The Sixers are 23-27 as I type this.  Most people consider this an overachieving team.  I predicted in the preseason that they would win 23 games all year, so I include myself among them.  But (in a possibly statistically insignificant way) the 7-6 have underachieved, sort of.  They are four games under .500 but have a positive scoring differential.

The Sixers bear the Hallmark of most teams with scoring differentials better than their record: they lose close games, viz. seven by a possession or less this season (and a handful more by four points) against only one win by similarly narrow margins.

This may be the function of a flaw in execution (maybe), or effort (unlikely), or the moment simply getting too big for a team younger than most (possibly), or just plain bad luck (probably), but regardless it has us here at Philadunkia headquarters questioning the wisdom of the Sixers tried-and-false late game strategy: leaning on a guy who hits jumpers worse than he does anything else (Iguodala) to hit jumpers to win games.

The strange thing is, up to this season, he’s done it pretty well.  Coming into ’10-11 (the most recent numbers available) Iggy had shot 36.4 percent (8/22) in last shot situations, which sounds much better considered against the league average of 29.3 percent in such situations and better still when his 10/11 performance from the line is factored in.

Still, he’s below league average in overall shooting percentage from everything outside ten feet not only for this season and for his career but for every individual season in his career. What should we weigh more heavily, 22 shots or 6000? A few lucky bounces aside, the guy taking the game winners (or losers) for the 7-6 probably shouldn’t be Iggy.

Who then? Lou Williams is also (well) below league average from everything outside ten feet this season, so despite the fact that the job often falls to him when it slips Iguodala, he’s probably not the best candidate either. According to hoopdata, the only members of the squad who have stroked it from outside with above-average regularity this season are Elton Brand, Jodi Meeks, and Andres Nocioni, none of whom can create their own shot. So who?

Much ink has spilt in recent weeks regarding Kobe’s (lack of) clutchness, i.e. the “greatest clutch shooter in the game today” misses two out of every three he takes with the game on the line, about League average in such situations.  As the more thoughtful commentators have pointed out though, the fault for Kobe’s newly-publicized late-game foibles doesn’t belong to him as much as it does the Lakers’ iso-heavy late-game leanings.  With the game hanging in the balance, Kobe is going to take the shot.  Phil knows it. Kobe knows it.  The fans know it.  And, most importantly, the defense knows it. And they adjust accordingly, which often makes for one hell of a difficult shot.  Add it up and the twice defending champs actually have a negative efficiency differential with Kobe in in late/close games –they’re a great team not because of how they play when the game gets tight, but inspite of it. (To –crudely and from memory– quote Darryl Morey, “You don’t win by playing great in close games, you win by avoiding them.”)

Throughout his career (this via Henry Abbot, himself via ESPN stats and information) Kobe’s Lakers have averaged a sort of terrible 82 points-per-possession in the final 24 seconds of close games. Conversely, Chris Paul’s Hornets –a team that doesn’t use a “go-to-scorer” but rather has a sort of quarterback survey the field and decide who’s to take it– have averaged 107.

The Paul thing isn’t an anomaly.  Arturo Galleti has sifted through the data and found that the five most effective teams in the clutch so far this season have been (in order) Dallas, Boston, OKC, Phoenix, and Utah.  What do these teams all have in common? (Outside of lots of tall, black guys) Exceptional point guard play.

The secret to success in the clutch on this level isn’t having one superlatively gifted, cold-blooded killer, give-me-the-ball-or-I’ll-sleep-with-your-sister (and I might do it anyway) guy.  The Lakers taught us that. What you really need is a handful of guys who can hit it from outside and a distributor smart enough to know who has the best shot.

The Sixers don’t need Andre Iguodala or Lou Williams to shoot better or Doug Collins to draw up craftier plays or Jodie Meeks to get a go-to move. 

They just need Jrue Holiday to keep growing.

The guess here is that he will.

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