Philadelphia 76ers should stay in the zone

Matisse Thybulle, Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)
Matisse Thybulle, Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Philadelphia 76ers should continue to mix in zone defense after completing an insane comeback against the Indiana Pacers.

The Philadelphia 76ers completed an improbable comeback against the Pacers on Sunday by playing every middle school basketball team’s favorite defense: Zone. With 6:38 left in the fourth quarter, the Pacers took a seemingly harmless timeout. Doc Rivers took advantage of the break and switched to a zone, channeling the late Philly legend John Chaney.

The Sixers promptly turned a 94-104 deficit into a 119-110 victory, destroying the Pacers with a 25-6 run centered around the switch to zone. The Pacers went 1-8 from the field and 0-6 from three with three turnovers against the stifling zone.

Three Sixers played a majority of minutes in the fourth, and those three players were Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, and Dwight Howard. Wait, who led the comeback?

As strange as this game was, Rivers should continue to mix in zone, particularly in games without Embiid. Zone defense has been making a comeback in the NBA, particularly for successful playoff teams like the Heat and the Raptors. While zone has its weaknesses, there are a few particular strengths that make sense for the Sixers.

First, the Sixers have two defensive terrors in Thybulle and Ben Simmons to create havoc at the top of the zone. Thybulle was regarded as an elite defensive prospect because of his success in the University of Washington’s zone scheme and Simmons has always been an elite help defender. Putting those two at the top is a recipe for forcing turnovers and making opposing point guards miserable.

Second, zone lets the defense hide its weaker defenders in the corners, simplifying their roles and providing help from all directions. This is ideal for weaker defenders like Korkmaz and
Milton or slower defenders like Tobias Harris. Korkmaz typically struggles against strong NBA offenses and is often targeted, so playing zone hides him effectively.

Finally, playing zone keeps the center near the rim, allowing Dwight Howard to focus solely on rebounding and protecting the rim. Dwight has been mistake-prone all season, so simplifying his role is ideal.

While the team should not go to zone full time, sprinkling it in to throw off the opposing offense would be very beneficial. This could go a long way to maximizing the roster, particularly for players like Thybulle, Korkmaz, and Howard. Stay in the zone, Sixers!

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