5½ games behind the Bucks. And since the Bucks own the tiebreaker, the Sixers are really 6½ games out of the last playoff spot.

“Here we are still playing a game and mathematically, we’re still in the playoffs. It’s long odds, but we’re playing. Charlotte played last night and we’re both playing back-to-backs and they have [17] wins, so how do you walk into that arena every night and mentally prepare to give your best effort every single night?” Collins said.

So against those long odds, young players like Turner and Allen have to find the inspiration to play tough from somewhere deep.

“You can grow as an NBA player, but what you have to worry about is the losing just beating you down and that’s hard,” Collins said. “I just know from our standpoint, this year, that it’s been a tough year and we’ve tried to keep the spirit of our guys up. When you’re losing basketball games and you go to that arena, it’s hard.”

Put the burden of losing on top of living the life of a professional athlete. Sure, there are a tons of perks for the pro athlete, but the learning curve is almost non-existent.

“What you have to do as an NBA player to be consistent is put together both the mental and the physical aspect. You have to know how to eat properly, how to get your proper rest,” Collins said. “Sometimes you can sleep too much and sometimes you can eat too much. You have to find a balance of when to do the strength and conditioning work or when to do it when you’re not playing a lot.”

It takes some time for a player to figure out how to be a consistent NBA player, but when they do, it’s noticeable. Holiday struggled last season in the compressed and rapid-fire NBA season. However, he made his first All-Star team in his third 82-game season in the league.

Three is the magic number, says Collins.

“There is a whole lot that goes into being a player and what I say is usually by the third year you see guys really start to blossom because they finally figure it out,” Collins said.

Next year will Turner’s third 82-game season in the NBA. Could it be next year when he figures it all out?