Philly Front Office

Pre-Mortem: Perimeter Defense may Ultimately Sink the Sixers

Brett Brown often talks in his pregame press conferences about a “pre-mortem.” 

A pre-mortem is the opposite of a post mortem. 

Instead of examining what went wrong during a game, Brown prefers to try to predict the ways an opposing team might attack the Sixers. This is the “Pre-Mortem.” When assessing vulnerabilities and matchup problems the team will seek to take away the most damaging issues and instead “choose the hill we are willing to die on.” 

When you look at the season from a longer lens, it is starting to look as though perimeter defense is the fatal flaw to this roster. 

Often the culprit is midrange and long pull-up 2 point field goal attempts. The Sixers’ defense is predicated on protecting the rim and defending the 3 point line. Far too often, however, the team is getting beat off the dribble and offering no resistance to opposing guards. 

It is perfectly natural to watch the ball and focus on your own team when watching an NBA basketball game. The running narrative is that the Sixers lack of bench scoring is the biggest problem with the team. The team is 2-2 in its last four games this week. I’m not here to argue that the bench is stocked with firepower, but I will say it’s not the biggest problem.

Scoring is not the problem 

The truth is, the Sixers have averaged 117 points scored in the past week. 117 should get the job done most nights. In fact, the team has only scored under 115 points once over that stretch. The problem lies elsewhere. I would argue we should be looking at a very simple concept instead, perimeter defense. 

Far too often, teams are simply spreading the Sixers out and beating their guards off the dribble without being re-routed or disrupted. The point of attack is critical for the basic fundamentals of stopping a team and forcing them to beat a team with more complex structure.

Let’s dive into some examples to illustrate the premise.

Pick ’em up at half court

Here you have TJ McConnell picking up Spencer Dinwiddie at the logo. Dinwiddie immediately just drives and outruns TJ to the rim. Ed Davis is walking Amir Johnson down the baseline to open the rim for the drive. Johnson actually has a credible contest here, but Dinwiddie is downhill and finishes too easily.

Deny Middle?

Here is another example: no screen, no pick, just JJ getting beat off the dribble as DeAngelo Russell is in a track meet right down the middle of the lane to the rim.

Pick and Roast Defense

Speaking of pick and rolls, here is TJ getting taken out of the play by a screen, then getting lost by a hesitation leaving Embiid to attempt to guard both Dinwiddie and Jarett Allen. This kind of play puts the Sixers franchise cornerstone and MVP candidate in an un-winnable situation. 

“We make every guard look like a hall of famer” – Joel Embiid

Little Resistance

Redick at least denies middle on this drive, but can offer no resistance to Olidipo on the drive. Embiid is occupied by the actual screen action that was being run by Myles Turner. Sixers continue to put their bigs in bad positions defensively. 

Perception may be that Markelle Fultz is well behind others defensively, but the numbers do not support that. Fultz by the numbers is on par with JJ Redick from a defensive rating standpoint. This is obviously a noisy and imperfect stat from which to view players, but it does shed some light onto perception versus reality.

The thought out there is that TJ McConnell, by virtue of his attitude and frenetic energy, is the best defender among the backcourt options, but the numbers do not bear that out.

per NBA Stats 

Double Roast

And finally, here is perhaps the worst example. Shamet gets beat to the middle, Oladipo then kicks the ball to Corey Joseph. TJ overplays the baseline which allows Joseph again to get middle. Simmons is not innocent on this play either as he doesn’t even provide as much as a hand to stop the second drive. 

Two blow-bys on one play is just not going to be a sustainable defensive model for the Sixers.

Joel Embiid – MVP & Defensive Player of the Year Breakdown

The Fire Brett Brown crowd will point to these struggles defensively as poor scheme. But when you look at the film, it is mostly simple ISO man defense. The players have to stay in front of their man at least enough to offer some resistance in getting into the teeth of the defense.

When the playoffs come, the game becomes much more half court and ISO oriented. Giving up 6-10 easy points on penetration per game will put the team in a serious disadvantage unless remedied.

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