Sixers get tough on defense in victory over Cavs

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Sixers get tough on defense in victory over Cavs

BOX SCORE

It was just a matter of time until the Sixers’ pick-your-poison style of defense paid off. After suffering big losses to the Warriors and Wizards this weak beneath a hail of three-pointers, the Sixers finally met a team that missed.

Or maybe it was matter of execution.

The Sixers overcame a slow first quarter to whip the Cleveland Cavaliers, 94-79, on Friday night to halt a two-game losing streak (see Instant Replay). They won in part because the Cavs shot poorly, connecting at a 33-percent clip from the field with just nine three-pointers.

Given that the Warriors and Wizards combined for 33 three-pointers in back-to-back games, Friday’s win was a step in the right direction.

“The defensive is something we talked about a lot,” head coach Brett Brown said. “You see the numbers against us in the previous two games with the threes and all those types of things and we didn’t roll over.”

The Sixers were down by 14 points after the opening quarter, but took a two-point lead into halftime. By the end of the third quarter, the Sixers led going into the final quarter of a game for the first time this season.

According to Brown, the Sixers did a lot more than watch the Cavs miss shots and corral the rebounds. Actually, the coach says, the Sixers’ woes in defending the perimeter weren’t because of a failure to contest shots while the focus remained on protecting the paint. Instead, it all gets back to energy and running.

Because the Sixers were slow on transition defense, they got burned on three-pointers, Brown says. Against the Cavaliers, the Sixers were able to push the pace offensively and defensively.

The result was the Cavs’ poor shooting.

Cleveland went 9 for 26 from three-point range. They also settled for a lot of long two-pointers, hitting just 7 of 29 shots in the area outside of the paint and inside the thee-point line.

“What we saw as a coaching staff was a team that was beyond bad in transition defense,” Brown said. “It started there and everything grew from there. I feel like the thing I get from it was watching a tape and seeing the carryover and seeing it and working out in the game.”

Credit sixth man Tony Wroten for providing the spark. With the Sixers posting just 14 points in the opening quarter, Wroten pushed the pace on both ends of the floor during the second quarter and was on the floor with point guard Michael Carter-Williams in crunch time during the fourth quarter, too.

Perhaps it was the combination of Wroten with Carter-Williams that gave the Sixers the defensive boost? At the very least, Wroten’s offense surged while on the floor with the rookie point guard. The result was a career-high 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting with a pair of three-pointers, four rebounds and four assists.

Carter-Williams had nine rebounds (four offensive) with seven assists and 11 points.

That’s not a bad backcourt combo.

“Tony responded to backing up Michael Carter-Williams,” Brown said.

The next step for Wroten is consistency. Though he is a bundle of energy every time he hits the floor, Wroten sometimes has problems harnessing that exuberance. With double-digit scoring in five of six games, Wroten is fairly dependable off the bench in helping with some scoring.

But the ratio of assists to turnovers (11 to 9) isn’t ideal. Of course, those numbers might be the result of an energetic player trying to make things happen.

“It’s taking a risk,” Wroten said. “It’s something I’ll need to work on, but at the end of the day I’m going to try and make plays.”

Brown agrees, adding that in order for Wroten to raise his game, he’s going to have to find a middle ground between high energy and poise.

“He plays with reckless abandon. He’s an attack-first guard,” Brown said. “His challenge is can he take that fantastic mentality and polish it up to where there is a level of intellect and poise and say, ‘OK, now you’re an NBA point guard.’ There’s a collision there if you’re not careful. That’s the challenge of coaching Tony Wroten. He plays with his heart on his sleeve and he gets emotional. He can throw the greatest pass you’ve ever seen in your life, or he could hit someone in their shoe. That’s the challenge of coaching Tony.”

The Sixers and Cavs get at it again on Saturday night in Cleveland for the second game of a back-to-back. After that, Brown’s old team, the San Antonio Spurs, come to Philly for a game on Monday night.

Sixers Mailbag: Draft De'Aaron Fox at 3, re-sign Ersan Ilyasova?

Sixers Mailbag: Draft De'Aaron Fox at 3, re-sign Ersan Ilyasova?

This week, I tweeted asking for questions for a Sixers mailbag, and the replies came pouring in. (Thanks, everyone!)

So we changed it up and in addition to answering the questions in these articles, we also discussed some of the topics on PST Extra. Read below and watch the video for the responses. If you tweeted a question with #CSNSixersMailbag and don’t see it on here, don't worry, there will be plenty more answered leading up to the draft and free agency.

The Sixers should explore all possibilities: trade up, trade down, trade the pick, draft third. The draft is a little funky this year in that there is not a clear-cut choice between picks three through five, and perhaps beyond that. If the Sixers like either player, there is the possibility they could simply select that player No. 3.

I’ve said before, I could see Fox going third. The speedy point guard met with the Sixers at the draft combine and outlined how he would fit playing off the ball with Ben Simmons and finding opportunities with Joel Embiid. Is three a stretch for him? I don’t think so (more on why here).

