-- With reports surfacing that the Sixers are moving toward hiring Mike D'Antoni as associate head coach, the Sixers continue their week of the right sort of headlines -- ones that don't involve historical incompetence or police blotter material.
As the rest of the league has transitioned to the sort of pick-and-roll heavy, pace-and-space offense championed by D'Antoni's Suns a decade ago, it makes sense for Philadelphia to enlist the man who basically created the playbook from which everyone has lifted.
Here's a quick look at how this impacts all parties involved from different angles.
Philadelphia is dead last in the league in offensive efficiency, scoring under 91.7 points per 100 possessions. This not only marks the third consecutive year the Sixers have occupied this spot, but a steady deterioration in efficiency during those three years (from 96.8 to 93.0 to the current 91.7). The 2015-16 mark is also the lowest offensive rating in over a decade, lower than even the all-time worst win percentage team of all-time, the 7-win Charlotte Bobcats of the 2011-12 lockout season.
A large portion of this offensive ineptitude can be directly tied to the dearth of NBA-caliber talent on the roster -- it really doesn't matter what offensive system you run, if you don't have players, it won't work. But the Sixers could stand to revamp their sets to utilize the little talent they have for more favorable situations. With the Philly debut of Kendall Marshall on Friday night, they finally have an NBA-caliber point guard running the show.
Marshall, once on the scrapheap along the fringes of the league, famously found his footing in the NBA while playing for D'Antoni in Los Angeles, averaging 8.0 points and 8.8 assists in 54 games (including 45 starts) during the 2013-14 season, and he's the Sixers' best bet of improving the types of looks they get offensively.
Nerlens Noel in particular would, on paper, be the player who should benefit the most. According to Synergy Sports research, Noel is currently posting up on 19 percent of his offensive possessions, versus 15.5 percent of his offense coming out of the pick-and-roll. For a player with as limited an offensive skillset as Noel's, the idea of giving him the ball on the block and letting him go to work seems foolish at best and detrimental to his long-term development at worst (post-ups, in general, are an inefficient play type, save for those gifted at it or specific mismatch situations). Presumably, D'Antoni's influence would bring a boost of pick-and-roll opportunities for Noel, and playing alongside a competent pick-and-roll partner in Marshall will greatly improve the quality of those opportunities.
Noel's frontcourt mate, Jahlil Okafor, is a different case. Clearly more skilled (and thus more deserving of touches), over 55 percent of Okafor's offense comes out of post-ups and isos, according to Synergy Sports research. While he has been average at both, the true result is a stagnation of the overall team offense; Philly plays six possessions slower when Okafor is on the court versus off it.
Contrary to popular belief, there is room for post-ups within the D'Antoni playbook. They're usually there to create a reaction from the defense, thus manufacturing a shot attempt elsewhere. More likely, Okafor's skill as a passer will be more heavily utilized, something that has been neglected thus far (by way of comparison, Noel is averaging 18 more passes per game than Okafor is!). A lot of D'Antoni's Elbow series features the big as a playmaker from the high post, and there's an opportunity for Okafor to exploit that feature of his game more frequently and effectively.
On the flip side, expect D'Antoni's influence to be felt in the sort of lineups the Sixers trot out. Currently, over 50 percent of Noel's minutes have occurred alongside Okafor, creating some spacing issues as well as abysmal offense: When both players are in the lineup, the Sixers are scoring a paltry 80 points per 100 possessions. By breaking them up and inserting more of a spacing big in their place (whether it's Robert Covington as a small-ball four otherwise) should relieve some of that congestion.
The Colangelo Era
By ending speculation about Brett Brown's future and negotiating an extension, he gave confidence to the staff while simultaneously creating the opening to add a high-profile coach of D'Antoni's caliber without further creating any sort of worries of succession plans. The fact he was able to attract D'Antoni to the worst team in the league speaks volumes in and of itself about Colangelo's power, influence and credibility around the league. Put bluntly, he has been a part of the Sixers for less than a week and he has tangibly made them better without sacrificing Hinkie's obsession over ping pong balls.
Ultimately, that's going to be the defining sentiment around many of the changes that will no doubt occur in Philadelphia over the coming months. The Process wasn't doomed, just flawed, and it drew flaws from its leader. With Colangelo operating at the top of the organization, The Process isn't over, it's better, as the Sixers can practice a more sane version of asset accumulation and talent development.