TrueHoop: Philadelphia 76ers
February, 20, 2014
By Jared Wade
Special to ESPN.com
Special to ESPN.com
Just a few short years ago, Danny Granger was the face of a franchise whose goal was, above all else, reconnecting with a fan base. The locals had grown disgusted by the Indiana Pacers’ collection of brawlers and guys who too often wound up in the police report. Granger, though, was the hope amidst all the chaos.
In time, the front office washed the bile from the decks, and the franchise was ready to begin anew. But to ensure the past stayed buried, the Pacers’ brass rode the mediocrity treadmill for years, choosing clean-cut, middling talent over building a contender in earnest. The team became Danny and the Milk Drinkers.
Granger hit game-winners, won awards and went to an All-Star Game. As his status and confidence grew, he increasingly seemed to fit into the Pacers’ lineage of sharpshooters who knew exactly how good they were. He became easy to cheer for.
But with the franchise sitting on its best chance to win its first NBA title since it lost in the 2000 NBA Finals, there is the possibility that Granger will be sitting at his home, in a different city, while the Pacers throw a championship parade in Indianapolis.
For good reason.
Through Christmas, the Pacers looked like the best team in the NBA. They don't now, not after losing six of their past 14 matchups (after losing only seven times in their first 40 games). A once-historically stingy defense is taking nights off. Paul George is mired in a shooting slump.
You can’t single out Granger for the slide. But he certainly hasn't helped, scoring just 7.7 points per game over this stretch on 35.4 percent shooting. This from one of the league's deadliest deep threats just a few years ago.
By a long shot, today's Granger isn't the Granger whom many Pacers fans grew to adore. Since going down with a knee injury before the 2012-13 season, Granger has been forced to sit around and watch George become the team's new version of himself. It couldn't have been easy, but while rehabbing, he seemed to accept that he would be returning with a diminished role. Then Lance Stephenson barnstormed the league, erasing any chance Granger had at returning to the starting lineup.
While Granger is back on the court consistently for the first time in two years, team president Larry Bird clearly didn't want to wait around hoping that Granger would get healthy enough to become a serviceable scoring threat again. Indiana's season will be a failure if it doesn't win the title, and with Stephenson set for free agency this summer and David West's biological clock ticking, Bird had to make this move.
The deal is a no-brainer in terms of guaranteeing bench production during the playoffs, and it becomes even rosier when you realize that re-signing the newly acquired Evan Turner in the offseason could be a good consolation prize if there isn’t enough money to re-sign Stephenson.
Turner is just better than Granger. This version, anyway.
While that may be true now, it’s tough to distance yourself from what used to be. Granger was the Pacers’ longest-tenured player, the one guy who could look down at his finger and know how much work, how much heartbreak goes into building a team that could win a ring.
If he didn’t before, he certainly does now.
- With the fear of losing out on Kyle Lowry starting to creep in, the Knicks' hunt for a new point guard has brought them to Jeff Teague, sources tell Marc Stein.
- The Nets and Cavs have discussed a swap involving Jason Terry and Jarrett Jack, according to Ohm Youngmisuk and Marc Stein.
- Frank Isola of the Daily News writes that despite the Knicks' interest in upgrading, they may not have the goods to get a deal done.
- The Sixers are open to moving Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey. The cost? Future draft picks.
- What will the Raptors, who are currently third in the retched East, do at the deadline? GM Masai Ujiri talked to the Toronto Sun's Mike Ganter.
- The asking price for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is said to be two unprotected first rounders, NBA.com's Sam Smith writes. Rondo has piqued the interest of the Raptors, sources tell Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun.
February, 10, 2014
By J.A. Adande
LOS ANGELES -- So how would Chr -- sorry, there wasn’t even enough time to ask the question before we had the answer. Chris Paul’s return from a shoulder injury after Blake Griffin occupied the driver’s seat for the past 18 games immediately showed what the Clippers' offense would look like with Paul back: a devastatingly effective force. It produced the largest margin of victory in Clippers franchise history, a 45-point drubbing of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Turns out it was like wondering if water would still run down the riverbed after the next torrential downpour.
The pregame curiosity didn’t stem from if it would work so much as how it would work with Paul running the show again after Griffin had grown accustomed to occupying whatever spot on the court he wanted during Paul's absence. All parties insisted it wouldn’t be a problem, with coach Doc Rivers saying the only noticeable difference would be more outlet passes directly to Griffin, which had been a thing lately. We saw some of those, in addition to times when CP3 gave the ball to Griffin on the fast break much earlier than he usually does.
“We just kind of let it happen,” Griffin said. “If he’s out ahead, I’m going to give him the ball 99 percent of the time. But if I’m out ahead or on the side and we’ve got runners, why not. That’s something we kind of learned throughout this stretch.”
So Paul trusts Griffin with the ball in transition, while Griffin was content to return to playing off the ball in the half-court offense. It took just a couple of minutes to get that point across.
