Flawed 76ers Roster Can't Get to the Foul Line

Flawed 76ers Roster Can't Get to the Foul Line

The Philadelphia 76ers lost by six points, 99-93, to the Miami Heat Tuesday night. They hung with the Heat throughout, and most game stories will rightly point out that losing Andre Iguodala to a freak Three Stooges eye-poking allowed LeBron James to go wild in the second half. But another storyline, one easily plucked from the box score, might have been just as influential. The Sixers lost by 12 at the free throw line.

Specifically, the Heat made 26 of their 32 attempts from the stripe, while the Sixers made 14 of the just 17 they attempted. That was potentially 15 extra points for the Heat, which actually resulted in 12.

And the discrepancy in trips to foul line between the Sixers and their opponent is by no means limited to last night. It's been a problem for the team all season. It's generated by both their personnel and their style, and it's going to continue to hold them back.

How Bad Is It?
The team's 17 attempts from the line on Tuesday is a total completely in line with their season average of 17.7 -- an average bad enough for dead last in the NBA. 

Of the Sixers who actually get to the stripe, Lou Williams isn't just the team's best, he's one of the league's best. In 26 minutes a game, Lou shoots 4.69 foul shots for 3.75 makes, good enough for 36th in the league. Bear that out over 48 minutes and he's shooting 8.6 per game at 79.9 percent for more than three extra points (6.9). The point being that if Lou played more minutes (not that he necessarily should, not that he necessarily shouldn't), he would move only higher up a list that already includes some of the league's preeminent stars, who make a nightly living at the line.

But Lou is the outlier for this Sixer team. The only other Sixer in the Top 100 in free throws attempted per game is Andre Iguodala, in 67th with 3.24. And AI9's seeing the floor a whole lot more than Lou. After those two, no Sixer other than Thaddeus Young attempts more than two a night.

So why are the Sixers so inept at getting to the line? Two reasons: their personnel and their style.

Personnel
Prior to his spate of injuries, Spencer Hawes played better than just about anyone, probably including his coach, could have expected in the early season. But he's still by no means a low-post scorer. If anything, he's low-post facilitator that can help with floor spacing and who contributes surprisingly adept passing for a big man. And the shame of it is, he's really only one of (when combined, barely) two options the Sixers have down on the block. Yes, Thad can post when he wants and spin to the basket or turn and shoot, but he's still an inside/outside undersized, unconventional power forward.

On the perimeter, the team doesn't have a single slasher, not one guy -- well, other than Lou, to an extent -- who can get to the paint whenever he wants. 

Critics of the professional game have long bemoaned the star treatment the game's best players receive when they are rewarded for taking out-of-control drives into traffic knowing they'll be bailed out thanks to the name on the back of their jersey. While those critics might hate that's the way the game has gone, if you're still a fan, it's a reality with which you have to live. And if you're a Philly fan on top of it, well then it's a reality that's killing you, because the Sixers just don't have anyone with that kind of reputation or status.

Style
So, if you're Doug Collins, and your goal as a good coach is to maximize your team's talent in an effort to win basketball games, what do you do? You run. You defend like crazy, get out in transition on every opportunity and, when you are stuck in the half court, you pass the ball to the best of your ability to generate open looks for a number of guys who cannot create their own.

The Sixers are seventh in the league in fast break points per game (15.6) and eighth in fast break efficiency. But they are 20th in points in the paint, with 39.1 a night.  

Take those away, plus the foul attempts the team isn't getting, and the only thing left is jump shooting. Thankfully, the Sixers are 13th in total field goal percentage (44.8 percent) and seventh in three-point shooting (36.8 percent). But is there anyone on this roster who is any more than, at best, a streaky shooter?

Teams who win NBA championships, even in this modern, point guard dominated era, score in the post. The Sixers can't, and, to make matters worse, they have no one, singularly-gifted talent on the perimeter capable of making up for their frontcourt deficiencies.

What It All Means
The700Level crew was fortunate enough to take in the Sixers-Hawks game last Saturday night as a group, and AU threw out a stat at night's end that caught all of us a least a little off guard. The team's 95-91 win over Atlanta was it's first victory in a game decided by five points or less all season. They had previously been 0-9 in games decided in such a fashion. Indeed, they are tied for dead last with Portland in team winning percentage in "close games," according to TeamRankings.com.

Everyone of the top 12 teams in winning percentage in close games would make the playoffs if the postseason started today. Only four other spots remain, one of which would go to the Sixers, a team who struggles to score in the paint, can't get to the line and doesn't win close games. And with the exception of the Houston Rockets, every one of those 12 teams is either also in the top 12 in foul shots attempted per game (OKC, LAL, MIA, IND, MEM, DEN) or has players who can command foul calls late in games based on reputation (CHI, SA, BOS, ATL, LAC). The Sixers aren't shooting free throws and don't have a player talented enough to make up for that game-long, style-generated shortcoming by drawing fouls as the game winds down.

