While the 76ers have issues to work out on offense, which prompted coach Brett Brown to move Shake Milton to the starting point guard spot, Ben Simmons to power forward and Al Horford to the bench during practices leading up the NBA’s restart, they have remained a solid defensive team.
There are areas they can improve defensively, but with the team the healthiest it has been since the beginning of the season, their defense should keep them in games while the offense adjusts.
The Sixers are sixth in opponents’ points per game at 107.4, but the numbers tell only part of the story. They are among four teams that have allowed 107.4 points per game, along with Milwaukee, Indiana, and Denver. Milwaukee, the odds-on favorite to win the Eastern Conference, has allowed just one fewer point than the Sixers in 65 games -- 6,978 to 6,979 -- and is listed as fifth, according to ESPN.com.
The Sixers are also sixth in the NBA in opponents’ points per 100 possessions (108.2).
Individually, the Sixers have four players in the top 35 in the NBA in defensive win shares, an estimate of the number of wins a player contributes with his defense. According to basketball-reference.com, Simmons is 12th with 3.2, Tobias Harris is 24th (2.6), Horford is 31st (2.5), and Joel Embiid, who has missed 21 games, is 34th (2.4).
“With the games meaning more, especially with the playoffs coming, the focus really shifts to defense,” Horford said during a Tuesday Zoom conference call. “We have to make sure that we’re great defensively.”
That apparently has been a big emphasis since the team began practicing in Florida for the NBA’s restart.
“The offense will come, we’ll figure that out,” Horford said. “Defensively, we just have to make sure that we’re great. And I believe that we will be.”
While Simmons is a first-team All-Defensive candidate and Embiid can be a force on defense, some key statistics show the Sixers either in the middle of the pack or below.
For instance, they are 15th in opponents’ three-point percentage (.354) and 16th in opponents’ overall field goal percentage (.462).
The Sixers (39-26) have underachieved so far and rank sixth in the Eastern Conference. Speaking to the media earlier this week, Brown says he feels that the Sixers are better built for the playoffs.
“I think there is a team defensive presence of physicality, length, height, that makes me say that as much as anything,” Brown said. “The fact that our offense at times has struggled for different reasons gives you a little bit of pause when I declare that [the Sixers are built for the playoffs], but really it’s driven for me from a defensive opinion as much as anything.”
The Sixers had the day off from practice on Wednesday. Since July 11, they have been practicing at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., among the 22 teams preparing for the NBA’s restart. On Friday, the Sixers open the scrimmage schedule by facing the Memphis Grizzlies. After three scrimmages, the Sixers’ restart begins Aug. 1 against the Indiana Pacers, a team that will test the defense right from the start.