Monk has not been projected as high as Fox, so the option of trading down for him is viable. If the Sixers draft for need, however, his skill set is a fit at three. Monk is their best option for a shooter, and they are lacking shooters. It's not uncommon for a prospect to jump in the draft order based on what the team at that selection is looking for. Of course, if the Sixers trade down, they could pick up another piece (future pick, etc.) in addition to Monk in the deal, which always is worth considering.

Ersan Ilyasova was a great veteran presence for the Sixers this season before they traded him to the Hawks at the deadline. He boosted their offense and, more importantly, helped in Dario Saric’s development.

The Sixers and Ilyasova had different plans for the future, though, and understandably so. Ilyasova, who turned 30 this month, was going to be looking for a longer-term contract this offseason than the Sixers were interested in offering. Ilyasova wanted commitment and security at this point in his career; the Sixers wanted flexibility with their options in the frontcourt.

Ilyasova has put together a résumé that will attract teams in free agency this summer.

The case for Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox to the Sixers at No. 3

The case for Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox to the Sixers at No. 3

Over the weeks leading up to the 2017 NBA draft, we'll be making cases for the Sixers to draft several prospects. Our series will kick off with options at No. 3 (or trade downs) followed by second-round possibilities. The 2017 NBA draft will take place on June 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

De'Aaron Fox
Position: PG
School: Kentucky
Height: 6-3
Weight: 170 pounds
Wingspan: 6-6½

The case for Fox
With maybe the deepest point guard class in recent draft history, Fox has been flying up draft boards in the past month while still staying relatively under the radar when compared with Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball — the expected top two picks in some order. He is electric on offense, and the Wildcats' guard posted double-figure points in all but four games during his lone collegiate season.

Against UCLA in the Sweet 16, Fox scored a career-high 39 and added four dimes. But perhaps more impressively, he shut down Ball, holding his 6-foot-6 counterpart to just 10 points on 4 of 10 shooting and one trey. And it wasn't just a one-time thing — two nights later, Fox held North Carolina guard Joel Berry II to just 11 points.

Although the Sixers have repeatedly said Ben Simmons will be their starting point guard at the beginning of next season (assuming the young star has no other setbacks), they will need someone to defend against opponents' quicker guards. With T.J. McConnell as the only true ballhandler currently on the roster, Fox certainly would be able to help spell Simmons at the point as well.

When experts began putting together their mock draft boards at the end of the college basketball season, Fox was frequently listed as a back-end lottery selection. Now, many have him as a potential top-five pick, and it's hard to see Fox slipping much past the Kings at No. 5 as Sacramento is a rebuilding team still in search of a point guard of their own.

The case against Fox
The biggest knock on Fox is his size. On Kentucky's website, he is listed at 187 pounds. But at the NBA draft combine, he measured in 17 pounds lighter. For scouts already concerned with his thin frame, this did little to reassure them that Fox will be able to hang with bigger guards at the next level — but maybe he fits as a complement to the 6-foot-11 Simmons.

Another worry is his three-point shooting. For the season, Fox shot just 24.9 percent from beyond the arc, attempting just fewer than two three-pointers per game. As a team in 2016-17, the Sixers took the seventh-most triples but ranked 25th out of 30 NBA teams from distance at 34 percent. With the Sixers in desperate need of consistent outside shooting, Fox would need to significantly improve that area of his game at the next level to help Brett Brown's team take the next step.

And, of course, as with most young ballhandlers (Fox is just 19), he has rough spots when leading the offense. Yes, Fox helped Kentucky to its fair share of highlight-reel alley-oops, yet he still struggled to command the Wildcats' offense at times and would occasionally get lost in pick-and-roll defense. Although his 5.8 assists per 40 minutes are a sign that he can eventually grow into the point guard that the Sixers need him to be, they could also use Fox to be an immediate impact player for a team that is finally trying to put all the pieces together.

Analysis
If the Sixers do in fact miss out on Fultz and Ball, Fox would certainly be a good consolation prize. He is incredibly quick with the ball in his hands and has the potential to improve defensively. In fact, our Amy Fadool lauded him as one of the most improved players in all of college basketball last season — he shot almost 48 percent from the field in Kentucky's final 14 games of the season.

There is no one on the Sixers' roster, as it stands, with a skill set comparable to Fox's, but it's still fair to question how he will handle some of the bigger and stronger point guards in the Eastern Conference, such as Kyrie Irving and John Wall, on both ends of the floor. With plenty of young budding talent in the fold, though, if Fox can immediately step in as a plus defender and a steady reserve ballhandler, he could definitely help the Sixers' core of Simmons, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric become even more lethal offensively.

A couple of weeks ago, I definitely viewed Fox as a stretch at No. 3. The more I think about it, however, he would not be an unreasonable selection for the Sixers. Yes, they also would likely have the option of Kansas' Josh Jackson or Duke's Jayson Tatum, as well as Fox's former teammate, Malik Monk, when they go on the clock, but Fox could fill a critical need. 

If the Sixers were somehow able to get the Kings to trade up to No. 3, Fox would be a great pick at No. 5 overall. And if Fultz or Ball were somehow available at No. 3, the Sixers would be hard-pressed to pass on either. Still, with so many talented point guards in this year's class, Fox is very much a worthy first-round candidate.