The Philadelphia 76ers have been in tank mode for what feels like forever and have a strategy that was constructed by former GM Sam Hinkie and has been embraced by the fans as “The Process” or by their rally cry “Trust the Process.”
This season, that strategy is finally coming to fruition as the team tries to compete for a playoff spot in the East.
The Warriors provide match-up problems for many teams night in and night out with the number of guys who can switch defensively and the ability to move the ball effectively. Teams that typically create match-up problems for the Warriors revolve around skill and athleticism in the front court.
Some match-up problems that have given the Warriors issues early this season are: Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, and Anthony Davis. The common denominator revolves around skilled big men.
The Sixers have plenty of skilled big men that do more than the average front court player. Ben Simmons stands at 6 foot 10 inches playing the de facto point guard, Robert Covington is 6 foot 9 inches playing small forward, Dario Saric is 6 foot 10 inches playing power forward, and Joel Embiid is a 7 foot playing center. So yes, they are VERY tall.
Most nights the Warriors can run opposing big men off the floor and force teams to go small to keep up with their frenetic pace. It will be interesting to see how the Warriors will match-up against the 76ers. The 76ers have not had the benefit of running their starting five at full strength with Markelle Fultz battling injury. Their team is young, so the 76ers are prone to making mistakes early on as they figures things out. However, there is no denying the raw talent this team possess.
They are one of the young franchises on the rise and are slowly becoming the “darlings” of the NBA, a title the Warriors had held not too long ago. As the Dark Knight said: “you either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Let’s look at a couple ways each of the Sixers skilled big men function on the court and how the Warriors can try to defend them.
Robert Covington - Athleticism on both ends of the floor
Robert Covington, also known as RoCo per Sixers fans, has evolved into the prototypical three-and-D(efense) player who is quite underrated. Covington actually finished fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting last year. He is an athletic and versatile defender on the wing. I would be damned if this play didn’t remind me of Jordan Bell and the way Bell runs back in transition.
Covington takes the majority of his shots from 3-point range, so the Warriors will need to run him off the line. He will be a tough assignment with the Warriors likely focusing on the other big three in the 76ers starting lineup.
Dario Saric - Cutting and moving without the ball
Dario Saric shows comfort running the ball up-court and he is another threat on the perimeter. Here he cuts across the lane and kicks it out to his man who gives him time to reset before he receives the ball and knocks down a wide open three. This comes against the Utah Jazz who are a top tier defensive squad.
The Warriors struggled with giving up a lot of wide open threes early in the season. Saric moves without the ball which poses another threat as it’s difficult to keep up with a mobile big man who can shoot. Kevin Durant is probably the best match-up as he can close out and possesses an equal or greater wingspan. Durant can tip or force tougher shots if Saric cuts out to the perimeter like the play above.
Joel Embiid - Spacing the floor
When healthy Joel Emiid is a dominant force. He’s a big center and it may be easy to put him in the same bucket as DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond based on his size and physique. That would be unfair as those two are fairly one dimensional centers. Emiid has proven he has range and can move quickly around the court. He’s in line with the many skilled big men that are set to take over the NBA in the coming years.
On this play he tries to set a screen for a pick and pop but Detroit gives him no respect as they focus all their attention on Simmons. Emiid slips right through the defenders for an easy lob and layup. This play could have gone the other way with Emiid popping out for a three.
This is another tough matchup for the Warriors. Draymond Green has done a great job on bigger centers but sometimes gets overwhelmed by some of the more imposing big men. This will need to be a collective effort. If Emiid plays, we might see JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia take turns trying to put a body on Embiid to slow him down. We can settle with him getting easy baskets inside as opposed to draining wide open threes.
Ben Simmons - Explosion on the fast break
Ben Simmons is technically a rookie this year as he missed his first season after injuring his foot in the pre-season last year. He is arguably the leading Rookie of the Year candidate and it’s likely not that close. Simmons is the de facto point guard as he possesses excellent court vision. Standing at 6 foot 10 inches, that is a tall task (pun intended) for any opposing guard.
His burst of speed and explosion at the rim are very LeBron James-esque in that it may be one of those things where you just get out of the way.
He doesn’t take 3-pointers and he opts to go with higher percentage shots close to the rim. As Simmons likes to attack the rim, having Green and Durant lurking around the rim should help slow him down.
Simmons appears to be strongest when he is running the fast break and he has the ball in his hands. The Warriors will need to cut off passing lanes and limit turnovers as the 76ers have players than can spot up from three.
The 76ers are raw but with that comes many growing pains. This could lead to more unexpected turnovers. The Warriors will need to try to jump in passing lanes and limit open threes. Turnovers are always a problem, but they can’t let the Sixers turn those into easy transition points. We haven’t even talked about JJ Redick who has been reborn in Philadelphia.
Warriors should keep the winning streak going but don’t take this team lightly. They are a young athletic team looking to prove themselves. Nevertheless, we should be in for a good game!