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The Sixers Can Use Big Men, But Can They Defend Them?


39 points. That’s how many DeMarcus Cousins was able to drop against the Philadelphia 76ers on March 13th last season, despite the Kings losing the game.

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The Sixers are a team with clear cut struggles. Their offense is pitiful. While we’ve looked at this statistically all offseason — their offensive rating was near last in the league last year — most of us haven’t watched a full game in a while.

In an effort to refresh my knowledge on Sixers gameplay, I decided to find a full game to stream late Wednesday night. To kill two birds with one stone — I wanted to see some of Nik Stauskas, too — I watched one of their games against the Sacramento Kings. Although Cousins dominated the Sixers on the 13th, this wasn’t the game I watched.

I watched a game from later that month, where the Kings won. Still, here, I noticed that Cousins dominated using his physicality. The biggest thing that popped out at me was actually not anything Cousins did offensively, as the title of this article would imply, but it was the four blocked shots he had in this game that stood out to me. It seemed like he was constantly shutting Sixers down who were getting close to the hoop, and constantly frustrating the team that was trying so desperately to score.

It got me thinking, though, for a team that is looking to really use traditional big men to their offensive advantage, we haven’t talked a whole lot about the flip side of the coin. Can the Sixers defend front courts? Primarily, can the Sixers defend front courts that are traditional, and have big, dominant post centers?

This topic hasn’t really come up, because the Sixers defense overall was actually not that bad. The main reason for losses was not an inability to keep the opposition at a low score, it was a lack of scoring on the Sixers end.

Nerlens Noel certainly tried his hand at it last year, coming up with lots of blocks, averaging 1.9 per game. But he couldn’t do it all.

Here’s a list of some stat lines that front courts put up against the Sixers last season.

For some reason, Cousins gave the Sixers a ridiculous amount of trouble last year, all in the same month. Where does this come from? Well, besides Nerlens Noel, the team is actually somewhat small. Just take a look at the guys that were considered front court for the Sixers.

Furkan Aldemir is 6’9″, pretty tall compared to the rest of the team. JaVale McGee was 7 feet, but the rest hovered right around 6’9″, including Noel. The team isn’t small in height, but none really carry much bulk on them.

It’s pretty clear that there was an issue defending big men last season. I don’t think that this was just a base ‘defensive issue’ since overall the defense wasn’t terrible, with a rating that sat at 13th in the league. In overall points allowed, they were fairly average.

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Letting up 25+ points on multiple occasions to big men (and the examples earlier were just a few of the occasions that this happened), points to issues in the defensive realm as far as guarding big men, and I believe that it is a direct result of the team not having enough true big men.

This year, there’s one huge difference to the team, and that is the 6’11” Jahlil Okafor, coming in from the draft. Although he’s been criticized for his defense in the past and being ‘lazy’ on that end of the floor, he’s got a clear cut assignment with the Sixers on defense, and it’s truly not that difficult.

His offensive skills are clear cut, and he’s a great scorer, and facilitator of the ball. These skills are peachy, but it’s not going to cut it in the NBA. He’s got to step up his defense.

Noel is a great defensive player, but he needs support. Perhaps he doesn’t even need much, he just needs someone to back him in the cases that he is unable to defend, or in the cases that he does defend poorly. Okafor has the size to do this, he just needs the work ethic to go along with it.

With the Sixers looking to improve parts of their game, this should be a point of emphasis next season.

Next: 2015-16 Sixers Roster Preview: Small Forwards