The Clippers won the tip and Paul fed Griffin along the right baseline for a layup. Then he flipped a pass to Griffin for an open jumper that Griffin missed. Next came a Paul pass ahead to Matt Barnes for a transition layup. It was 4-0 and the Philadelphia 76ers wouldn’t come anywhere near that close again. The Clippers led 28-5 after six minutes and 46-15 after one quarter. It was a spectacular 12-minute display of efficiency. They made 72 percent of their shots and assisted on 14 of their 18 baskets.
Yeah, um, so about that reintegration of Chris Paul?
“You guys talked about it,” Rivers told the media. “I said we wouldn’t have to. And we didn’t, as you could tell.”
“It was tough,” Griffin deadpanned. “But we managed.”
Paul said, “It was just tempo,” and that he could figure out where to fit in just from watching games from the bench.
With the compulsories out of the way, the Clippers started freestyling in the second quarter. Paul threw the ball off the backboard to Griffin, who windmill-dunked it home. Then Griffin flipped a behind-the-back pass to Paul, who lobbed it back to him for another windmill dunk.
The Clippers led by as many as 56 points in the second half. Keep in mind, they did it without J.J. Redick, who makes the Clippers even better offensively with his outside shooting and constant movement off the ball. Redick missed his third consecutive game with a sore hip; he is expected to return for the Clippers’ important Western Conference showdown against the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday night.
The Clippers will be more potent. And Paul, whose moves seemed a bit slower and jump shot a little flat, should be a better scorer as he gets his timing back. His court vision is already there. He had eight assists in 23 minutes, which was enough time for him to log a plus-minus rating of plus-42 in the Clippers’ 123-78 romp.
Griffin had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists. DeAndre Jordan rebounded 20 of the 73 shots the 76ers missed.
“They just beat us down,” Philadelphia’s Evan Turner said.
That much was obvious. Apparently, so was the matter of Chris Paul’s impact on the team.
February, 4, 2014
The four NCAA freshmen who define the top of 2014 NBA draft -- Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle -- have each faced recent challenges. Chad Ford on who emerges looking best.
January, 22, 2014
In Forbes' 2014 ranking of team values, the NBA is said to have become a "global money machine," with almost every team making money and franchises like the Knicks, Lakers and Bulls worth more than a billion dollars each. Editor Kurt Badenhausen explains.
Would an injured Kobe Bryant help or hurt the Lakers' chances of a top pick? Can the Pelicans lose enough games to get into the top five so they won't have to give the 76ers their 2014 draft pick? Chad Ford on tanking.
January, 17, 2014
January, 17, 2014
Chad Ford says the Kings are in a sweet position to win a top draft pick, even though they've been trying to win games. Meanwhile, simulations show it's increasingly unlikely any team other than the Bucks, Jazz, Cavaliers, Kings, 76ers, Lakers or Magic will win the top pick in the 2014 draft.
December, 3, 2013
By Tom Sunnergren
Special to ESPN.com
Special to ESPN.com
AP Photo/Matt SlocumPhilly GM Sam Hinkie has shrewdly stockpiled second-round picks for various purposes.When Sixers owner Josh Harris sat behind a podium at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on May 14 and told the world that he’d hired then-Rockets assistant general manager Sam Hinkie to run his franchise, it represented a stunning about-face for the organization. In the course of a month, Doug Collins and the Doug Collins Philosophy of Basketball -- the 76ers’ face and animating force the previous three seasons -- had been repudiated with breathtaking swiftness. With a single hire, an organization that was as mired in traditional thinking as any in the sport had suddenly and completely devoted itself to a bold new pursuit: mastering the science of winning basketball games.
Hinkie, a Daryl Morey acolyte who quietly made a name for himself in league circles as perhaps the most probabilistic thinker in a singularly rational Houston front office, threw down the gauntlet almost immediately. On draft night, in his first meaningful move as general manager, Hinkie traded his best player (or at least the player widely believed to be his best) in exchange for a significantly more valuable asset: a future. In return for Jrue Holiday, the rookie GM landed Nerlens Noel (the consensus No. 1 prospect in the run-up to the 2013 draft), a top-five protected pick in 2014 that’s likely to wind up in the lottery and substantially improved odds of gaining a top selection with his team’s own pick in the same heralded draft. The move was a game-changer.
Though Hinkie has denied the trade was a function of the dim view advanced metrics take of Holiday (“A, I wouldn’t disparage [Holiday] and B, I think he’s good and he’ll do a good job in New Orleans this year,” he told me before the season) it strains credulity, given Hinkie’s background and values, to think that it’s merely a coincidence that the point guard he traded is a poor player by measure of these stats while the one he drafted (Michael Carter-Williams) was comparatively an analytic darling. The trade drew a bright red line in the sand: It was the beginning of a new era of player evaluation in Philadelphia.
