Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sixers-Pistons outlook

-Courtesy of

by Ricki Ptakowski

The Back Court

Point Guard- Andre Miller vs Chauncey Billups

This match-up will be the most compelling of the series. Miller had a career year for the Sixers, averaging 17.0 points, 6.9 assists, 4.0 rebounds while shooting 49.2% from the floor. Both his points and shooting percentage are career highs and his turnovers (2.53 per game) are the lowest they have been since his rookie season. His veteran leadership has help so many of his teammates grow and fulfill their potentials. An old-school point guard, Miller looked to get his teammates involved throughout the year. His unselfish play spread and the players realized that the best way to succeed was playing ‘team’ basketball. But Miller did more than just passing, whenever the Sixers needed to have a bucket, in stepped Miller. Andre hit a countless number of big shots throughout the Sixers surge into the playoffs. For the Sixers to have success they are going to rely on Miller to do more of the same. Their half-court offense has struggled at times, so Miller will need to assert himself as a scorer when the O can’t get it going.

Miller’s job won’t be easy though as he’ll have to contend with the Pistons best player- Chauncey Billups. Billups was named to his third All-Star Team and should certainly be in consideration for an All-NBA selection (would be his third straight). Billups and Miller have similar styles in that they both like to bully smaller guards by backing them down on the low block. Billups is an intelligent guard as well, he knows when to push the tempo, when to slow it down, when to get his teammates involved, and like Miller, Billups knows when to take over. There is a reason they call him “Mr. Big Shot.” While the Pistons have had an extraordinary amount of success in recent years, Billups has been the one to step up and not only take but make all the big shots necessary for his team to win. Look for him to get the ball in key situations and definitely down the stretch.

Miller’s passion for the game has never been more evident than this year. At nearly 32 years old, he is having a career season, while leading the Sixers into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. He is averaging a career high 17.0 points per game, while also shooting a career best 49.2% from the field. But it’s not as much about the percentage of field goals Miller connects on as it is about the timing of those field goals.

Shooting Guard- Willie Green vs Richard 'Rip' Hamilton

Like Miller, Willie Green has had a career year as well. Averaging career highs in points (12.4), rebounds (2.5), assists (2.0), shooting percentage (43.6 FG%), and minutes (26.6 mpg). Green can score in bunches too, his ability to put the ball on the floor and spot up for jumpers is key to the Sixers offense. When Green is hitting shots, the Sixers can be a scary offensive team. Although Green’s offense has improved dramatically this season, it’s his defense that has enabled him to stay on the floor for long stretches even if he isn’t scoring. Green usually has the task of guarding one of the opponents best perimeter players and he has done an admirable job at it.

Recently Andre Iguodala credited Green for being a ‘defender on offense,’ citing that because Willie runs through so many screens and never stops moving on the offense end, he tires his opponents out, thus wearing them down so much that they can’t contribute on their offensive end. Sounds eerily familiar to Green’s opponent in this series.

Rip Hamilton might be one of the game’s best mid-range shooters. Leave him open and you mind as well just put two points up on the scoreboard. And just how does the Coatesville, PA native do it? Screens, screens, and more screens. Watch a Pistons game for five minutes and you might see Rip run off a hundred screens. He is constantly in motion, slipping in and out of the paint, running off his big men- Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess. Hamilton has mastered the ability to wear his defenders out, so look for the Sixers to keep fresh legs on him at all times. To make matters worse, in previous seasons opponents would let Hamilton shoot threes, considering it was the weakest part of his game. This year, Rip has made everyone pay for that theory shooting a lights out 44.0% from behind the arc. When you compared that to his career average of 34.5% from three point range, you understand what kind of year Rip is having.

The key to guarding Hamilton will be Green’s ability to stay on him as he runs through the screens. The Sixers will also have no problem switching assignments as Miller, Green, and Andre Iguodala can all match-up with the Pistons back court, but limiting Hamilton’s open looks will be essential if the Sixers are to have success.

Small Forward- Andre Iguodala vs Tayshaun Prince

Although he doesn’t get all the press, Andre Iguodala put together another phenomenal season. The Sixers franchise player led the Sixers in scoring, averaging a career high 19.9 ppg. He was third on the team in rebounds with 5.4 rpg, and second on the team in assists with 4.8 apg. Whether it was scoring, rebounding, passing, or defending, Andre Iguodala did it all for the Sixers this season. What’s scary is that people forget he is only in his fourth season as a pro, and he hasn’t even turned 25 yet, meaning his ceiling hasn’t been set. He took more than 280 shots than he had in any of his previous seasons, and shot a solid 45.6% from the floor. He also almost made more FGs than he did in first two seasons combined, so you can see that even though he has more responsibility, Iguodala hasn’t collapsed under the pressure.

Iguodala’s opponent will be Tayshaun Prince, who is having his typical solid season. Prince will never light up a box score, but his talents can not go unmentioned. At 6-9 with a 7-2 wing span, Prince has freakish length. Combined that with his above average agility and high basketball IQ and you have one of the league’s best defenders. Prince has been named to three All-NBA Defensive Teams and most likely a fourth this season because he can simply lock down opponents. Prince is also one of the best help defenders in the league, always at the top in block shots, so even when he’s not guarding you, you need to account for his presence.

Prince isn’t just a defender though, he can hit open shots, post up smaller players and gets out into the open court as well as anyone. For that matter he is the toughest match-up the Pistons have. Although the Sixers could put Thaddeus Young on Prince to match his size, I doubt Head Coach Maurice Cheeks will want to leave him on Prince for long stretches.

The Front-court

Power Forward- Reggie Evans/Thaddeus Young vs Antonio McDyess

We’ll list both Evans and Young, because at some point in the series, there is a chance Head Coach Maurice Cheeks is going to give a start to both players. If the Sixers decide they want to go big you could even see a starting lineup of Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Young, Evans, and Samuel Dalembert. But for the purpose of match-ups we’ll list both as the Sixers starting power forward.

Reggie Evans has been a source of energy for the Sixers all season long. Cheeks has given free reign to Evans, allowing him to trap and press over all 90 feet of the court. And Evans did just that, pressuring opponents into mistakes and not allowing them to get into a rhythm on offense. Along with his great defense, Evans’ rebounding became a luxury for Philly. Evans was second on the team in rebounds, averaging 7.6 per game. Factor in that he only played 23.3 minutes per game, you see that his rebound per 40 minutes was 15.7 (10th best among players who had at least 50 games played). Although Reggie’s defense gives the Sixers an edge, his offense might set them back. You won’t see the Sixers post Evans much, and if you see him take a jumper let alone make one, chalk it up as free points.

That’s where Thaddeus Young steps up to the plate. Young will give the Sixers some offensive fire power from the four position. He has become very crafty around the rim, and has shown the ability to step back and hit jumpers. Young also gives the Sixers an injection of energy. Most power forwards can’t stay with him on the break, so look for the Sixers to run with Young leaking out into the open court as much as possible when he is on the floor. Young can also hold on his own on the glass, averaging 4.2 rpg.

Their opponent will be the veteran Antonio McDyess. McDyess has been a nice compliment to the Pistons. The 12th-year player originally came to Detroit as a bench player, but played himself into the starting role after the Pistons didn’t resign Ben Wallace two summers ago. McDyess won’t play with his back to the basket much, but has a deadly mid-range jumper. The Pistons will look to drive and kick to him if his man leaves him open. McDyess has always been a solid defender, and leads the Pistons in rebounding this season (8.6 rpg), so don’t look for any lapses at that end of the floor either.

Center- Samuel Dalembert vs Rasheed Wallace

Like many of his teammates Samuel Dalembert has also raised his game to another level this season. Sammy has become a force in the paint- rebounding, dunking, and blocking shots. He is one of 15 players to average a point-rebound double-double for the year (10.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg) and is amongst the league leaders in blocks shots (2.4 bpg- ranks 4th in the NBA). But with Sammy you need to set the stats aside. Yes, he putting up great numbers across the board, but his presence on the court has been immeasurable. Sam’s ability to dominate the paint has been a deterrence for opponents all season. Early in the season when the Sixers had trouble defending penetration, Dalembert was there to make up for the defensive lapses. At the end of the year Sammy was still there to help, but stood out on his own. He shut down the likes of Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Dwight Howard down the stretch. He became one of the Sixers best one-on-one defenders, not needing his teammates to help double-team guys in the low post. That ability allowed the Sixers to stay at home on their primary assignment, and in turn helped the defense improve dramatically.

At 6-10 Rasheed can bang with the best of them on the low block, and has no problem stepping outside and knocking down threes. He is an extraordinary defender, rarely leaving his feet, yet always keeping his hands high in position to block shots. He can rebound and is one of the leagues better passing big-men, not to mention he is the emotional spark for this Pistons team. Chauncey Billups has gone on record saying that when Rasheed is playing well, no one can stop him. The question has never been how good Wallace is, but rather when he will turn it on.

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