YES, THE 76ERS' defensive rotations are in shambles right now. The defensive presence in the paint is nearly invisible. Stopping the fastbreak seems to happen only when the Sixers are taking the ball out of the net.
The team is giving up the most points in the NBA, at 110 a game. They've given up 61 more three-pointers than they've made on the season. In a loss to New Orleans on Friday, the Sixers allowed the Pelicans to score 121 points on 55 percent shooting. Two days later in Detroit, they showed little resistance as the Pistons made 15 of their first 20 shots, including all six three-pointers.
So what is the problem with coach Brett Brown's team as far as defending the basket? Believe it or not, much of it has to do with the offense. After getting a look at the roster he had been dealt last summer, Brown concluded that the best way for his players to compete would be to have them play an uptempo offense, filled with fastbreaks, leak-outs and long breakout passes. While that style seemed to work perfectly early in the season - with wins in the first three games - it has faltered of late, as the team has dropped eight of its last 10 games.
"When you choose to play at a pace that we're trying to play at, the problems can really start there," Brown said following practice yesterday at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "We turn it over a lot, and they run at us. We take quick, bad shots and they run at us. A lot of our transition defensive problems are coming from turnovers and quick, bad shots, because we're so adamant on playing at a speed. Somewhere out there, down the road now, there needs to be a better understanding for how you responsibly play that style of play. Then, when you just get into basic halfcourt defense, it's a whole other story about accountability, define a team, all those things. And me doing a better job coaching some rotations. But our defense is most definitely a problem, and I think some of that spins into the style of play that we've decided to play in regards of pace."
The coach still wants the offensive pace to stay the same; he even would like it to be faster. It's just that he wants a sort of controlled chaos. Too many times, his players hoist long three-pointers early in the shot clock. While he wants his club to get the ball out of the net as fast as possible and get down the court, three times on Sunday, his players threw the ball directly into a Pistons player's hands.
Brown isn't kidding himself, and from Day 1, he has said he knew his team would take its lumps. That time is now, but he won't stray from the course or allow his players to consider that.
"I want to try and coach the speed game better," Brown said. "I want them to understand the quick, bad shot with time and score [is bad], vs. a kick-ahead, wide-open three-point shot that, for a lot of our guys, I want them taking. I want them to understand that the lob play in early offense isn't there, it's too risky. Or how to take it out of the net quick, but not throw it to other bigs who are cheating behind. I just want to coach it better. I don't want to play on our heels and not just run anymore, because it comes with too many problems - which it does at the moment. I want to persevere with this style and this way of playing, because we have seen with the group that we have, and the talent base and experience that we have, we're not going to beat those teams that we have beaten any other way.
"We knew the problems that would come, but we really wanted to focus on the pace and paint. We knew at times that the paint would take a hit because of the speed in which you're playing and the problems behind it. I believe that down the road, incrementally, we're going to get better as we develop a better understanding on how to use it and not use it recklessly. We knew that it was coming, but, to be honest with you, I didn't know that it was going to be this poor at times. I wish we were further ahead. I wish we were a little bit tighter. We still have severe holes."
Brett Brown started Hollis Thompson at shooting guard Sunday in place of James Anderson. He said he will stick with that experiment, as this is a year about experimenting. He likes that Thompson is a long defensive player . . . The team hosts the Orlando Magic tonight, then travels to Charlotte to face the Bobcats Friday.