The notion seems as simple as hitting the open man, running with the ball as far away from the other team as you can, or touching the guy on the other team with the ball as he tries to run toward your base. Three-pointers count for three points, so they're good. Shots near the basket only count for two points, but you make a whole lot of those shots, so they're good. Free throws are easy because nobody is allowed to put a hand in your face, so they're good.
Contested long 2-pointers? Or long 2-pointers in general? Not so good. At best, you're hitting 40 percent of them, which puts you at about 80 points per 100 possessions (assuming you're not Jamal Crawford, and you don't get fouled taking them), which is no good. And by concentrating on defending every other shot while paying no mind to defending the long 2-pointer, the Philadelphia 76ers have run out to an Atlantic Division-leading 10-3 record and a dominant defensive efficiency mark simply by letting teams have at it from 16-23 feet.
Via John Finger at CSNPhilly, here's Sixers coach Doug Collins explaining what NBA coaches shouldn't really have to explain to us (fans, writers … even NBA players) at this point:
"We don't feel like contested two-point field goals will beat you. At the end of the day you'll get beat in the paint, you'll get beat with fast breaks and you'll get beat behind the three-point line, but we just don't feel like teams are going to beat you making contested two-point shots," Collins explained. "Our whole philosophy is to try and make those teams make those shots against us. Sometimes it looks like, 'Man, that guy is really open. Why didn't someone rotate to him?' Well, we'd much rather give a guy a long two rather than rotate over so they can make a pass to a guy for an open three."
The results, even if Philadelphia has enjoyed an easy schedule thus far, nearly speak for themselves.
Until the point where someone mentions that the Chicago Bulls are giving up just as many points (tied for a league-leading 85.8) as the Sixers this year. Chicago plays at the fourth-slowest pace in the NBA, whereas the 76ers run at the eighth-fastest. Philadelphia's mark is obscured because they grab those long rebounds and take quick (and, considering the team's fourth-best mark in offensive efficiency, accurate) shots on the other end. Chicago is brilliant, defensively, but they've been a step behind Philadelphia this year in several figurative ways.
The end result? Philly's 92.3 points allowed per 100 possessions is 3 1/2 points better than Dallas' second-best mark, and 3.7 points per 100 better than Chicago's mark. It's working, darlings.
And it's something to think about every time you hear a color analyst (national, local; we're not naming names but they're out there) lauding a player for passing up on a 3-pointer to step in for a 20-footer. Simple stuff, cats and kittens -- your field goal percentage is going to raise a tick or two higher by taking the long two, but the made shot is worth a third less.
Doug Collins gets it. Pass it along.
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