The Philadelphia 76ers are struggling. The team is having problems coming together as a unit and it is affecting their record. Expected to be the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, the Sixers would only be the fifth seed if the season ended today. Chemistry issues have made themselves very apparent and the team as currently constructed is now in question.
There are so many issues with this team both on the court and off. A lot needs to happen and the ways to fix them are questionable and divisive.
It’s not surprising that the Sixers are struggling with offensive chemistry, they have two brand new starters and are forcing position-less basketball. Four of the teams five starters are playing out of position. Al Horford is a Center, Tobias Harris is a Power Forward, Josh Richardson is a Small Forward, and Ben Simmons is a Point Forward playing Point Guard.
When you look at surface-level stats, the Sixers look to be playing okay, it just hasn’t transitioned into wins. The team has managed to shoot effectively as a unit, shooting a tick under 36% from three, which makes them 14th in the league. That number is good, not great, it may be surprising considering the construction of the roster but it frankly isn’t good enough. In addition, the lack of three-point attempts shows the issues this lineup presents offensively.
Not only does the team rank 14th in three-point percentage, but they also rank 25th in three-point attempts per game. Out of 16 playoff teams (15 minus the Sixers) only two rank lower than the Sixers in both categories (Denver, OKC). Lack of spacing (due to size) is a huge issue for the Sixers and is a primary cause to the low ranking (in addition to Simmons refusing to shoot).
No, I don’t mean trash-talking like when Kevin Garnett wished Tim Duncan a happy Mother’s Day. The Sixers need to talk or communicate more especially on the defensive end. As a defender, you need to communicate especially when your defender has beaten you.
Many players on the Sixers’ roster are near-silent on defense, there is no communication when the defense breaks down. Opposing players are allowed to pass by defenders without a call for help. Calling help is something that is unfamiliar to the team and it ignores what Al Horford does best defensively. Horford may not be the best in-paint defender but he has an incredible ability to deny the paint altogether. If help isn’t called for though, Horford has no way of knowing when to cheat in.
Pick-and-roll defense, another area the Sixers struggle, also requires defenders to communicate or it can all fall apart. Constantly the Sixers find themselves giving up easy shots against the pick-and-roll. They essentially place one defender on-ball while the other is playing safety to avoid an easy drive to the basket. Sounds safe but this is what leads to the easy perimeter shots. It’s unrealistic to expect one player to be able to constantly fight his way over and under screens back and forth. If you are going to place one man up, you need to have the on-ball defender and the off-ball backup communicating constantly. When the on-ball is beat you need to talk when there’s a chance to double team, you need to talk, when the screener rolls or pops you NEED to talk.
The fact is, you’re not playing as a unit if you’re not talking.
What’s the Fix?
The team needs to make a change going forward but how do they go about it? There are many options but all come at a cost.
When it comes to spacing, you could trade Simmons and look for a more traditional point guard. If you do, you’re trading someone with generational potential and could end up on the wrong side of a bad trade.
You could trade Al Horford. If you do, you’re losing a good player and solid team leader, you would likely have to give up additional assets to move his contract.
You could take an honest look at Brett Brown who is not running the offense effectively. In that assessment, you may come to the conclusion that Brown’s time is up. If you do, what’s the solution? Do you decide to move on mid-season? Teams rarely, if ever, find success when they fire midseason. If you wait until after the season though you’re not adjusting for the rest of the season which is also unacceptable.
Brown also needs to stress communication on the court. The Head Coach needs to be able to address the faults of his team and one that preaches defense like Brown does should be eager to improve the lack of communication.
There is not a clear cut way to cure this. With so many possibilities it will be a tough task ahead to help this team in the short, medium, and long-term. Elton Brand will not have an easy job over the next few months but I do trust Brand to find the way if given the power to make the tough decisions.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports