Kendall Marshall’s Return Should Help Stabilize Sixers’ Offense
It’s no secret that the Sixers’ point guard play has been a major point of contention so far this season.
Sure, there have been some positives. T.J. McConnell, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Arizona, looks like he could be able to develop into a legitimate back-up point guard.
Much of what made McConnell such a strong presence at Arizona — his strong defensive rebounding and ability to push the ball in transition, his court vision, his ability to keep his dribble alive and find shooters on the perimeter, and cutters to the basket, his pesky defense — has translated to the NBA game better than most could have anticipated.
Still, McConnell has some deficiencies which hold him back, most notably his limited threat as a scorer himself in half-court sets. As defenders continue to sag off of McConnell on the pick and roll and don’t commit to rotating over to contest his shots in the paint, the opportunities to make use of his good court vision are limited.
It’s not that TJ McConnell’s passing isn’t a legitimate plus skill, it’s that the passes he has to make have gotten tougher.
|Stat||First 8 Games||Last 16 games||Difference|
|Assists per 48 minutes||13.6||8.1||-5.5|
|Turnovers per 48 minutes||3.9||4.7||+0.8|
|Assists Per Turnover||3.5||1.7||-1.8|
Enter Kendall Marshall.
This Sixers’ season so far has been one filled with trying to anoint a savior, one who can come in and provide the lift that will turn the Sixers from historically bad to just plain, boring, bad.
It’s easy to do that with Kendall Marshall but, like always, it’s best to keep expectations within reason.
Marshall is still not much of a threat to score himself. In fact, his per-possession stats of 14.4 points, 10.5 assists, and a 56.2% true shooting percentage last year with Milwaukee aren’t all that different than McConnell’s 13.4 points, 10.4 assists, and 52.7% true shooting percentage this year, and Marshall isn’t a particularly strong perimeter defender, something that has been plaguing the Sixers all year.
But Marshall does provide some ability — namely thee point shooting — that McConnell lacks at this stage of his career.
As opponents began to figure out McConnell’s weaknesses and take away his passing lanes, McConnell reacted by not only forcing tougher passes, but also by holding his dribble increasingly longer to wait for passing lanes to open up. This caused his turnovers — which he did an excellent job of limiting throughout his collegiate career — to jump, but also caused the Sixers to get into a lot of “butter” (Brett Brown’s word for late-clock) situations.
Marshall should help alleviate both of these problems.
The early results were positive. While Marshall was limited to just 16 minutes of play in his first game back Friday night against the Pistons, the Sixers’ offense looked good while he was on the court: they scored 35 points during his 16 minutes of play, shot 55.6% from the field, and had just 7 of their 21 turnovers during the time Marshall was guiding the offense.
While the addition of both Marshall and Tony Wroten will likely eat into McConnell’s minutes, I don’t think they’re going to evaporate entirely. McConnell has shown enough to continue to warrant minutes, and he does do positive things for the Sixers’ offensive execution.
He’s also been shooting the ball more from the perimeter of late, including going 3-for-4 from three against the Nets, a development which if the trend continues could open up some of those passing lanes and arrest some of the late-clock situations that tended to crop up of late.
But now that Marshall and Wroten are back, rather than having to rely on McConnell for 30 minutes per night the Sixers can instead limit his minutes, but still continue to give him playing time against favorable match-ups while he adjusts to how the league is defending him.
Where I think the biggest change will come is that Isaiah Canaan should see less, and perhaps no, minutes as the lead guard.
The team still struggles, mightily, when Canaan has been the lead guard. Canaan has played 357 minutes without another true point guard (McConnell, Wroten, or Marshall) on the court with him. During that time, the Sixers have shot a dismal 36.9% from the field. and 30.6% from three point range while being outscored by an astonishing 17.1 points per 100 possessions.
Limiting Canaan’s time at the point guard spot is a change that was already coming, as head coach Brett Brown was playing Canaan more and more at the shooting guard spot. Still, Brown felt compelled at times to have as many shooters around his big men as possible, and McConnell, still trying to extend his range to the NBA three point line and hesitant in his willingness to let it fire from deep, could clog things up at times.
With Marshall and McConnell now getting the majority of the point guard minutes, the Sixers should be able to execute their offensive sets better. For a team that is looking to base their offense around, develop, and, perhaps most importantly, evaluate, a pair of post players, Marshall’s presence should help.
The Addition of Mike D’Antoni?
The potential addition of Mike D’Antoni to the Sixers’ coaching staff made even more shockwaves around the league for a team that has all of a sudden become the talk of the NBA.
The news about D’Antoni was quick and sudden, less than a week after the hiring of Jerry Colangelo was announced.
The potential addition of D’Antoni, once again, makes sense on the surface. D’Antoni’s offensive systems preached very similar beliefs that analytically-driven philosophies would eventually adopt, years before they were really talked about league-wide.
D’Antoni’s offensive systems wanted to push the pace — 7 seconds or less, as it was frequently called — to force mismatches and get shots before opposing defenses had a chance to set. He focused heavily on the three point shot, influenced by his time in Europe, avoided ball-stoppers and isolation-heavy shot creators, and valued space above all.
He was pace and space before pace and space became a thing.
|Season||3PTA/Game||League Avg||Rank||Pace||League Avg||Rank|
D’Antoni’s offensive system wasn’t driven by analytics — “Not any [influence]. We didn’t really use [analytics] back then,” D’Antoni explained at the 2015 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference — but instead driven by conclusions he came to on his own.
That doesn’t mean D’Antoni isn’t willing to embrace analytics.
“I’m really happy about the analytics stuff because it helps me to sleep better at night. Because now [I think] we should have done it even more,” D’Antoni described.
So adding a guy who was pretty much a progenitor of the modern-day pace and space offense that Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown have been talking about since they arrived, regardless of how he came about forming those same conclusions, is a positive, and in no way a denouncement of analytics.
(What will be interesting is, if D’Antoni has much influence in the Sixers’ offensive scheme, how they use Jahlil Okafor going forward. D’Antoni used his big men as pick and dive finishers in Phoenix, and has been critical of post-ups in the modern NBA — “To go down and put your best offensive player on the block against their best defensive player, it’s just not a great option anymore. It just isn’t,” D’Antoni told Sports Illustrated just a few months ago.)
If D’Antoni is here to use his experience in successfully implementing the system Brown and Hinkie have already stated they want to employ to provide Brown with help and guidance, while also getting himself back in the game and raising his profile so he can pursue a head coaching job of his own in the near future, it could be a great fit.
The concerns come down to the speed which things are changing in Sixers land. Sam Hinkie took painstakingly long — 3 months — to hire Brett Brown back in the summer of 2013. To have hired a new lead decision-maker, and an associate head coach, in the span of what is essentially two weeks is counter to the slow, deliberate, and methodical nature the team has operated at in the past. It all seems very reactionary, and perhaps even panic-driven, to address a temporary problem in perception.
A bigger concern would be whether or not there are too many cooks — and ego’s — in the kitchen, with two highly-accomplished basketball people (Colangelo and D’Antoni) working alongside two people in Hinkie and Brown who are relatively unproven in their current roles, at least at the NBA level. While both Hinkie and Brown could no doubt benefit from accomplished mentors, the chance for organizational instability if there is constant infighting could make for a potentially messy situation down the line, and if there’s one thing this Sixers team (appeared) to have going for it over the last two-plus seasons, it was harmony and cohesiveness.
In the end, like the addition of Jerry Colangelo, it’s hard to know which road the addition of Mike D’Antoni could go down. There are great benefits to be had, and potential pitfalls they need to avoid.
At the very least, the Sixers will be an entertaining bad team.