To hammer home the points about their style, NBA analyst Hubie Brown perhaps said it best after the team's 93-76 loss to the Spurs on March 26:

“If they’re going to get it done from now to the end, the Painted Area, whether you get there on the post-ups or off the dribble, and second-chance points, you’ve got to be able to do that,” he said. “You say, ‘Why?’ Because that’s where you get fouled. That’s where you get the three-point play. Then, if you shoot and miss, down in that Painted Area, once you get the second-chance opportunity, you’re within eight to 10 feet of the basket. That’s where you get fouled and get second chances.”

“When you’re playing the bad teams, you blow right by the perimeter guys, you get down inside,” Brown said. “They make a mistake [in their defensive rotation], you hand it off, you get a layup. Against the plus-.500s, you don’t blow by these people. … [The Sixers] don’t get to the line. They’re not scoring points in the paint.”

For those attached to this very likable team, Hubie believes the Sixers are young enough not warrant wholesale roster changes at this point, and that they need to be further allowed to grow into what they could or could not become. 

That said, veterans Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand have already reached their potential and are clogging up cap room that could otherwise be spent on adding pieces to complement their veteran experience. Of course, the Sixers can't add those pieces, as they're already over the salary cap, though, thankfully, still below the luxury tax. So while many of the young guys still have growing to do, it's almost hard to believe this particular Sixers experiment hasn't already run it's course considering how little room the front office has to maneuver without getting rid of someone.

The Takeaway
The Sixers personnel necessitates playing a style which doesn't result in trips to the foul line that are always valuable in winning close basketball games. The team doesn't get enough shooting foul calls throughout the game and doesn't have a dynamic enough to scorer to suddenly warrant them late in contests. While they often blow out inferior opponents, and remain competitive with the league's best, being competitive makes them just good enough to stay close ballgames they fail to lock down.

In coach Doug Collins' defense, he's gotten this team to play to the peak of its ability. The style they play in the best way to utilize everyone's talents in tandem to win basketball games, be good enough to make the playoffs and be "competitive." Moreover, as a late, but revealing example, the Sixers are good enough as a team to sweep a club like the aforementioned Hawks, who have a better record and more talent, proving that the whole can still be more than the sum of a team's parts.

The problem is when the Sixers play teams with more talent and a sound group philosophy. This Sixers team, as its currently constructed, cannot beat those teams, and, as disappointing as it is to say, without star-caliber roster improvements, likely never will.

*

Photo above credit US Presswire, where, go figure, it was tough to find a shot of a Sixer at the line.

Flyers-Oilers 10 observations: Two big rallies and the win streak pushes forward

Flyers-Oilers 10 observations: Two big rallies and the win streak pushes forward

Ten observations from the Flyers' 6-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night, their seventh straight win and longest win streak since Dec. 2-15, 2011 (see Instant Replay).

1. And the Flyers (somehow) did it. They won their seventh straight game on a night Steve Mason wasn't his best — five goals allowed for the third time this season — and the team defense was largely atrocious. Michael Raffl scored a beautiful goal for the game-winner at 18:31 of the third period and the Flyers held on. This game had a 1980s feel to it. Lots of scoring. Highly entertaining. And the Flyers found a way to win it. This team is on a roll.

2. From the Flyers' perspective, the most entertaining moment of the opening 20 minutes came with 5:31 left in the first period, when Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning and Oilers center Connor McDavid exchanged words post-whistle in the Philadelphia zone.

Manning broke McDavid's collarbone last season, which forced McDavid to miss a chunk of his rookie season. Nothing more than a little pushing and shoving with some trash talk.

Still, the sequence brought the most excitement in the first period. Speaking of which …

3. For a team that entered on a six-game winning streak, the Flyers' first-period effort was disheartening. They needed more than nine minutes to get their first shot on goal, and had more shots in the final two minutes — five — than they did the first 18 minutes.

No real scoring chances, either, out of the nine first-period shots. Raffl had a nice chance, but Oilers goalie Jonas Gustavsson was able to make the stop.

That's two straight games the Flyers have had poor first periods. Tuesday, they were tied, 1-1, with the Panthers, but faced a 1-0 deficit Thursday. Better first periods are needed.

4. Boy, the Flyers woke up quick after the 10-minute mark of the second period.

Down 2-0, the Flyers scored three goals in one minute and 12 seconds in the second period — 12:31, 13:24 and 13:43 — to get the Wells Fargo Center jumping.

Mark Streit started it off with a power-play goal, followed by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and then Claude Giroux. Bellamare beat Gustavsson with a well-placed wrist shot, which may have been the fourth-liner's best shot of his NHL career, for his first of the year.

Giroux's diving slapper gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead 19 seconds later. The loudest the building may have been this season. It had a playoff atmosphere after Giroux's goal.