AP Photo/Chris SzagolaSince a shocking 3-0 start, Evan Turner and the Sixers are 3-12.
The stark changes have extended to in-game strategy, as well. The 76ers’ shot charts between this season and last don’t look anything alike. A Philadelphia team that, under Collins, led the NBA in 16- to 23-foot shots in 2012-13 with 24 a game (deepening the self-inflicted wound, the team was only 28th in field goal percentage from this range), now leads the league in attempts from within 5 feet of the basket and places 12th in 3-pointers attempted.
When asked how conscious the decision to move away from the midrange game was, Hinkie was blunt. “Conscious,” he said with a smirk. “I don’t have a good scale for degrees of consciousness, but it’s something our coaches have focused on.”
And while up-tempo basketball has become something of an analytic shibboleth, the previously sluggish Sixers are leading the NBA in pace of play, using 102 possessions per 48 minutes, almost 10 more per game than they used in 2012-13.
Philadelphia’s data mining is still in its nascent stages, too. The Sixers were one of the first 15 subscribers to SportVU, the camera systems that capture player movement and turn it into actionable data, and have since been installed in every NBA arena. While the organization has been tight-lipped about how precisely this intel influences its X’s and O’s, Hinkie admits to being an enthusiast, and one of the earliest adopters, of the technology. “We [in Houston] were customer zero,” he told a group of bloggers at an October breakfast.
“It’s like a lot of competitive environments,” he said of the NBA. “There’s an advantage, and then it goes away quickly. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t new ones. You have to find new ones.”
And so the Sixers have. One of these “new ones” is centered in the growing discipline of sports science. The team is a client of Catapult Technology, a company started by a pair of scientists from the Australian Institute of Sport that uses GPS sensors to track and record player movement during practice. Catapult purports to help teams individualize exercise schedules and reduce injury rates. “Every player has worn it every day I’ve been here,” Hinkie said. “It can allow you to dial up or down practice intensity or dial up or down conditioning for each player.” Philip Skiba, a sports scientist who studies the benefits of highly individualized training, maintains that endurance athletes can get as much as a 25 percent performance boost from programs like Catapult.
The team’s methodical approach to training is complemented by a new and unique emphasis on nutrition. While the players don’t have strictly individualized diets prescribed to them by the team, they are grouped into several nutritional tiers based on their body-mass index and body fat percentage.
Lavoy Allen, who admitted that he’s on the lowest tier, joked after a recent game he’s just allowed to have “water and leaves off trees” at this point. “It’s pretty specific,” the third-year forward added. “Even when we travel, we get a paper in our room on what we can eat and what we have to stay away from.” The veteran said that, in seasons past, it was a relative culinary free-for-all. “[I was] ordering burgers at 2 o’clock on the morning. Thank God for 24-hour room service.”
It’s important to emphasize that these aren’t merely directives that are ordered from on high, then carried out by puzzled and skeptical foot soldiers. Both the emphasis on fitness and nutrition have the full-throated support of the coach Hinkie hired, Brett Brown, and the staff the organization built around him. Everyone in Philadelphia is pulling in the same direction.
Brown worked closely with the Australian Institute of Sport during his time as coach of the country’s national team and spoke glowingly of its methods after he was hired to lead the 76ers. “You look at cutting-edge technology that comes out of sports science and the [Australian] Institute of Sport is among the leaders around the world, very globally recognized as cutting edge ... My main influence is what went on at the Olympics and at the Institute of Sport and my earlier days [in Australia].” During Brown’s stint in San Antonio, the Spurs became one of the first NBA teams to start using Catapult.
Brown’s staff is like-minded, brought in from organizations that are among the most forward thinking in the sport. Chad Iske and Vance Walberg came over from Denver, Lloyd Pierce from the Grizzlies and Billy Lange from a Villanova basketball program that places a premium on science. This isn’t an accident, Hinkie explained. “We’ve come from similar environments,” the GM said. “Our coaches all come from environments where they value [analytic thinking], and that’s why they’re here. ... This is natural for a lot of people in our office. Because of where they’ve been. Because of what they’ve been doing.”
Philadelphia’s scientific bent can seem academic at first blush, but on closer inspection it looks more like good, old fashioned common sense. Winning basketball requires, at its most basic level, great players to be in great shape and play in a great scheme. The Sixers are simply using the best facts available to get an edge in each of these areas.
It will take time, though. Maybe even years before the machine Hinkie has built starts churning out championship-caliber teams, but that’s fine. Hinkie and the Sixers are willing to wait. Waiting itself might be part of the plan.
“If you’re thinking about how you’re going to win the game tonight, that makes three million of us,” Hinkie said. “[But] if one of your goals is, ‘How are we going to do this eight years out, or nine years out, or four years out, or 30 years out?’ you might be the only person in the world focused on that. It might be a tournament of one rather than a tournament of three million.”
The future is now in Philadelphia. Contention? Well, that might have to wait.