The Philadelphia 76ers entered tonight's game with the Minnesota Timberwolves with a record of three wins and thirty-three losses in the current NBA season, a .091 winning percentage. They have a star draft pick who has been in trouble off the court, a front office which appears to be losing faith in the "process", and a team full of players who would not play on a single other roster in the entire NBA.
That Sixers team made the Wolves look totally pathetic. The Wolves were outworked, outrebounded, outshot, and most pertinently outcoached. They lost this game by ten points but the embarrassment goes far beyond the final score. The Sixers don't win games like this. They don't sprint by an opposing defense to throw down massive dunks. They don't set their home crowd to cheering for defensive stop after defensive stop.
Watch this game again, and watch how the Sixers play on offense, ignoring that you probably can't identify any of their players. They rotate to smart positions, find open shots, look for three-pointers and easy shots near the basket. This basketball team that has repeatedly been called a D-League team because of its playing personnel knows how to play a winning brand of basketball, and they demonstrated that tonight.
Imagine for a second if Brett Brown coached the Minnesota Timberwolves. Brown, through hell and high water, has coached the Sixers through pathetic season after pathetic season, and has taught the young players he has how to play the game correctly, natural talent and skill be damned. Imagine what he might be able to do with a roster that has even more youthful potential than his current situation does. Try and picture Brown "lamenting that players are drafted on potential, not achievement" during his pregame remarks.
Brown came from Gregg Popovich's coaching tree in San Antonio, learned how to coach a winning brand of basketball from a proven, championship-winning organization. So did Mike Budenholzer, who has had great success turning the Atlanta Hawks from an afterthought and perennial low-seeded playoff team to an incredible example of team basketball last season. Brad Stevens has a Celtics team with no true stars on it playing some of the best basketball in the Eastern Conference in a smart offensive system, playing above the sum of their parts.
Sam Mitchell won the Coach of the Year award in 2007 for a Raptors team that, after going 47-35 and getting the third seed in the Eastern Conference, bombed out of the playoffs to a New Jersey Nets team that scraped even on the season. He has never received another coaching award of any kind. He was fired from that job less than two years later. That is his only NBA head coaching experience, and is the only piece of his coaching pedigree that is ever brought up.
Sam Mitchell runs an outdated brand of offense that focuses around long twos, actively hindering the development of three-point shots in game situations of many of his young players who need to be taking those shots. Go down the list: Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Nemanja Bjelica, Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio, even Tyus Jones. The Timberwolves attempted five three-pointers in tonight's game, making two of them. The Sixers attempted twenty.
The Timberwolves first went down by seven points with 6:22 remaining in the game, still completely within reach if they could outscore their opponent. They attempted (and made) one three-pointer for the rest of the game. They had turnovers, blocks, and seemingly endless attempts to force Wiggins to create something in the post against a bigger Philadelphia front line. That is not even attempting to win a basketball game. That is actively detrimental to not only an attempt at winning, but to the players' developments.
Sam Mitchell's coaching calling card is supposed to be defense, then. The Sixers' 109 points in tonight's game were the fourth-most points they have scored in a game this season. Ish Smith led the Sixers with 21 points. Smith has scored more than 20 points in a game only four other times in his career. The Sixers' leaders in +/- on the game included Carl Landry at +19, T.J. McConnell at +11, Richaun Holmes at +11, and Isaiah Canaan at +7.
What about rebounding? The Wolves have talented big men who excel at rebounding, right? At the end of the third quarter, Gorgui Dieng had eight rebounds to lead the Wolves. No other individual had more than two rebounds. Not Towns, not Wiggins. The Sixers had twelve offensive rebounds to the Wolves' six. They outrebounded the Wolves by 10, often because the Wolves did not feel it was necessary to attempt to box out their opposing numbers.
So then, what good is Sam Mitchell doing for this team? Is he instilling a strong work ethic in these franchise cornerstones? Show me on the court. Is he teaching defensive schemes and improving areas of weakness from last season? The Wolves continue to look worse on defense, not better. If anything, they have regressed since the beginning of the season. Is he installing a competent offense? Throwing the ball into Wiggins in the post over and over and over again is not an offense, although it is offensive to basketball in 2016.
Mitchell talked extensively about the habits that he feels his players don't have from their lack of coaching after Sunday's loss. Why do their habits continue to look worse? Why could Sixers players dribble straight past the entire defense for easy dunks? Why do players with excellent rebounding pedigrees like Towns and Bjelica no longer remember how to box out, a basketball skill which must be among the first things taught at any level of basketball?
Mitchell said that his players should be embarrassed after their efforts on Sunday night. When is Mitchell going to be embarrassed at the job of coaching that it becomes more and more clear is completely inadequate for the talented roster that he has at his disposal? When will the front office be embarrassed that the product they put on the floor can be comfortably beaten by the worst team in the NBA? When will this change?
This was not just a loss. This should not be written off as "just another game". There was no reaction, and there has to be one. Demonstrate change, demonstrate improvement, or leave and let the team find someone else who will. Enough is enough.