Sitting at 26th overall in defensive efficiency, it’s safe to say that the Sixers have trouble guarding their opponents. One area that they particularly struggle to defend is the three-point line. They’ve surrendered the most made threes in the league and are giving them up at the sixth-worst percentage. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Over the last week, the Sixers have allowed two lesser lights to explode from beyond the arc, Washington’s Trevor Ariza and Milwaukee’s O.J. Mayo. Combined, both players shot an absurd 16-23 from deep in their teams’ victories.
While Mayo did most of his damage off broken plays like offensive rebounds and transition opportunities, Washington followed a more specific formula en route to Ariza’s career-high 40 points: Utilizing the corners as a weapon.
As you can see in the shot chart below, Ariza does a lot of damage from the corners, a super efficient area of the floor. In fact, Sixers coach Brett Brown calls the corner three-pointer “a monster.”
This trend isn’t a mistake, either. Ariza starts on a Wizards team that shoots the fifth-most corner threes in the league, largely thanks to the creative abilities of whirlwind point guard John Wall. A blur with the ball, the 6-foot-4 Wall gets into the lane with ease and actively seeks out the shooter stationed in the weakside corner once he gets there.
In the first screen grab, Michael Carter-Williams shades toward Wall’s right hand to keep him out of the middle of the floor. This way of the defending the pick-and-roll is called “Ice,” and we’ve detailed it a lot in this space. There’s one major problem here: Newcomer Henry Sims isn’t in the right place. He should be stationed somewhere in the path of Wall’s driving lane, not next to Marcin Gortat standing 20 feet from the hoop.
Wall easily takes the available driving lane, and because Sims can’t catch up to him, the back line has to rotate. Thaddeus Young abandons Trevor Booker to cut off Wall, which means Hollis Thompson has to rotate to Booker.
That leaves Ariza a wide-open corner three, which again, is exactly what Wall wanted the whole time. After Booker screens Thompson, Ariza tees up the type of relaxed three that he routinely shoots in warm-ups. On this one, he has enough time to check the scoreboard or carry on a brief conversation with someone in the first row if he wants to.
A later Ariza corner three was the result of poor on-ball defense by Carter-Williams and strange off-ball decision making by Sims in gearing up to defend the pick-and-roll. In the first shot, Wall is about to beat Carter-Williams off the dribble while Sims curiously fights over to front Gortat in the middle of the lane.
By doing this, Sims takes himself out of the play. He can’t recover to cut off the speedy Wall and the same scrambling scenario occurs on the back line as a result. Young has to rotate over and stop Wall’s drive while Thompson again picks up Booker.
Again, Ariza has all day to fire away from the corner because Carter-Williams and Sims couldn’t initially contain the ball-handler.
On another occasion, Hollis Thompson simply loses focus and cheats too far toward the middle. In the first two shots below, Carter-Williams and Sims do a decent job defending the pick-and-roll. Carter-Williams goes over the screen and Sims gives a soft hedge.
Sims is trying to strike a middle ground between sticking with Wall until Carter-Williams recovers and being able to pick up Gortat if he decides to roll to the basket. There’s one problem, though: Thompson shades to give help that, unlike on the other two plays, isn’t really necessary.
It’s terrific anticipation and execution by Wall to throw a bullet pass right on the money to Ariza’s shooting pocket. Still, the rookie gets caught leaning here. Here are the three plays in real time.
Dealing with Wall is becoming a very tough task, but the Sixers’ basic defensive breakdowns made it easy for the fourth-year guard. Brown is coaching an undermanned squad that has very little experience playing with each other, but they need to form some semblance of cohesion quickly. If not, they’ll continue to find themselves on the wrong end of some extremely lopsided scores.
Bob Cooney has been at the Daily News for more than 20 years, working in the sports department for the past 15. This is his third season on the Sixers beat. He has covered just about everything, but mostly college basketball, where he was the La Salle beat writer for six seasons. E-mail Bob at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter.