While the 76ers finally struck gold with their talented and young (19 years old) starting point guard Jrue Holiday, the Sixers also currently have questions as to who will be backing up the club’s floor general and poster boy for a brighter future. In my opinion, the Sixers still need to find someone that can give Holiday a breather once and awhile or (knock on wood here) fill in for Holiday should he miss a few games because of injury.
The likely candidate for head coach Doug Collins is combo guard Louis Williams. Williams is entering his fifth-season in the NBA (all with Philadunkia’s home team), but as we learned last year, his game is better suited to be a scorer than a facilitator of an entire offense.
In the first five years of his career, Williams has been given numerous opportunities to compete for the starting point guard spot with the club. His greatest opportunity came last year after Andre Miller bolted to Portland. Unfortunately, Louis was never able to fully take over the reigns for the departed Miller. Some of that blame belongs on the insanity that was the Eddie Jordan era. Some of it falls on the fact that Louis missed six weeks of action last year with a broken jaw. A portion of that blame also belongs on the idea that Louis is a scoring guard and his skill set is not ideal match for playing the point. Still, with Holiday as the starter in 2010-11, the Sixers theoretically only need Williams to play the point position for an average of 12 minutes a night and before his injury last season, some would argue (including Williams) that #23 was finding his groove at the point and thus could handle this type of limited minutes at the “one” this upcoming season. So it is reasonable to think Louis could spell Holiday in a respectable manner for 10-12 minutes a night.
On the other hand, Williams is instant scoring off the bench for the Sixers as a sixth man and it would be very difficult for him to fill the role of the 6th man and back up PG. Williams has averaged double figures in points over the last three seasons as the team’s first guard off the bench and no other “reserve” player currently on the Sixers roster can provide the team with the type of scoring that Williams can offer. So, Collins might not want to lose Williams’ point production and ability to attack the rim that has been such a key to his impact on the Sixers and thus weaken an already thin bench.
Another potential solution to the 76ers back up point guard problem is to spread out the responsibilities of this vital role across several players. Think of it as “backup point guard by committee”. Williams, Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner could split the minutes as Holiday’s substitute. After all, each can all handle the ball; each are above average passers and each should be able to get the Sixers into their offensive sets for a couple of minutes each night.
The reason the trio of Williams, Iguodala and Turner could work is because all three players have been asked to facilitate the offense in the past. We know Williams can handle the ball, but both Iguodala and Turner possess rare ball handling skills for guards/forwards of their size (Iguodala being 6-foot-6 and Turner 6-foot-5). Each of the three also has capability to beat their man off the dribble and get to the hoop for a bucket or to drop a pass to an open big man. More importantly, all theplayers have excellent court vision, especially AI9 and Turner since they can see over the smaller point guards. In addition the two swingmen can post up the undersized player, which draws double teams to them and creates easy baskets for their teammates.
Further supporting the idea of having that trio share the reserve PG duties is the fact that all three have experience playing the point. Obviously Louis played point in training camp and during the early part of the season last year. Iguodala ran at the point guard spot in high school frequently; a little at Arizona as well and at times over his career with the Sixers he has been thrust into the point guard role. This was never more true then last year, when he played point almost nightly and set a new career high in assists with 472 (5.8 assist per game). Rookie Evan Turner has experience at the point guard position as well. Turner, was asked by Ohio State head coach Thad Matta to be the “point-forward” for the Buckeyes last season and he excelled in that role for over 38 minutes per game. This means he is no stranger to having the ball in his hands, running an offense and dropping dimes to teammates (6 apg. as a junior). Thus I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to believe that “Evan Almighty” could handle playing the point for a few minutes a night next season.
There are a couple of issues that could arise with the “backup PG by committee” plan. An obvious one is that Iguodala and Turner are already going to be on the court a majority of the time with Holiday as starters and hauling a lot of minutes. Should Collins choose to run AI9 and / or Turner as the backup point guard he will be taxing his two young budding stars with a significant amount of minutes each night, which could spell disaster for Iguodala and Turner over the NBA’s long 82 game marathon. Thus it is unlikely to happen.
