Sixers' new starting five designed to be a defensive terror

Sixers' new starting five designed to be a defensive terror

There are still plenty of questions revolving around the Sixers after the chaos of Sunday night. Will Tobias Harris live up to his five-year, $180 million contract? Can the team replace JJ Redick’s shooting and Jimmy Butler’s clutch heroics? And, most perplexingly, what went wrong between Miami and Dallas in the sign-and trade that sent Butler to Miami?

One question, however, was answered. The Sixers have an identity: Elton Brand has designed a defensive terror.

The team’s new starting lineup should be Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid.

Horford and Embiid have both made All-Defensive teams. Simmons, with his unique speed and versatility, appears close to doing so. Richardson is renowned for his defense. Harris is not, but he’s capable on that end of the floor.

And, while the full roster isn’t yet complete, we know Zhaire Smith and rookie Matisse Thybulle will be options for Brett Brown off the bench. That pair of young wings takes pride in their defense and seem to have the physical tools to be very good at it. 

Little about the new version of the Sixers is traditional. The 6-foot-10 Simmons is an unusual point guard. Harris, at 6-foot-9, will likely have to slide from the power forward spot to the three. Horford, in his 13th NBA season, will need to shift to the four, though you’d expect he’ll see plenty of minutes at center when Embiid is off the floor.

For Horford, his three-point shooting ability should alleviate any concerns about whether he’s a viable power forward, at least offensively. He transformed his game after shooting 21 of 65 from three-point territory during his first eight seasons. Horford has taken 927 threes in the four seasons since, making 37.1 percent.

In the middle of the Celtics' five-game playoff series win over the Sixers in April 2018, Horford told NBC Sports Philadelphia that he thinks Simmons — then an opponent, now a teammate — can have similar growth.

He’s already difficult to guard. Like all players, we all make progressions. When I came in the league, I wasn’t shooting much outside the paint. And over the years, I’ve expanded my game — you can say that about a lot of guys. And I feel like with him, it’ll just be another weapon in his arsenal, that he will continue to develop that [jumper].

Simmons won’t be relied upon to make three-point shots in the short term, but it would be helpful for the Sixers if he does indeed expand his game, as he said he would in May (see story).

Richardson shot 36.6 percent from three over the past two seasons, a tick over the league average. Harris hit 32.6 percent of his threes with the Sixers last season, though there’s every reason to believe those numbers are more indicative of a slump by an excellent shooter than an accurate representation of Harris’ abilities. Joel Embiid has soft touch for a big man and Brown often encourages him to let it fly, but he’s been a below-average three-point shooter.

The sharpshooting Redick, meanwhile, is headed to New Orleans, and the Sixers’ point guard — an All-Star last year and the Rookie of the Year the season prior — has yet to make an NBA three. Though Simmons likely won’t supplement the Sixers’ long range shooting next season, the Sixers would sure benefit from him having an improved mid-range game. The perimeter shot has been a highly inefficient option for him — 25 for 99 from 10 feet and out (25.3 percent) last season — but it’s impossible to quantify what the impact of Simmons forcing opponents to respect his jumper would be.

Putting matters of shooting and spacing aside for a moment, it would be surprising if the departure of Redick and addition of Richardson didn’t boost the Sixers’ defense. 

The Sixers finished 14th in the NBA in defensive rating last season after placing third in 2017-18. The major personnel changes prompted by the Butler and Harris trades, their struggles implementing new defensive schemes and a lack of adequate bench defenders all contributed to that decline. Redick’s presence, though, didn’t help. He held his own in the playoffs but was successfully targeted often during the regular season. 

We’d be negligent if we didn’t mention Butler in this discussion of defensive identity. He’s a player who simply hates to be scored on. You sensed he got as much pleasure from poking away a steal and coasting the other way for a dunk as the ecstatic crowd at Wells Fargo Center did.

Still, if you look at the new Sixers’ starting five in isolation, you’re staring back at one of the best defensive teams in basketball. 

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JJ Redick believes Sixers needed more team dinners on road last season

JJ Redick believes Sixers needed more team dinners on road last season

Philadelphia 76ers fans are generally excited about the new roster construction heading into the 2019-2020 season but there's no doubt the sharp shooting of JJ Redick will be missed.

