If anybody has been watching the league-wide team defensive ratings over the last couple of weeks, you noticed that the Sixers have been heading in the wrong direction. Brian pointed it out the other day at Depressed Fan, and the development does not bode well for future success. At the same time, the offense has been trending upward since the beginning of the season, but not at the rate the defense is slipping. If the Sixers want to remain a .500 team, they need fix the problem by scoring at a much higher rate to cancel out the defensive struggles (which is unlikely), or they have to play better defense.
You know, the opposite of what they did last night.
Derek's got the numbers that opponents are putting up against the Sixers recently, and well, they're damning. Anytime you play worse defense than the Eddie Jordan team over even an eight game stretch, it's not good.
#sixers last 8 games: 110.5 dRTG, 50.6% eFG% against, 71.7% dReb%.First 10: 99.5% dRTG, 47.8% eFG% against, 76.8% dReb%— Derek Bodner (@derekbodner) December 5, 2012
The Timberwolves came into last night shooting 28.6 percent from the three-point line, causing this piece to be written about how historically inept they had been as a team from behind the arc. You sure couldn't tell last night, as they shot a sizzling hot 13-25 from three (And really, that number doesn't tell the story. They were 11-18 with 3:04 left in the third quarter, and then cooled off when garbage time set in). Some of the barrage was due to simply unsustainable hot shooting from Minnesota, but there was a lot of bad defense from the Sixers, too.
I don't want to recap the entire game, because those numbers do a pretty good job of telling the story. Here are some things I saw that went bad last night, and have been seeing recently in the defensive malaise:
1. Evan Turner's Struggles With Rotations and Size: According to My Synergy Sports, Evan Turner is surrendering 1.02 points per possession in all defensive situations, which ranks him 282nd in the league among qualified players. Where Turner struggles is everywhere but isolation, and we'll get to that later. Now take those numbers with a bit of a grain of salt, because Synergy is far from perfect (two of the threes I saw attributed to him should have gone against other players), but Turner needs to become a better rotational defender. His intentions are good, but too often Turner is caught ball-watching and his man shakes loose for a three. Last night he did this twice:
Some of Turner's rotational problems are his teammates' fault. After all, you don't need to rotate if the other guys aren't getting beat and requiring help. On the first play, Kwame Brown is late getting back on defense and Turner needs to defend Dante Cunningham in some capacity. But once Kwame gets back in the paint, Turner has to start rotating to a shooter like Shved immediately. He waits too long to recognize this and Shved makes him pay from deep.
On the video's second play, Lavoy Allen tried to "drop and plug" against the ball screen for JJ Barea, and I actually think the Sixers are in decent shape if nobody rotates because a pass from Barea back to Nikola Pekovic would be difficult. But both Evan and Thad weirdly rotate, leaving both Kevin Love and Malcolm Lee open. I don't know what is exactly expected in the defensive scheme, but that's a pretty horrible defensive possession in leaving both a layup and corner three wide open. Personally, I'd rather give no help and see if Barea can shoot over Lavoy or make a difficult pass back to Pekovic through traffic.
The other problem with Turner's defense is that his opponents are 10-14 against him in the post. Here are two clips where Josh Howard gets deep position on Turner and makes jumpers.
It's not that these are amazing shots that Howard is getting, considering the caliber of offensive player he is. The problem is that he feels comfortable shooting over Turner, which will be a common theme if Collins keeps placing Turner on small forwards.
As I mentioned earlier, there is one area of defense Turner has been excellent at this year, and that's in isolation situations, where he's forced opponents into 5-26 shooting. Here are some of the names you see in that category: Russell Westbrook, Dion Waiters, JR Smith, Ty Lawson, and Kemba Walker. Suggestion one to fix the Sixer defense is simple: Have Jason Richardson guard bigger wings, and let Turner, who seems more accomplished defending guards, play smaller guys who can't post him up. While Turner is far from the defender Andre Iguodala was last year, he can do a good job if you place him on smaller players. But if he guards physical threes like Iguodala did, the results won't be very pretty.
With Turner's extraordinary ability to rebound, an added benefit of playing against guards is providing him with the freedom to swoop in for uncontested rebounds without having to worry about boxing out a guard who is getting back in defensive transition. But the Sixers need stops to utilize their historically great rebounding guard. Evan Turner can't rebound the ball if the other team keeps making so many shots.
2. Bad Pick and Roll Defense
The Sixers' pick and roll defense was bad last night, letting the ball handler shot 9 of 15 from the field. Here are some examples:
Doug Collins has always talked about how much he loves Thaddeus Young's activity on defense, and how much of a weapon his ability to blow up pick and rolls by hedging hard and recovering really is. I agree with him.
On the other hand, you look at Kwame Brown and Spencer Hawes and how far they play off ball screens. I wonder why opposing teams don't try to pick and roll the Sixers to death when either of those two are in the game, because they are basically playing two on one when they choose to do it. Holiday and Turner's struggles last night doomed the Sixers, but Kwame's two rebounds and one free throw in 10 minutes coupled with Hawes' -16 in 22 minutes helped illustrate another point we already knew well: Most of the other rotation members have to play really well if the Sixers want a chance to win, because right now, their big men are giving them very little.
I understood why Collins wanted to try and get more size on the wings this offseason, but what he also needed to do is get more athletic big men. Why he and the front office paid in the neighborhood of 20 million dollars over two seasons for Hawes and Brown was head-scratching to say the least, and that's putting it kindly. Even with their struggles, there's also the matter of Arnett Moultrie, a guy who the team traded away a first round pick for, not being able to see the floor.
3. Jrue Holiday's Shot Selection: This was more just an issue last night, but it should be said that Jrue had a really bad game on both ends of the floor. He was lazy in not being able to stop penetration on defense (which was also the case in Cleveland against Jeremy Pargo), and his offense was lazy.
When I say "lazy," look at these shots. Sure, some of them are threes, but they are tough ones off the dribble early in the shot-clock. Having the focus to create quality shots for yourself, especially against the likes of smaller defenders Barea who Holiday can get any shot he wants against, is purely a mental challenge. Jrue can't settle and jack up early shots, even if a few go in, because over time, these shots aren't good enough for him to become the player he wants to be.
OK, that's basically what I have to say about the game and the team in general. One positive I will note is that the Sixers posted Jason Richardson and Evan Turner against Luke Ridnour mercilessly to start the game, and started 6-9 from the field because of it. In the next couple of quarters, they largely went away from guard post-ups for whatever reason, but it was good to see them do it a little.
In truth, I don't think this team is much more than a .500 team at best (their numbers suggest that they are less than that right now), but you'd like to see a better effort than last night. If they lose because of talent, fine. But at least try and show improvements in the areas that you can improve on.
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