Philadelphia 76ers Must Retain Defensive Versatility

Apr 12, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell (24) looks to make a pass against Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel (4) and forward Robert Covington (33) in the second half at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 12, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell (24) looks to make a pass against Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel (4) and forward Robert Covington (33) in the second half at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Philadelphia 76ers must keep the players that give defensive versatility to find success.

The Philadelphia 76ers have had one of the league’s worst defenses over the past three years. The plan to rebuild through the draft left the team with minimal NBA talent. Which means Brett Brown was left with the task of forming any type of defense out of scraps.

Through the rebuild, there were gems found in unlikely places. Two notable ones were Robert Covington through the D-League and Jerami Grant in the second-round of the draft. Covington was able to shine in the 2014-15 season with great two-way play at the wing position.

Grant broke out himself the same year by recording a historic 8 rookie blocks against the New York Knicks. Grant’s reputation grew as an emphatic block and dunk guy. Being able to change the outcome of the possession with a block and being the catalyst towards the transition game.

Both players came up as surprise impact players for the Philadelphia 76ers, but it’s more because of the background abilities they obtain. Defensive versatility is what allows them to maintain their label as quality NBA players. It will also serve them in becoming valuable pieces to bolster the defensive depth.

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It’s not just Covington or Grant. Nerlens Noel has proven his ability to guard the post, while the perimeter defense is still a work in progress but great considering his position. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot‘s length allows for the potential to become a defensive swiss army knife. The ability to guard both shooting guards and forwards is rare, but Luwawu-Cabarrot’s physical stature allows him to develop into the rarity.

Up and down the list, there are many players on the Philadelphia 76ers roster who have undefined offensive positions. Dario Saric is somewhere between a small and power forward. Ben Simmons is anything between a point guard and a power forward. Jahlil Okafor is a low post scorer that can be the center or the power forward in a more traditional offense.

Defensive ability, however, is what will give the Philadelphia 76ers options on how to build around their top pick in Simmons. Ben Simmons’ defense has been under the scope since the day he was drafted, but what has been overlook is his ability to confuse the opposition’s lineups. Simmons at playing the point forward or even the outright point guard will cause matchup problems.

There are few that can guard Simmons’ combination of size and speed, but the problem is that they can attack him on the other end of the court. Surrounding him with versatile defenders would mask his weaknesses while continuing to give the Philadelphia 76ers favorable lineup match-ups.

Those like Grant, Covington, and Noel will be able to serve as defensive fill-ins for whoever Simmons “position” is lined up with. Grant and Noel do give up some offensive effectiveness, but are still valuable targets for Ben Simmons around the rim. Covington may be taylor-made for Simmons. His ability in and outside the perimeter and his defensive presence complements Simmons well.

The problem is, this defensive versatility for all three players have turned them into valuable trade chips. Their value is almost too hard not to give away for a promising return. The Philadelphia 76ers should hold their cards as best they can on these three players, unless they can bring in the same amount of defensive versatility.

Being versatile on defense is what molded the Golden State Warriors without the ball. The roster holds players that can defend multiple position, allowing them to switch off and on the ball with almost no hiccups. The foundation of the Warriors defense comes with three or four players on the court at one time able to guard multiple positions.

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The Philadelphia 76ers have the tool on offense in Ben Simmons to break through defenses, but now they must come together and build a strong team defense. Coming together as a team on defense means to have players intertwined in abilities and whom they can guard. The Philadelphia may have good individual defenders, but it will mean nothing if it doesn’t form together.