The 76ers, still looking for their first win this season, take on the Phoenix Suns tonight at the Wells Fargo Center. Phoenix, 7-5 in the Western Conference gauntlet, is a very good, young team that should really be able to capitalize on the team's major defensive weakness.
The Sixers really struggle to defend pick-and-roll/pop/whatever else a big man does when they set a pick. Part of it seems to be that the team does not consistently defend using the same principles. The best teams in the league typically create and enforce rules in pick-and-roll coverage that they must abide by.
The Chicago Bulls instruct their guards to fight through/over picks and ask their bigs to protect the paint by staying in between the ball-handler and the rim, all while making sure to leave enough space so that the guard cannot dribble past them uncontested. Most teams have copied the philosophy, though there are notable exceptions. The Miami Heat trap each pick play and rely on their bigs to recover to the paint as soon as possible.
The Sixers do not appear to have a consistent philosophy for all its defenders, which is why there tends to be mistakes in simple play coverage. They don't appear to have one because their bigs all have different skills, and in playing to their guys' strengths. It hasn't been super-effective. Henry Sims' struggles have been highlighted the most - it makes sense, given he's the slowest big on the roster. He often gets caught in "no man's land" - the area where a player's defensive positioning ends up not defending either offensive player in the pick-and-roll effectively, because he's slow-footed and doesn't seem to have a great grasp of the system.
Nerlens Noel and Brandon Davies are better, but each still has plays where a lack of or mix up in communication with teammates results in easy basket opportunities. Plus, the coverage does not appear to be consistent among players - Noel, Davies, and Sims all seem to cover pick plays differently. Because of that, the perimeter players can get lost as well.
If there's any team designed to take advantage of the team's scheme issues, that team is the Phoenix Suns. The Suns run pick-and-roll as a major part of every play, with three rotation point guards in Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas who are all excellent pick play ballhandlers.
This might not be a great chance at win number one. But who knows - West Coast teams traveling East can result in weird games, so here's hoping the Suns are a bit off tonight.