By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
It’s no secret that when Sam Hinkie took over as GM of the Sixers, one of the main tenets of the team would be an emphasis on both three pointers and shots at the rim. While nearly any fan could see that the Sixers struggled mightily behind the arc, finishing last in the league in 3PT%, their results at the rim were less transparent. Luckily, NBA.com’s new player tracking system includes a ‘Drives’ category, which measures ‘sny touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks.’ So how did the Sixers fare in such situations?
As you might expect given their overall offensive struggles last season, not well. The Sixers actually had three players in the bottom 25 in the league (min. 100 drives) for FG% on drives. Michael Carter-Williams was 25th-worst in the NBA with a 37.8 FG% on drives, and you’ll see Spencer Hawes (36.8%) and Thad Young (36.9%) on that list as well at 17th and 18th worst. While it’s not overly concerning that the team’s power forward and center struggled to take the ball to the basket (especially with both presumably no longer with the team), one would hope the team’s supposed franchise point guard would do better in such situations.
When it came to MCW’s driving success, it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying, as the rookie ranked 6th in the league in drives per game. Not far behind him in driving proclivity was Tony Wroten, who was 15th in drives per game, but at just 24.6 minutes per night, had one of the higher drives per minute of anyone in the league. Wroten experienced better success than Carter-Williams on such forays to the rim, but was still below average by league standards at 42.7%.
A big factor in Carter-Williams’, and the team’s, overall struggles driving to the hoop was certainly the team’s lack of outside shooting threats. With opposing defenses unconcerned with anyone hurting them from behind the arc, defenders could sink into the paint and make things much more difficult for those Sixers trying to get to the rim. It goes without saying that the more ways an offense is capable of hurting at a defense, the more effective each area of the game will end up being. That synergistic effect is the main reason why the Spurs are so consistently effective offensively year in and year out.
Still, if you look at the top drivers in the league, not far below superhuman LeBron James and his league-leading 63.6%, was Hollis Thompson at 53.3%, good for 12th in the association. Thompson’s success driving, in addition to leading NBA rookies in 3PT%, basically makes him the ideal Sam Hinkie young role player, and provides another reason why fans are so high on him heading into his sophomore season. If Thompson, who would presumably have struggled the most with a lack of quality shooting around him given he was arguably the team’s best outside shooter, was able to have success last season, there really shouldn’t be too much holding Carter-Williams back from at least approaching average levels of production on drives.
The Sixers’ point guard has the size to succeed among defenders in the paint, and given that he’s never going to be an above-average outside shooter, his success in this area will play a large role in his long-term viability as a quality starter. With all eyes toward player development in what will be another long year of the rebuild for the franchise, whether Michael Carter-Williams has the drive to succeed should be a key item on the agenda.