The Sixers will begin the 2019-20 season with one of the tallest starting 5 of any team, let alone championship contender, in NBA history.  This rare mix of length and talent will provide the Sixers with a huge size advantage against nearly every team in the league. It will also create multiple size mismatches on a nightly basis.

However, in today’s NBA that places so much emphasis on the 3 point shot, it is far from certain that the size disparity between the Sixers and opponents will always be an advantage.  Let’s take a look at the potential starting 5 matchups against teams that are considered conference final contenders and examine how the Sixers might match up at both ends of the floor. 


Projected Starting Five

PG – Patrick Beverly 6’1”

SG – Landry Shamet 6’5”

SF – Kawhi Leonard 6’7”

PF – Paul George 6’9”

C – Ivica Zubac 7’1”


The new-look Clippers are currently the Las Vegas favorite to win the NBA title. Their 2 regular-season matchups with the Sixers could provide an NBA Finals preview, and they will certainly present compelling matchups all over the floor.


Defense

Let’s again start with the obvious.  Joel Embiid will cover Ivica Zubac or anyone else the Clippers run out there at the center.  This is a clear Sixer advantage. While Zubac has shown some offensive skills in his first few seasons, he is not a polished offensive threat.  This should allow Embiid to provide defensive help elsewhere.Beyond the Embiid Zubac matchup, defensive decisions will get very interesting for Brett Brown.  The biggest question is who will cover Kawhi and Paul George? The Sixers have as good an answer to that as pretty much any team in Ben Simmons and Josh Richardson.  Ben holds a size advantage over both Leonard and George and is capable of holding his own against either player. Richardson will give up some size to both, but his quickness, length, and high defensive IQ should make him a worthy cover of both players.The problem with the Simmons/Richardson answer lies in the fact that Al Horford and Tobias Harris would be left to match up with Patrick Beverly and Landry Shamet.  So why not use Harris and Horford on Kawhi and George? While Horford is obviously an outstanding defender, his defensive game is really not designed to cover players like Leonard and George who can score from the perimeter or put the ball on the floor and go right by a slower defender.  And Harris is at best an average defender. Maybe Harris can cover George, but that matchup would represent a huge advantage for the Clippers.Brown and the Sixers would be better served by being creative.  Neither Beverly or Shamet are much of a threat off the dribble. Why not play them with bigger/slower players with instructions, especially in Shamets case, to chase them off the three-point line and make them put the ball on the floor to go by.  Then the longer Horford or Harris would trail them toward the basket, and Jo, and provide as much resistance as possible. Better to have Beverly and Shamet trying to create points than having Leonard and George in favorable matchups.Short of this, Brown could try another radical defensive approach, a zone defense.  If any modern NBA team in the three-point era was built to play a zone it is the Sixers.  Their starters length and size has the potential to choke off passing lanes and challenge three-point attempts everywhere.  Against smaller/quicker teams a zone defense would be a worthy experiment.

Advantage: TBD


Offense

A recurring theme in looking at how the Sixers match-up on offense with other contenders is that Brett Brown will have to find ways to take advantage of the numerous size matchups the Sixers will have.  Embiid against Zubac is the only place that won’t provide a size mismatch, but it will be a mismatch in every other way. Zubac is incapable of covering Joel. The Clippers will most certainly help on nearly every touch Jo has.  This could lead to problems for the turnover-prone Embiid when you consider that the Clippers will have three defenders on the floor (Leonard, George, and Beverly) who have won a combined six first team and five second-team all-defensive honors in the past seven seasons. Again, Brown and the Sixers offense would seem to be best served by running the half-court offense through Al Horford.  Horford will have a size and strength advantage against whoever the Clippers choose to cover him with. In fact, every other Sixer on the floor will likely have a size and strength advantage.  As great a defender as Patrick Beverly is, he will be giving up a minimum of five inches to whatever Sixer he is covering. This would seem to be a place to attack the Clipper defense. Whatever matchup the Sixers choose to attack, the logical place on the floor to begin this attack from is unquestionably the post.  The problem with this philosophy is that we are talking about the NBA circa 2019-20 and post offense is at an all-time low. According to NBA.com advanced statistics, no player in the NBA averaged 50% of their touches in the post last season.  LaMarcus Aldridge led the league at 43%. Joel Embiid was a distant second at 30%.  The Sixers averaged 1.01 points per possession on Embiid’s post possessions. This is lower than every NBA team’s overall points per possession last season. The reality of today’s NBA is that post play is difficult because of the way the game is officiated.  A three-point shooter can have their fingernail scraped and will end up on the line shooting 3 foul shots.  Post defenders can do everything short of assault and battery without a whistle being blown. How the Sixers deal with this reality will go a long way to determining the amount of offensive success they have against a team like the Clippers. 

Advantage: Clippers


Featured Image: ESPN
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