The Sixers may have finished with the fourth worst record in the NBA last season, finishing a lackluster 28-54, but it wasn’t because of their defense.
The squad ranked 17th in total defense, not 27th as their record would suggest. They tallied the third most steals per game of any team with 8.4 per game, and blocked shots at a rate of 5.1 per game, seventh best in basketball. Adding 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons to the fold next season and hopefully getting more than 31 games from defensively gifted Joel Embiid will certainly help the team build on its defensive abilities, as will rookie Markelle Fultz, who at 6-foot-5 could get his arms in some passing lanes.
“Anybody that knows me, anybody that really watches the game, knows that I play defense,” Fultz told Philly media members after officially joining the team last week. “At points in the game, I do get blown by and maybe get back-doored, but my effort is always there. I block shots, I play defense. People that really study the game know that I play defense, so it doesn’t really bother me when people say that.”
Entering a scheme led by Brett Brown, a coach who emphasizes effort, hustle and defense above all else, could help transform Fultz into an above average, if not elite, defender.
“I believe that when we get him with our program, and he understands how we see the world here, that it’s going to be an evolution, no doubt,” Brown said. “It’s a willing defensive player and it’s a willing athlete, a gifted athlete under a roof of a quality person. Those qualities let you have a far better chance to mold him into the defensive player we need here.”
Playing alongside the younger Sixers core of players will be Robert Covington, who has transformed from a 3-point specialist to a shutdown defender under Brown’s tutilege. He got the fourth most votes of any player for defensive player of the year, and finished fourth in the NBA with an average of 1.9 steals per game.
While good when matching up defensively, when the ball hits the rim the Sixers are lacking. Last year, the team was third-worst in the league at securing defensive rebounds and nearly just as bad at defending inside the paint.
A healthy Embiid playing more than 25 minutes per game will help in the rebound department, as he nabbed 7.8 boards per game (as well as 2.5 blocks per game), as would a rotation that includes Dario Saric and Richaun Holmes — two long and defensively gifted players, as well.