One more potential downfall to a plan that includes Turner and Iguodala is that both players are turnover prone and must learn to take better care of the ball, especially if they are called upon to log minutes at the point guard position. Over Iguodala’s career, he is averaging 2.5 turnovers a game, which is high for a player that does not handle the ball on a consistent basis. In Turner’s last season at Ohio State when he was asked to have the ball in his hands on nearly every possession, he averaged 4.4 turnovers a game; a career high for the Sixers’ rookie.
So where does this leave the Sixers? In my opinion it means that Ed Stefanski should think about fixing the problem by scouring the free agent market for a veteran. The organization does not need to spend a ton of money on a pricey veteran like the Magic did with Chris Duhon (4-years and $15 million) or on Derek Fisher (who resigned with the Lakers). There are cheaper alternatives Stefanski could sign for the League minimum and that could be the Sixers’ antidote to their dilemma of keeping Holiday fresh as the season goes along.
One player with playoff experience and who is comfortable in a backup role that could be a nice fit for the Sixers is Nuggets’ free agent Anthony Carter. Last year with Denver, Carter played only 16 minutes a night behind all-star Chauncey Billups and did a respectable job while Billups was watching from the sidelines.
Yes, Carter is getting up there in age (35), but in a limited role he could pay huge dividends for Collins. In limited minutes last season, his assist to turnover ratio was nearly 2:1 (3.0 : 1.6). But the biggest reason the Sixers should seek Carter’s services is that he is a low risk — high reward type of free agent. Carter can and should be signed without having to break the bank (probably the veteran minimum) and he will be worth significantly more to the 76ers than he’ll be paid.
Besides Carter, there are other options for the Sixers including Luke Ridnour, Earl Watson, Jason Williams, Earl Boykins and Rafer Alston. While Ridnour is the youngest and would be an ideal fit, he is likely going to receive starter’s money, which is absurd and more significantly money than the Sixers are willing offer. As for Watson, he makes a ton of sense for the Sixers with his 5.1 assists per game (in only 29 minutes a game). Although he could be looking for a starting gig with another club, which is something the 76ers cannot offer him.
Out of those five point guards, the two that are the most logical for the Sixers are Rafer Alston and Earl Boykins. Both are players are the downside of their careers and are desperately hoping that a team will take a chance on them again.
Alston missed a good portion of the season last year (and over the last three years as well), but not because of an injury. He left the NBA suddenly in 2009-10 to deal with a family matter (sister’s suicide), but yearns to return to the NBA for another season. Unlike anyone on the 76ers bench, Alston has significant playoff experience and can conduct the offense while Holiday takes a breather. Over his 13-year NBA career, he has a 4.8-to-1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio and has a propensity to hit a shot in the clutch.
While Alston is the prototypical backup at point guard for any NBA franchise, Boykins is not. He lacks the ideal size and height (5-foot-5, 133 pounds) to even play in the NBA, but he makes up for his lack of physical attributes in hustle and heart – two key traits missing from this Sixers roster. The heart that Boykins brings to the court makes him a high-energy type of player off the bench and a possible fan favorite. With the way the 76ers roster is currently constructed, they lack a player that can come into the game and bring an emotional spark the way Nate Robinson did for the Boston Celtics or Lou Admundson did for the Phoenix Suns in 2009-10. The smallish point guard could be that guy who has the building buzzing and brings the fans to their feet.
There’s no question the 76ers have a hole at the back up point guard spot. The question now is whether Stefamski is going to attack that hole from within or ais he going to explorer the free agent market for a solution? Which ever way he goes, the Sixers must find an adequate solution to the backup point guard predicament otherwise Holiday is going to be running on fumes by season’s end.