Sixers Still Have More Questions Than Answers

Written By Roy Burton On Wednesday, February 02, 2011
Nearly 50 games into the season, and the Sixers are as much of an enigma as they were when they began the 2010-11 campaign more than three months ago.

One thing for certain is that hiring Doug Collins was the best move that the organization has made in quite some time. His tone with this team has been pitch-perfect: stern with the younger players when needed, yet he handles the veterans with the respect they've earned and deserve.

The added benefit of having a former All-Star point guard as a head coach is that he can impart his wisdom on a young guard under his tutelage, provided that the player is willing and eager to learn.

Fortunately, Jrue Holiday fits that bill.

Holiday, who is averaging 14.2 points and 6.6 assists this season, has probably shown the most improvement out of anyone who was on the Sixers' roster last year. The sophomore point guard is tied with the Spurs' DeJuan Blair for most double-doubles by a 2nd-year player with nine.

The other young players on this roster have benefitted from Collins's arrival as well. Although their individual minutes per game are down from last year, Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights are much more efficient players than they were under Eddie Jordan.

For the record, it should be noted that Collins is more reactive than proactive with his rotations - minutes are often doled out based on the lineups used by the opposition. But that also speaks to the overall talent level of the team - Collins doesn't have a single player on his roster than can dictate the flow of a game, so he is forced to coach based on matchups.

And therein lies the problem. Andre Iguodala is the team's lone "superstar", yet leads the team in only one statistical category - steals per game - and appears passive at times on the offensive end.

By default, he (along with Lou Williams) is one of the team's "closers" at the end of games. However, in crunch time, you can usually find him with a puzzled look on his face, staring at the referee as he futilely attempts to draw contact from the opposition as he drives to the basket.

Fresh off of his gold medal performance at this summer's World Championships, it seemed as though Iguodala would soon make that leap to the NBA's upper echelon of stars. However, he was slowed early on by a sore right Achilles', and is finally regaining the explosiveness that has been seen only in glimpses so far this season.

It has become apparent that Iguodala won't be the 24/7/7 kind of player that many Sixers' fans envisioned he would become after he flirted with 20/5/5 back in 2007-08. After 6-plus years in the league, the answer to the riddle that is Andre Iguodala is this: a 17/6/6 complimentary scorer who plays exceptional defense.

Sure, he'll have his nights when he'll go for 30, pull down 9 boards, and harass the other team's best player into a 5-for-19 showing. But he'll also have games where he'll only take eight shots, and defer to the other players on his team.

That's not to say that all is lost, however. In Iguodala's stead, Elton Brand has been a workhorse this season. He's been the team's unquestioned MVP this year, leading the team with 14.9 points and 8.5 rebounds.

More important than the numbers he puts up is the leadership that he's provided to this young team. The Sixers began the season with eight players on the roster less than 24 years old - without the veteran presence of someone like Brand, it would be hard to imagine this team in the position where they are now.

If there was a group MVP award, it would go to the Sixers' bench. Statistically, they're the best in the NBA, leading the league with nearly 40 points per contest. While Williams - who is averaging 13.2 points per game - is the de-facto leader of the second unit, Young and Evan Turner are more than capable of providing 20-plus points on any given night.

The curious case of Evan Turner begins and ends with the fact that he is still coming off of the bench 47 games into his season.

In a perfect world, Turner and Holiday - the Sixers' backcourt of the future - would be learning on the job together, logging 35-plus minutes a night as the cornerstones of the Sixers' youth movement. However, Turner's lack of a consistent outside shot led to Collins tinkering with the lineup for the better part of two months before settling on Jodie Meeks at the starting 2-guard position.

In all fairness, Meeks is what he is: a solid, streaky, spot-up shooter. He doesn't belong in the starting lineup, but Collins starts him at shooting guard because he's the Sixers' only long-range threat.

Even with the quandary at 2-guard, the Sixers currently sit at the 7th place in the Eastern Conference with a 21-26 record. They've already won more home games than they did last year, and are much improved from their 3-13 start.

For the first time in a long time, the outlook for the Sixers is definitely trending upward. However, with questions in the starting lineup, and no go-to option in end-of-game situations, there's no clear-cut answer as to how the rest of this season is going to play out.

If nothing else, in Doug Collins, it appears as though they have the man who just may find the solution.

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