On Wednesday the Raptors torched the Sixers from downtown, hitting a ridiculous 14 of 29 three-pointers in the 108-98 victory. But this was no aberration. This has been, and will continue to be the norm.
If it seems like opponents are lighting up the Sixers from 3-point land night in and night out, that’s because they are. The defense is surrendering a league-high 29.7 attempts per game, which is four more attempts per game than the Thunder, who give up the second-most attempts. While NBA teams are shooting more 3-pointers than ever–and thus, giving up more 3-pointers on the aggregate–the Sixers’ defense is headed for a record-setting season.
That the Sixers are giving up this many 3-point attempts is by design. “We’ve chosen a way to play. We’ve chosen to protect the paint with a young team. We’ve hedged our bet. At times, it’s helped. At times, it’s hurt us,” Brett Brown said a couple weeks ago.
Through 12 games, though, the pack-the-paint strategy is hurting more than it’s helping. The Sixers rank 27th in defensive efficiency and are giving up 3-point parades with regularity. Smart offenses–like the Spurs–have little trouble getting open shots from downtown.
Take this play in the second quarter of the their blowout loss last week. San Antonio is widely spaced with three players around the perimeter.
Manu Ginobili moves to catch a swing pass at the top of the key while Marco Belinelli stands in the corner with Michael Carter-Williams 10-plus feet away. Why is Belinelli left alone? Because MCW is busy double-teaming Jeff Ayres, who is nowhere near the ball.
As Ginobili catches the ball, Carter-Williams closes in on Ayres and cuts off the inside. Even Hawes gets in on the paint-protecting fun, standing between Ayres and Ginobili. Meanwhile, Belinelli is wide-open in the upper-left wing.
Ginobili fakes a pass to the paint, causing Hawes to sag even further off of the perimeter. Then he deals to Belinelli who drains the 3-pointer. That was one of the 13 that San Antonio made that night.
Here’s another defensive breakdown against the Pelicans:
Here, Jrue Holiday’s cut attracts three defenders, while two other Sixers close in. That leaves three Pelicans standing unguarded on the perimeter.
Jrue dishes it to an unattended Eric Gordon, who has plenty of time to settle, and nails one of NOLA’s 13 3-pointers.
While it’s hard to separate how many of their surrendered 3-point attempts stem from defensive breakdowns, and how many are a byproduct of the strategy, the defense’s paint-protecting priorities are clear.
It’s a fascinating approach as historically, the league’s best defenses have tried to limit 3-pointers, rather than encourage them. But that doesn’t mean it can’t work; the Heat and Spurs, respectively, surrendered the sixth and seventh most 3-point attempts last season.
As for right now, it’s painfully obvious that the pack-the-paint philosophy is not helping this Sixers team win games. We’ll see how it develops as the season progresses.