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Without Lou Williams, Sixers Need to Rely on Defense

Nov 27, 2009 – 9:00 AM
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Tom Ziller

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It has, without a doubt, been a disappointing November for the 76ers. The team didn't figure to get a whole lot better than last season's solid showing (which ended with a 4-2 first round surrender to Marcin Gortat), having lost first-string point guard Andre Miller and adding only 18-year-old point guard Jrue Holiday in the draft. But a 5-10 record out of the gate registers far below expectations, and that mark comes even with new starting PG Louis Williams playing really, really well.

And now even that bright spot is blotted out! Williams broke his jaw on Antawn Jamison's shoulder earlier this week, had it wired shut and will miss up to eight weeks. (He also missed Thanksgiving, tragically. Turkey malt shake, anyone?) In his place, Holiday started Wednesday, a (surprisingly) tight loss in Boston. (The Sixers had lost to Boston by 31 in Philly earlier this month.)

Holiday is pretty raw, even by rookie point guard standards. (Given the success of other rookie PGs this year, in Milwaukee and Sacramento and Denver and New Orleans, perhaps we should rethink our belief structure on the matter. Maybe next year, when John Wall leads the Grizzlies to a 13-0 start.) But Holiday has some defensive promise, even early in his career. It hasn't translated on the court quite yet, but Holiday has been limited to short minutes prior to Lou's injury.

But the rest of the roster is ready to defend. Last year, Philadelphia had the 14th-ranked defense in the league. This year, it's 26th. The absence of Miller surely matters here -- opposing point guards are shooting an effective field goal percentage of 53 percent against Philly this season, versus 51.1 percent last year. The Sixers are still managing to create turnovers, but overall shot defense has been abysmal and defensive rebounding has dramatically fallen (even with elite rebounder Samuel Dalembert playing only slightly fewer minutes).

Other than at the point, where has Philly's defense been weakest? Marreese Speights, for all his offensive gifts, has watched the defense around him crumble, with the Sixers giving up nine points per 48 minutes more when Speights plays. Of course, he also will not be playing for a while, having suffered a torn MCL two weeks ago.

Thaddeus Young, a good defender, has given up too high a shooting percentage at the small forward position (he's been much better defensively at power forward this season -- last season, he was good in both spots), and even Andre Iguodala -- one of the league's top perimeter defenders -- has been allowing opponents to score too easily. You wonder how much of all this comes down to bad luck through the early going, how much can be attributed to Philadelphia starting slowly (per usual) ... and how much should fall on the shoulders of Eddie Jordan, who took over as coach this summer and has a very, very spotty defensive reputation.

Whatever the reason for Philly's bad defense, with Williams out until late January, the 76ers desperately need the defense to bail them out. We'll see if Jordan, Iguodala and Young can get that to happen.
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