Dikembe Mutombo

The 10 best defenders in Sixers history

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The 10 best defenders in Sixers history

To the casual basketball observer, it’s generally much easier to recognize offensive success than defensive brilliance.

As the NBA’s hiatus continues, with a plan to resume the season at Disney World in late July, we figured we’d appreciate the 10 best defenders in Sixers history.

We mostly tried to answer a basic question: “How good were they (or are they) at defense?” Factors like career accomplishments and time spent with the Sixers are part of the equation but not considered as important as with previous rankings we’ve done. Our ranking looks at players who have worn a Sixers uniform since the franchise adopted that name in 1963.

10. Joel Embiid 
As we’ve been doing these superlatives during the NBA’s hiatus, figuring out how to assess active players has been one of the main challenges. We want to properly respect those who had long, accomplished careers and not give too much weight to potential. With that said, Embiid has already made two All-Defensive Teams, meaning he’s one of five players in franchise history with multiple All-Defensive Team honors as a Sixer.  

9. Ben Simmons 
An agile, versatile defender with tremendous skills on and off the ball, Simmons is in the Defensive Player of the Year mix for this season. 

8. Billy Cunningham 
Cunningham was known for his tenacity and relentless effort, and he was a great defensive rebounder, as well. After leaving the Sixers for the Carolina Cougars for the 1972-73 season (where he was coached by Larry Brown), Cunningham led the ABA in steals. 

7. Andre Iguodala
During his prime, Iguodala was one of the NBA’s best wing defenders. His talents received a much larger spotlight in Golden State, but he did rack up the fourth-most steals in franchise history and make an All-Defensive Team with the Sixers in the 2010-11 season. 

6. Hal Greer 
The team’s all-time leader in games played and points scored has to be on this list. While we don’t have the same defensive statistics available with Greer as we do with modern players, Marc Zumoff remembered the Hall of Fame guard as a “diligent defender” and stellar all-around player.

5. Julius Erving 
Erving is second in franchise history in defensive win shares, behind only Dolph Schayes. His defense was artistic — apparently effortless strides that evaporated space so he could chase down blocks and come up with steals. In the 1983 NBA Finals, Erving led all players with 11 blocks at 33 years old, including five in an incredible Game 1 performance

4. Maurice Cheeks 
Cheeks has the most steals (and highest steal percentage) in Sixers history and was consistently strong on defense over his 11 seasons with the team as a player. He was a five-time All-Defensive Team selection. 

3. Dikembe Mutombo 
Seemingly every player who blocks a shot and is feeling good about themselves now wags their finger in the way Mutombo made famous. Though he only spent a season and a half in Philadelphia, Mutombo is clearly deserving of a high spot on our list, with four Defensive Player of the Year awards, tied for the most ever. He’s the only Sixer to ever win the award, though Embiid and Simmons might be able to change that. 

2. Bobby Jones 
For eight seasons in a row, Jones was named to the All-Defensive First Team. He didn’t play quite as many minutes as the other players in our ranking, but Jones earned a reputation as one of the top defenders in the sport, and the nickname “The Secretary of Defense.” The humble Hall of Famer was a tremendous sixth man for the 1982-83 champions and averaged 1.7 steals and 1.9 blocks over the Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals that year. 

1. Wilt Chamberlain 
If only we knew just how many shots Chamberlain blocked over his NBA career. Like most parts of his game, Chamberlain’s shot blocking was mythical. While we don’t have the exact statistics the same way we do with his scoring and rebounding, we do know he was an exceptional athlete and fearsome presence around the rim. With all due respect to Jones, “The Big Dipper” needs to be No. 1. 

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The 10 best Sixers without an NBA title

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The 10 best Sixers without an NBA title

When a franchise hasn’t won a championship in 37 years, it’s going to have some great players who haven’t won titles.

This list ranks the best 10, considering both overall career and performance/impact as a Sixer, with more weight given to the latter. It only looks at players who have never won an NBA championship with any team, meaning names like Andre Iguodala are not included. 

