There’s been a lot of talk about offensive roles and how the Sixers’ three stars fit.
None of that means a damn thing if the Sixers don’t start playing better defense.
On Friday night, they were beaten on their home floor by the Hawks — a team ranked 20th in the league in scoring — 123-121 (see observations). Atlanta shot 55 percent from the field and 48 percent from three. The loss comes two nights after they allowed the Wizards to shoot 54 percent from the field and 48 percent from three.
A big part of that issue is their lack of perimeter defenders off the bench. Furkan Korkmaz, who at times has provided a nice spark, has struggled mightily on that end of the floor. On Friday, Brett Brown played the 21-year-old only four minutes after a couple defensive miscues.
“When I go back and watch the game in Washington, it was disturbing watching our bench guard,” Brown said. “We have to get better. Opportunities for Jonah [Bolden] or Shake [Milton] or Landry [Shamet] or Furkan — we’re counting on them. We play them. They’re in the rotation …
“In general, those young guys that I just mentioned, we’re going to try to grow them and do it with patience, but do it with a level of a sting where it’s just the NBA and it’s not good enough right now. We need more and I believe it’s in them.”
Personnel is certainly a factor, especially considering that Defensive Player of the Year candidate Joel Embiid missed the game with a right ankle injury.
Still, you have a lineup featuring players like Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons. With all due respect to rookie Kevin Huerter, who was impressive, there’s no way he should’ve dropped a career-high 29 Friday.
There was clearly something more than Embiid missing.
I think we were just too soft,” Simmons said. “I think defensively, we are not taking it personal enough when guys score on us. It should be a pride thing. When someone scores on you, you should be frustrated every time. I think that comes with age. We have a lot of young guys, but at the same time, we have to expect more from each other to get that and to get to the next level so then once playoff time comes, it’s another level.
This is a team and head coach that's always prided itself on defense. Last season, the Sixers finished third in the entire NBA in defensive rating. They’re currently 12th.
Adding a player like Butler, one of the best two-way wings in the game, should be helping that. While it’s no fault of Butler’s, the team’s struggles remain despite his presence.
While Butler didn’t want to use the word “soft” to describe his team’s play, he did think that the Sixers as a team are too reliant on Embiid.
Luckily it still has time to find answers on the defensive end.
“Ain’t nobody pointing fingers at anybody,” Butler said. “We got plenty of games left, we just got to fix it. I think we’re going to be fine. All I know is, everybody’s in there. We’re in it together, we’re not going separate ways. Stay as a whole, win and lose as a team.”
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