The 2011-12 Sixers lead the entire NBA in point differential. Let that sink in for a second. It's getting close to the point where people are going to have to notice the best team in the league without a star player. The Sixers team defense thus far has put them at the top of the Atlantic Division.
It wasn't long ago that Eddie Jordan glossed over defense in favor of Princeton Offense cramming. Doug Collins came in a year later and installed some of his own systems that led them to being a solid defensive team. But this year, through 7 games against unspectacular competition, they've allowed the fewest points per game including two straight where they've held the Raptors and Pistons to under 75 points.
Is this a case of poor shooting from the opposition? The numbers say teams are shooting 26.3% from three-point range against the Brotherly Lovers and under 40% from the field. That's not, uh, well that's not very good. A ton of credit has to be given to the best wing defender in basketball, Andre Iguodala, but that doesn't explain why everyone else is having their man shoot into a Fisher Price Rim. Excellent team D has been played by Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand, Evan Turner, and even HOLY REPUBLICANS Spencer Hawes. It'd be nice for Dre to get more credit for his world class defense than his mediocre jump shot.
The guard play from Jrue Holiday, Louis Williams and Jodie Meeks hasn't been exactly elite, but the other guys have been picking them up and, let's be honest, it hasn't hurt that they're making one out of every four shots from beyond. I'm inclined to think that yes, the Sixers defense has been quite solid this year. They're typically doubling on one player from the other team (Eric Gordon and LaMarcus Aldridge come to mind) and rotating quickly, closing well on shooters. And for the past million or so years, the Sixers have had some of the worst three-point defense in the league, so it's nice to see them inducing misses.
There's no question that Collins has a goal for what he wants his team to look like. It's why Marreese Speights was traded for a GameCube and Craig Brackins and Andres Nocioni sit on the bench. Collins has kept the offense limited with simple pick-and-rolls and down screens and presumably spent most of his efforts working on defense and trying to generate points off turnovers. This, as a result, has turned the Sixers into a basketball-equivalent of this year's San Francisco 49ers. No one's exactly sure how things are getting done, they're just positive that Spencer Hawes and Alex Smith are friends.
Seven games in, there's not nearly enough of a sample size to determine how long this will hold up, but the half-court offense isn't groundbreaking so it's gotta be the defense. When other teams start making shots, that will be when the team's real test comes. Eventually, shots fall. If the Sixers can withstand runs and hot shooting, then we may be talking about an actual basketball team. Until then, I'm temporarily and warily pleased with how the team looks but there's still 90% of season left to play, so consider my breath unheld.