10. Steve Mix 
​​​​​​“The Mayor” was a key piece for some very good Sixers teams throughout the mid-70s and early-80s. He played 668 games with the team over nine seasons, winning three Eastern Conference titles and being named an All-Star in the 1974-75 season. Though he wasn’t a huge scorer, Mix chipped in across the board and was consistently an above average, winning player. 

9. Jimmy Butler 
Butler appears on this ranking mostly because of his accomplishments outside of Philadelphia. Over the last six seasons, he’s averaged 21.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.8 steals. It didn’t work out here, but denying Butler is one of the best players to pass through Philadelphia would be foolish. At 30 years old, the five-team All-Star is searching for his first championship with the Heat. 

8. Ben Simmons
Simmons, a two-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year winner, is easily the youngest player on our list. To be clear, we’re not saying he’s already had a better career than Butler, but that he deserves this spot because of his early impact as a Sixer. It would be a major snub if Simmons does not appear on an All-Defensive Team this season, and he should be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. 

7. Joel Embiid 
Because of his many injury woes, Embiid has actually played in 12 fewer regular-season games than Simmons. While Embiid isn’t happy with how he’s played this year or what he’s accomplished so far, he’s on a Hall of Fame trajectory, health permitting. He’ll hope to no longer be eligible for this particular list when his career is over. 

6. Archie Clark 
Well before it was the norm, Clark was hitting defenders with shifty crossovers and Euro steps, earning the nickname “Shake and Bake.” A ball handling pioneer, Clark played three full seasons in Philadelphia after being included in the trade that sent Wilt Chamberlain to the Lakers, averaging 18.2 points and 4.7 assists. If you haven’t seen them before, his highlights are worth watching.

5. Doug Collins 
Collins’ career was shortened by injuries, but at his peak he appeared in four straight All-Star Games and posted about 20 points per contest. A tangential note: He should be an Olympic hero and gold medalist. 

4. Dikembe Mutombo 
In his 10th NBA season, Mutombo won his first conference title in 2001 as a Sixer. While he only spent a season and a half here, Mutombo is one of the best defensive centers ever, with eight All-Star appearances, four Defensive Player of the Year awards and that iconic finger wag. He’s also an internationally renowned humanitarian

3. George McGinnis 
A two-time ABA champion with the Pacers, McGinnis came close to a title in his second season with the Sixers, who fell to the Trail Blazers in Game 6 of the 1977 Finals despite 40 points from Julius Erving and a 28-point, 16-rebound effort from McGinnis. He averaged 21.6 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists in three seasons here before being traded to Denver. 

2. Allen Iverson
Given how beloved Iverson is with a single NBA Finals victory on his résumé, just imagine the level of adulation if he’d won a series. As a Sixer, Iverson led the league in minutes per game five times, scoring four times and steals three times. He’s a legend, even without a title. 

1. Charles Barkley 
Regardless of team, Barkley should be one of the first names that comes to mind when thinking about the best NBA players to never win a championship. During a nine-season peak from 1988 to 1996, he scored 24.9 points, grabbed 11.5 rebounds and dished 4.1 assists per game. 

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The 10 best trades in Sixers history

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The 10 best trades in Sixers history

The Sixers have been on the losing end of quite a few trades, both in recent and distant history. They’ve also pulled off some bargains and successful blockbusters, too. 

We ranked the top 10 in Sixers history:

10. Toni Kukoč, Nazr Mohammed, Theo Ratliff and Pepe Sánchez to the Atlanta Hawks for Roshown McLeod and Dikembe Mutombo 
Ratliff was the NBA’s leader in blocks per game for the 2000-01 season and made the only All-Star Game of his career. But when he hurt his wrist, the Sixers decided to swap centers and picked up Mutombo. The Hall of Famer won his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award and was vital in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bucks, averaging 16.6 points, 15.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks.

9. Johnny "Red" Kerr to the Baltimore Bullets for Wali Jones 
The Sixers got a bit of good fortune in this deal. After averaging 11 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Bullets in the 1965-66 season, Kerr was selected by the Bulls in the expansion draft. Instead of playing, however, he retired and took over as the team’s first head coach. Meanwhile, Jones spent seven seasons in Philadelphia and started at point guard for the 1966-67 NBA champions. 

