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Why can’t the guards actually guard anyone?

The Philadelphia 76ers’ guards have had a hard time actually guarding other team’s guards. Why?

Following a home loss to the lowly Brooklyn Nets in a game they trailed almost the entire time, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid made a comment, per Jon Johnson of WIP,  that reverberated with many fans:

“We seem to make every guard look like a hall of famer”

This was after Spencer Dinwiddie dropped a career-high 39 points on the Sixers in a 127-124 win. Two days earlier, Luke Kennard  exploded for career-high 28 points for Detroit, although the Sixers were able to pull out that game,

Speaking of Detroit Sixer-killers, guard Ish Smith did not play in their last two meetings due to injury but he poured in 21 points in Detroit’s overtime win. This is a player the Sixers, at their ‘Process’ worst, let go — twice.

Another name added to the ‘Making look like Hall of Famer’ roll is the Pelicans E’Twaun Moore. He dropped 30 points on them (and for good measure his backcourt mate Jrue Holiday had 31) in a one-point Sixers win on Nov. 21.

It is one thing to get burned by the likes of a Kawhi Leonard or Russell Westbrook but, for a team with the stated goal of reaching the NBA Finals, being helpless to stop journeymen guards like Dinwiddie, Smith, Moore and Kennard is a major red flag.

A total of 19 players have scored 30 or more points against the Sixers in its first 29 games. Since coach Brett Brown has stated the first thing he looks for is defense in a player, that is not a good sign.

When asked after the Nets game if it concerned him for when they play the top teams, Brown replied:

“Yes it does, yes it does. …. we don’t do well against that type of team.”

The Nets after that victory have 11 wins on the season. Two have been against the 76ers and Brooklyn would have had a third if not for a Jimmy Butler buzzer-beater.

So why do the Sixers have such a problem with a team the rest of the  NBA has no problem beating?

Brooklyn has no real inside game, Embiid (when given the ball inside) has feasted against them. They are just a bunch of guards/small forwards who know how to score off-the-dribble complemented by a couple outside shooting-specialists who can take the kickout when a Nets player drives to the hoop and drill a three-pointer.

And the Sixers guards? Well, most cannot guard very well, at least the ones healthy enough to play.

On Dec. 14, the Indiana Pacers at the start relentlessly tried to isolate Furkan Korkmaz and J.J. Redick defensively to try and take advantage.

There is also the new defensive structure instituted by assistant coach Billy Lange. It is switch-heavy while attempting to keep Embiid in the paint to protect the rim and not let the opposition get open in the corners.

What teams have been doing is a simple pick-and-roll up top. When a Dinwiddie, Moore, Smith etc. gets matched up with one of the Sixers who are not strong on defense, they dive to the hoop and blow past the new defender. If Embiid comes out on them, they can dish off to the now unguarded post player for an easy basket (which occurred several times vs. Nets) or, if their path is blocked, simply kick it out to a wide-open teammate on the three-point line.

Brown has said he is hoping by Christmas the players will have adjusted to the new defensive assignments.

The other problem is the simple defensive capabilities of a lot of the guards/small forwards the Sixers are rolling out.

According to, Jimmy Butler is the fourth-best defensive rated player in the league (FYI, Robert Covington is No. 2) and Ben Simmons is 21st.

Most Sixers fans know by the eye test Butler and Simmons are good defensive wing players. The rest: Meh.

T.J. McConnell is ranked No. 91, Furkan Korkmaz No. 136, Landry Shamet is ranked No. 211 and J.J. Redick is No. 216. The rankings kind of poo-poo the excuse that Brown cannot play Korkmaz because of his defense, as only Butler, Simmons and McConnell are ranked ahead of him defensively.

The dilemma for Brown is that while most of his guards/wings are not good defensively, the lowest rated are the team’s best outside shooters. On a squad desperate for shooting to open space up inside for Simmons and Embiid, choices must be made.

Brown can (and has) rolled out Shamet, Redick and Korkmaz on the floor at the same time. That is a trio of expert 3-point shooters but also a defensive nightmare going against a team of fleet ballhandlers.

Of course, the Sixers are suppose to have two guards who could contribute on the defensive end.

Before, whatever it is, Markelle Fultz was developing quickly into a fine defensive player. With his wingspan and athleticism, he is a natural defender. All he really needed was the experience of being on the floor and learning how to handle switches and guarding pick-and-rolls. In the limited time he’s played so far, Fultz was improving by leaps and bounds on the defensive end.

Another blow to the defense has been the injury and illness of first-round pick Zhaire Smith. Not much was expected of Smith as a raw rookie learning the wing position after spending most of his basketball career as a 6-foot-4 post player.

However, as a great athlete with a hard-nosed attitude, it was hoped Smith could be used in spots as a lock-down defender on a quick guard and frustrate when he tries to attack the basket.

Unfortunately, due to a broken foot in August followed by a bad allergic reaction to sesames (oil or seeds, no one knows for sure), his rookie season is pretty much looking like a lost year. On the morning of Dec. 14, Brown on 97.5 FM did not sound very optimistic about Smith joining the team anytime soon, as he is just starting to get back into some semblance of basketball shape.

So why are guards looking like Hall of Famers against the Sixers? The answer is as easy as 1,2,3.

1. New system players still getting used to.
2. It’s best shooters not their best on defense.
3. It’s best defensive guards outside of Simmons and Butler are hurt.

So when fans and the media cry out how badly the team needs more outside shooting, and it does, particularly from the forward and center positions, do not forget that these newcomers must be ‘3-and-D’ players.

Next: Exploring more go-to play possibilities

Forgetting the ‘D’ would most likely allow more no-names to torch the Sixers, as well as big-name players from Boston, Toronto and Milwaukee killing them when it counts the most, in the playoffs.

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