Saturday, August 1, 2015

Defense and depth are big issues for the struggling Sixers

The success of the Sixers’ up-tempo offense thus far this season has come as a surprise to some who expected them to struggle on that end. The Sixers currently boast the eighth most effective offense in the entire NBA in terms of points per game (103.7 – an average of a free Big Mac each game night at Wells Fargo), and are averaging the third most made field goals a game at 39.6.

Defense and depth are big issues for the struggling Sixers

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Spencer Hawes, left, and James Anderson of the Sixers show their<br />dejection and frustration in the final minutes of their loss to the<br />Spurs. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Spencer Hawes, left, and James Anderson of the Sixers show their dejection and frustration in the final minutes of their loss to the Spurs. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)

The success of the Sixers’ up-tempo offense thus far this season has come as a surprise to some who expected them to struggle on that end. The Sixers currently boast the eighth most effective offense in the entire NBA in terms of points per game (103.7 – an average of a free Big Mac each game night at Wells Fargo), and are averaging the third most made field goals a game at 39.6.

The Sixers have six players averaging in double figures, including Tony Wroten and James Anderson, who both averaged less than four points per game last season. Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner are both having career years and excelling offensively, while rookie Michael Carter-Williams is stuffing the stat sheet and making ten teams second guess their June selections.

Yes, the offense has been running effectively, but the Sixers still sit at 6-9, which is currently eighth in the anemic East, and a full seven games behind the first-place Pacers.

The offense obviously isn’t the issue. Instead, it has been defense and lack of depth that have most contributed to the Sixers’ struggles this season.

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Sixers starters are averaging 78.7 out of the 103.7 points per game for the squad so far his season. That 78.7 is the fifth highest total for a starting five in the league. While these numbers reflect favorably on the Sixers’ starters, they also demonstrate that said starters don’t receive much support.

If you subtract the 78.7 starter points per game from the team total of 103.7 points per game, you are left with 25 points per game supplied by substitutes. This number is 24th overall across the NBA. Only the Raptors, Warriors, Pacers, Blazers, Wolves, and Wizards receive less second-unit support than the Sixers.

Of the six double-digit scorers on the Sixers squad, only Tony Wroten provides his production from off the bench. When Wroten served as a starter in place of an injured Carter-Williams earlier in the month the Sixers’ dearth of depth became even more evident. After Wroten, Lavoy Allen - who averages five points per game - is the most productive bench player. While Allen sometimes does stuff, he is not quite the most revered reserve.

The Sixers’ starters, highlighted by Hawes and Turner’s improved production, have been able to keep it competitive, but the team struggles to sustain its scoring with the subs. Their dearth of depth is likely what Brett Brown was referring to when he said the team had “six NBA players.”

Depth isn’t the only area where the Sixers are struggling. Their defense has left a lot to be desired as well. While the Sixers have been extremely effective on the offensive end, they have been equally ineffective on the defensive side of the ball. The Sixers are dead last in the league in opponent points per game, as they are giving up a whopping 109.3 points per contest. It doesn’t matter how many points you put up on the offensive end, it is extremely difficult to accumulate victories if you are giving up 110 points a night.

It must be taken into account that the Sixers give up a lot of points because of their pace of play; they take a lot of shots and get a lot of possessions, and in turn so do their opponents. The Sixers, who average 102 possessions per game, play at the fastest pace in the league. While this may account for some additional offense, the Sixers’ defensive efficiency still illustrates issues. The Sixers rank 24th overall in defensive efficiency, which rates the number of points a team allows per 100 possessions. This metric takes pace out of the equation, and still demonstrates the Sixers’ defensive difficulties. 

The Sixers practice of packing the paint to deter easy shots has resulted in seemingly unlimited open opportunities for opponents from beyond the arc. Thus, the Sixers are also dead last in the league in three-point defense, allowing more attempts (28.9 per game) and made three’s (11.3) than any other team. Sticking closer to shooters seems like an obvious solution, but that would eliminate some paint protection, and the Sixers don’t have the most formidable frontcourt.

As far as the future is concerned, the Sixers’ roster is the opposite of set in stone. Hinkie himself has promised changes, and that is exactly what should be expected. In the short term however, as the team is trying to win games and the players are auditioning for their futures, the team’s depth and defense could stand some improvement. 

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