Redick took his talents down to the bayou and will suit up for the New Orleans Pelicans this season. JJ joined ESPN NBA insider Zach Lowe on his podcast this week to talk about his new opportunity. They also reflected a bit on his time with the Sixers and the tough loss to the eventual NBA Champion Toronto Raptors in the playoffs after four bounces of a Kawhi Leonard desperation shot.

JJ is open about the fact that the decision to move on to New Orleans was partly financial.

"I never got the sense that [the Sixers] didn't want to bring me back, unfortunately it came down to a little bit of economics," Redick said.

Jimmy Butler's decision to move on to the Miami Heat obviously precipitated that move. Redick speaks highly of Butler regardless of his decision.

"I love Jimmy. I would play with Jimmy again," Redick said. "He is in the upper tier of two-way players and in the upper tier of offensive players in the NBA period."

So Redick has moved on to New Orleans, but it's tough not to think back to what could have been. There was a point in the Toronto series where Redick believed the Sixers were capable of winning the NBA championship last season.

"Joel and I spent some time together after the season and we talked about it. It was Game 4 [against Toronto] for us. We lost that game and I felt like, for most of that game, we had control, not just that game but that series. We had a chance to go up 3-1. That was the opportunity that we missed. You lose that game and it's 2-2 and you've got to win 2 out of 3 against Toronto and that's a tough task."

One other interesting nugget from Redick's time in Philly was his sharing that he believed they didn't do enough team dinners on the road.

"I wish, I've tried, I wish, the team meal on the road is huge. I think it's huge. We didn't do it enough last year in Philly. We tried. It wasn't enough. Some of that, look, nobody wants to be forced to go to dinner. It's got to be real and authentic."

Some other choice quotes from the pod below.

On Ben Simmons getting a jumper.

"Ben works. He worked all of last off season. I witnessed him during the season get his shots up after practice every day. I think he'll be able to shoot at some point. A lot of it is confidence. He can shoot a high enough clip when he's shooting spot shots that it should translate to shooting threes in a game. The video that went viral, looks to me like he's shooting with some confidence there."

Lowe also asked JJ about the dagger shot in Toronto.

"I was on the bench," Redick said. "I sort of had that perfect angle cause as soon as the ball had come in bounds I sort of walked on to the baseline. Not on the court, but onto the baseline so I could get a straight-on view of the action. My memory may be a little jogged but my arms were crossed, I was watching the ball bounce around the rim, and it went in. I'm not sure I had any initial reaction, I think it was just shock. Part of you wants to walk off the floor and punch a wall and the other part of you, if I'm the Raptors, I'd want to dap up the people that I had just played a seven game series against. I stayed on the court and talked to Kyle, Marc, Kawhi, Danny and those guys. Told them I hope they win a championship and walked off. Then you get back to the locker room and you see the emotion, I was obviously feeling emotional, then Joel started crying. Those are the sorts of moments that you don't forget. As much as you don't forget the shot, the aftermath of moments like that, you just don't forget. There's just a lot of raw emotion."

You can listen to JJ's entire conversation with Zach Lowe right here.

Joel Embiid lost weight ... but not his sense of humor

Joel Embiid lost weight ... but not his sense of humor

After a disappointing postseason, Joel Embiid faced much scrutiny. He dealt with knee tendinitis and illnesses which didn’t allow him to be at his best. It also seemed to suck the joy out of the normally charismatic center.

He took that Game 7 quadruple doink hard, visibly crying on the floor and making sure to call out his detractors during exit interviews.

And it appears he’s taking his health more seriously. The All-Star big man claims to have lost 25 pounds in a recent video where he took on the Paqui One Chip Challenge. While it’s encouraging to hear that Embiid has been working on his fitness this offseason, it’s also good to see he still has his typical sense of humor. 

During the video, he eats a chip dipped in black seasoning that’s made with Carolina Reaper Pepper, which is “certified by the Guinness World Records as the world’s hottest chili pepper.” Embiid eats the chip and tries to downplay the intensity of the heat, repeating over and over again “I’m African” and that he “doesn’t feel anything” – while he’s wilting on the floor in agony and chugging milk.

It was Embiid being himself. 

And It was good to see him covered in sweat and crying for a different reason.

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