When the Philadelphia 76ers dropped their second straight loss to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night, and their fourth game in their last six, the team revealed their biggest weakness that they face with Andrew Bynum being sidelined. In crunch time, against competitive opponents, the Sixers’ offense becomes very stagnant and ineffective. And, with the team set to square off against a tough opponent in the Indiana Pacers on the road tonight, signs point towards another dry spell possibly occurring late in the fourth quarter.
All of the moves this team made this offseason were centered around Bynum, both offensively and defensively. Offensively, head coach Doug Collins has his guys running a half court set derived from a typical baseline 1-4 formation. With this offensive set, the Sixers have a primary ball handler at the top of the key, or closer to the wing, along with a screening big, with shooters in both corners and another big on the opposite block. With Bynum on the block, the entire defense would over-compensate for his presence, therefore opening up a driving lane for the ball handler. With Bynum setting the screen, he’s clearly going to roll to the basket, which then opens up the off-ball big to pop up to the opposite elbow and frees up the shooters in the corners.
But, without Bynum, none of this reactive defensive motion occurs. This stagnancy is largely due to the Sixers big man who sets the screen for the ball handler. Consider a lineup the Sixers used late against Chicago on Wednesday: Spencer Hawes at center and Thad Young at power forward, with Evan Turner and Jason Richardson in the corners and Jrue Holiday handling the ball up top. When Spencer sets a screen for Jrue, he pops out to the top of the key for an 18-20 foot jump shot almost 90 percent of the time. With that consistency, and no rolling to the basket, the defense is able to easily collapse on Holiday’s drive, which usually forces a contested mid-range jumper with the defense already in primed rebounding position as Hawes is left alone at the top of the key. This was clearly evident when Joakim Noah swatted Jrue’s short jumper with 2:12 left in the game on Wednesday.
In the 4th Quarter of that game, the Sixers took 8 shots in the paint and 12 shots outside of the paint. Understandably, Collins is trying to utilize the ball handling and speed that Jrue and Evan possess when leading an offensive attack, but this team is relying on their guards’ athleticism to get quality looks in crunch time, instead of collective motion from the entire team. Essentially, the guards are playing one-on-five and they’re not even in an isolation set.
As the Pacers and Sixers look to be evenly matched teams, both have earned around .500 records, the Sixers definitely will have to use more late-game motion offense if this contest gets close down the stretch.
Jake Fischer is a Sixers contributor for Buzz On Broad. He also serves as the CAA Columnist for RantSports.com and writes for numerous sections of the Huffington Post. Make sure to follow Jake on Twitter @JakeLFischer.