5. Let's talk about McDavid. We hear about how fast he is, how skilled he is, how special he is, and he is every bit as advertised. You see it more when you see him in person.

McDavid scored his first power-play goal of the season at 4:35 of the second period, his 12th goal of the campaign. He rocketed home a one-timer from Leon Draisaitl off a rebound.

The 19-year-old kid leads the NHL in scoring and just scored his first PPG. The kid is special. Very special. Side note, McDavid chirped Manning after his PPG.

6. And, of course, McDavid was a factor in another Oilers goal. After the Flyers took momentum with their three goals in just over a minute, McDavid took it right back.

While the Oilers were shorthanded, McDavid was double-teamed in the corner left of Mason by Andrew MacDonald and Bellamare, but he was able to shovel the puck to Mark Letestu, who then found Andrej Sekera for a blast by Mason to make it 3-3 at 16:15 of the second period.

The credit for that goal goes all to McDavid. Tremendous strength by a 19-year-old who was being pinned against the boards by a 30-year-old and 31-year-old, respectively.

Sekera's goal was the seventh shorthanded goal allowed by the Flyers — most in the NHL.

7. I was skeptical of using the Bellemare line against McDavid, but at 5-on-5, Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde and Roman Lyubimov did a decent job against McDavid. Still, the Oilers' captain finished with a goal and assist. The Flyers held McDavid without a breakaway.

The Bellemare line did a tremendous job at 5-on-5.

8. The fans grew restless with the referees in the third period. First, Brayden Schenn put a loose puck into the net, but Gustavsson had covered it and the whistle had blown quickly. And then, McDavid tackled Ivan Provorov on a break. Should have been a penalty.

9. We hear about McDavid all the time, but Edmonton has another young star in Draisaitl, who found himself off the McDavid line against the Flyers.

No problem for the 2014 No. 3 overall pick. Draisaitl had a goal and two assists and displayed an uncanny ability to find open players and get them the puck.

In a game featuring McDavid, it was Draisaitl who stole the show. Wow.

10. It was Goaltender Heritage Night at the Wells Fargo Center, but there were no special ceremonies. The honorees, voted by the fans, were Bernie Parent, Ron Hextall, Pelle Lindberg, Pete Peeters and Brian Boucher. Outside of some interviews during stoppages and a cool, little presentation during introductions, there was nothing to write home about. There was an uptick in goalie jerseys in the crowd.

Personal favorite? A Brian Boucher No. 1 Philadelphia Phantoms sweater.

Instant Replay: Sixers 99, Pelicans 88

ap-sixers-joel-embiid.jpg
Associated Press

Instant Replay: Sixers 99, Pelicans 88

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS -- The Sixers avoided setting a franchise mark of consecutive road losses with a 99-88 win over the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Prior to Thursday’s victory, the Sixers had lost 23 straight away from Philadelphia. Their last road win was Jan. 20, 2016 against the Magic. They also had dropped 23 consecutive games on the road from March 29 - Dec. 23, 2015. 

The Sixers held Anthony Davis, the NBA’s leading scorer, to 26 points, below his season average of 31.6. They were led by Ersan Ilyasova, who dropped 23 points again after scoring 23 in the Sixers’ last game against the Grizzlies. 

Third-quarter transformation
The Sixers trailed the Pelicans 57-52 at halftime and struck back defensively in the third. They held the Pelicans to 5 for 25 shooting from the field and 2 for 12 from three in the quarter. The Sixers outscored the Pelicans 19-12 in the quarter to regain the lead. 

Inside the box score
• Davis recorded a 26-point, 11-rebound double-double. He shot 8 for 21 from the field, 0 for 2 from three and 10 for 12 from the line. 

• Ilyasova scored 23 points (9 for 16 from the field, 2 for 6 from three, 3 for 4 from the line), eight rebounds and four assists.

• Joel Embiid contributed 14 points (5 for 15 from the field, 0 for 5 from three, 4 for 5 from the line), seven rebounds, two assists, four blocks and three steals in 27 minutes.

• Sergio Rodriguez gave a solid 16 points (6 for 13 from the field, 4 for 8 from three) and eight dimes.

• Nik Stauskas and Dario Saric combined for 27 points off the bench.

• St. Joe’s alum Langston Galloway dropped 19 points (8 for 16 from the field, 3 for 6 from long range) off the Pelicans’ bench.

Trusting the process in New Orleans
It follows Embiid on the road. Fans chanted “trust the process” while he was at the free throw line. The volume was more quiet than at the Wells Fargo Center, but the effort was there nonetheless. 

Injury updates
The Sixers were without Jahlil Okafor, who remained in Philadelphia battling gastroenteritis. Jerryd Bayless also missed the trip because of left wrist soreness. Former Sixer Jrue Holiday sat out with turf toe. 

Up next
The Sixers will return home to Philadelphia to get in some practice before heading back on the road. They will play the Pistons in Detroit on Sunday.