8. Fred Carter to the Milwaukee Bucks for a 1977 second-round pick (Wilson Washington) and a 1978 second-round pick (Maurice Cheeks)
A Philadelphia native who later coached the Sixers, Carter was near the end of a playing career that had peaked with him scoring over 20 points per game. He only played 47 games for Milwaukee before retiring, while Cheeks played 853 games in Philadelphia and became a Hall of Fame floor general. GM Pat Williams also deserves credit for later turning Washington into three draft picks and spending one of those on 1979 second-round selection Clint Richardson, a key bench piece on the 1983 championship team. 

7. $125,000 the New Jersey Nets for the rights to the 51st pick (Kyle Korver) 
The Nets had to use the $125,000 for summer league expenses and a new copy machine after a second consecutive NBA Finals appearance, according to Zach Lowe. Korver has the fourth-most made three-pointers in NBA history, is 10th in three-point percentage and has earned about $77 million in his career. 

6. George McGinnis and a 1978 first-round pick (Mike Evans) to the Denver Nuggets for Bobby Jones, Ralph Simpson and a 1984 first-round pick (Leon Wood)
The Sixers’ timing on this trade was nearly perfect. While McGinnis was an All-Star the year after leaving Philadelphia, his production soon dropped off and he was done with professional basketball by 1982. Jones spent the majority of his Hall of Fame career with the Sixers and won the NBA’s inaugural Sixth Man of the Year award in 1983.

5. Luka Mitrović, Artūras Gudaitis and a 2017 first-round pick (De’Aaron Fox) to the Sacramento Kings for Carl Landry, Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, the right to swap picks in 2016 and 2017 and a 2019 first-round pick (Later traded — Celtics took Romeo Langford) 
We have this deal among our top 10 not because of the final results, but as an appreciation for the value Sam Hinkie often extracted. In this trade, the Sixers essentially moved up from No. 5 and No. 3 in the 2017 draft and took the No. 14 pick in the 2019 draft. In exchange, they gave up Mitrović and Gudaitis, neither of whom has played in the NBA. Though the fruits of the deal were ultimately squandered when Bryan Colangelo traded up to take Markelle Fultz, that’s an impressive haul.

4. World B. Free to the San Diego Clippers for a 1984 first-round pick (Charles Barkley) 
The Sixers had to patiently wait for this trade to pay off after making it in 1978. Free, now an always-jovial and charming team ambassador, was a heck of a scorer. He posted over 30 points per game in the 1979-80 season and averaged nearly 25 over an eight-season stretch. Still, parting with Free was obviously a price worth paying for the chance to draft Barkley, one of the best players in Sixers history.

3. Mel Bennett to the Indiana Pacers for a 1980 first-round pick (Andrew Toney) 
Much like the trade above, the Sixers were generously rewarded for playing the long game. They traded Bennett in 1976, then watched from afar as he posted a modest 3.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest in 129 career NBA games. The eighth pick in 1980, Toney was a two-time All-Star, an NBA champion in 1983 and, of course, “The Boston Strangler.” 

2. Caldwell Jones and a 1983 first-round pick (Rodney McCray) to the Houston Rockets for Moses Malone 
To upgrade a team that had won 58 games and lost to the Lakers in the Finals for the second time in three years, Williams landed the reigning MVP. While Jones stuck around until he was 39 years old and McCray played 10 professional seasons, Malone’s services should have been much more expensive, in hindsight. He won another MVP award in 1983 as his new team came just one game short of fulfilling his famous “Fo’, Fo’, Fo’” prediction. 

1. Connie Dierking, Paul Neumann, Lee Shaffer and cash to the San Francisco Warriors for Wilt Chamberlain 
Shaffer retired shortly after the trade, while Dierking and Neumann both had some solid NBA years left. Neither player, however, was in Chamberlain’s stratosphere. Chamberlain averaged 27.6 points, 23.9 rebounds and 6.8 assists in three-plus seasons as a Sixer, winning the championship in 1967. He probably shouldn’t have been dealt for anything less than multiple All-Stars — or perhaps an All-Star and a heap of first-round picks — but the Warriors were struggling financially and gave up a player who’d led the league in scoring for five consecutive seasons. 

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