“Trusting The Process” is starting to pay off for the Philadelphia 76ers, and their defense could soon be one of the best in the NBA.
The 76ers are beginning to cash in on their tanking philosophy. Last year, they got potential franchise point forward in Ben Simmons first overall, and this year they again have the first overall pick. TBN’s own Zach Cronin touched on the specifics of how Philly got in the driver’s seat, and all indications so far are suggesting they will draft University of Washington guard Markelle Fultz. That’s to go with the rising talents of Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. It appears that Philly is on their way, finally.
A fearsome foursome of Fultz-Embiid-Saric-Simmons could be special in a few years for long-suffering head coach Brett Brown. I look at the defensive end to get much, much better in the next year or two. Everyone wants to bring up how Simmons is the quasi-point-guard-type offensively, and how Fultz could be a go-to scorer for long stretches of games. There’s no disputing that logic; I agree on that completely. Nonetheless, this young team needs to have their defense set the tone first to allow the offensive pieces to grow.
Also Read: Richaun Holmes Earned Rightful Praise From Dwight Howard
As many people have realized recently, teams like to shoot the three ball to score points in bunches. It makes perfect sense — three points is greater than two points — if you can make those plays, of course. With the perimeter-driven focus of the NBA now, length on the defensive end is a necessity on all rosters. That’s one of the things I love in the short-term about the 76ers making a move up for Fultz.
The Maryland native is 6-4 with a 6-9.75 wingspan. He can be a lockdown defender on an opponent’s primary ball handler or their two-guard with his length and athleticism. His size led him to be fourth in the Pac-12 this year with 1.6 steals per game. That length and pure athleticism make Fultz very difficult to attack off the dribble, and his closeouts on the perimeter make it hard to get off clean looks, even for taller guards. That kind of defensive prowess is invaluable in a three-point oriented league.
His weak side and transition chase-down blocks proved to be a thing of beauty, too. He was 10th in the Pac-12 in blocks per game, playing as a point guard. If he has the will on D, the way is already there. Philly only gave up 8.9 threes per game, which was tied for the third-fewest in the league.
Fultz could cut that down even more with his wingspan and ability to sit down and anticipate what’s to come from his opponents. That will pay dividends from the jump for Philly, and a coach like Brown will love that about someone with as much offensive hype as Fultz.
When you couple that guy with the toughness and active hands of TJ McConnell when he’s on opposing point guards (1.7 steals per game), the backcourt is in good shape defensively. Overall, their high energy translates to getting takeaways. This past year, the 76ers were second in the Association with 8.4 steals per game.
Wing defender Robert Covington proved to be a pest as well in that department, with 1.9 steals per night, which was tied for third in the NBA. I would think he’d be even more active next season and improve on his career-high 2.0 defensive box plus/minus. When you complement the 6-9 Covington with the versatility of Saric, who can often hold his own in pick-and-roll switchouts, those are tough guys to shoot threes and convert paint buckets over.
Once again, the length on this squad is considerable. Philly was seventh in both blocks per game and team block percentage. That should only improve with the additions of Fultz and Simmons, and Embiid hopefully being healthier in 2017-18. He had a block percentage of 7.7 percent and put up a robust 2.5 blocks per game (which was more than Anthony Davis).
That was while playing with a minutes restriction, and if he kept up that pace, he would’ve been second in the league in blocks per night as a rookie. That interior presence deters opponents from driving to the basket, which also draws less foul calls throughout a game.
When you combine that with Saric coming over to help, and the leaping ability of 6-10 Richaun Holmes, Philly should not be giving up a lot of layups and dunks. Hell, maybe this block party even inspires a gifted guy in Jahlil Okafor to get in on the action defensively (I’m not holding my breath on that one, though).
Regardless, these potential blocks would allow guys like Simmons to get out on the break and manufacture easy buckets before the opposing defense is set. That’s always beneficial for a young roster. With the addition of Simmons and Fultz, their defensive rebounding should also improve, as that has been an issue.
Both of these players play big, and that should lessen the burden on the other bigs, which could allow Embiid to actually not get hurt as a result. The sky is pointing up for the 76ers, and this team could be wreaking havoc on the defensive end in an arena near you as early as next season. The injury bug needs to stay away, though.
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