Inside the Sixers: 76ers defense suffers as team struggles to blend in new players

"No one has been deterred" by the 76ers' lack of cohesiveness, center Spencer Hawes says.
"No one has been deterred" by the 76ers' lack of cohesiveness, center Spencer Hawes says. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: January 18, 2013

The more we see of the 76ers, the more evident it becomes that change is not always good.

Nine new faces are on the roster, and many of the changes were intended to make the Sixers longer and more athletic, better defenders both on the wings and, to a degree, at the rim.

But 39 games into the season there is no trace of those traits. In losing their 17th game in the last 23 on Tuesday, the Sixers allowed the lowly New Orleans Hornets to shoot better than 76 percent in the first quarter, build a 20-point lead early in the fourth, and ultimately wipe out the good feelings from a victory two days earlier over a good Houston team that ended a five-game losing streak.

We know now that what the Sixers have is not what they envisioned. As coach Doug Collins said after the loss, the Sixers lack speed on the wings, play bad defense at the rim, and have yet to start communicating on defense.

"It's a disconnect," Collins said. "Our lack of speed really hurts us - we can't keep the ball in front of us."

The roster upheaval is most often cited as the reason, and there is truth to that. It's difficult to maintain defensive continuity, especially when you lose your best perimeter defender (Andre Iguodala) and your best interior defender (Elton Brand).

The team the Sixers upended in the first round of the playoffs last season, the Chicago Bulls, are similar to the Sixers in that they returned just six players from last season's top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. Yet the Bulls have not shown the same defensive slippage as the Sixers.

The Bulls' defense on opponents' field-goal percentage has dropped from second last season (42.1) to sixth (43.0). In the last week, the Bulls, anticipating the return of injured superstar Derrick Rose (sound familiar?), suffocated Atlanta with their defense, holding the Hawks to just 20 points in the first half of a 97-58 win. That is the second-lowest point total in a first half of an NBA game in history, and there have been 49,000 games played in the league since the advent of the shot clock in 1954-55.

Chicago's defensive consistency is in large part the reason the Bulls have gone 13-8 since defeating the Sixers on Dec. 1.

This, however, is about more than just roster changes.

Chicago's changes weren't nearly as drastic as Philadelphia's. The Sixers have three new starters in Lavoy Allen (expected to be a reserve); Jason Richardson (an aging guard acquired from Orlando); and Thaddeus Young, part of the Sixers' potent bench last season.

There is a bit of a misconception that the Sixers were built to operate efficiently around Andrew Bynum (who spent extra time working with team trainer Kevin Johnson and strength and conditioning coach Jesse Wright after practice Wednesday). Bynum, theoretically a defensive anchor, was acquired Aug. 10, before his chronically sore knees altered the team's plans. And while the Sixers were no doubt working before that to bring him here, they had already added Nick Young, Richardson, and Dorell Wright.

As a result, the Sixers, after allowing just 89.4 points per game and holding teams to 42.7 percent shooting last season, are giving up 97.2 points and allowing teams to make 45.5 percent of their shots.

Chicago, which finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season despite playing 39 games without Rose, believed that it already had the pieces in place to make a title run. As a result, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Richard Hamilton, and Joakim Noah, the primary starters last season, returned. Rugged reserve Taj Gibson also came back.

"We've got nine new guys. I don't know how many teams have three-quarters of their roster made up of new faces," Sixers center Spencer Hawes said.

Chicago has seven.

"Good for them," Hawes said. "We haven't figured it out as quickly as they have, but it's January. I know you guys [sportswriters] are in panic mode now, but no one has been deterred. Now it's back to the drawing board."


Contact John N. Mitchell at jmitchell@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @JmitchInquirer.

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