The Philadelphia 76ers just can’t get in the zone… literally

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

After a solid start to the 2019-20 regular season, the Philadelphia 76ers just can’t get in the zone as of late – literally.

Okay, I’m just going to come right out and say it: The Philadelphia 76ers are in a slump.

Alright, alright, I know that’s hardly a hot take, but it’s true, and it stinks, and I hate it.

However, what is rather surprising is just how the Sixers are losing: Zone coverage.

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A yes, zone coverage, a style of defense seldom seen outside of the NCAA – and really high school – that was essentially illegal in the NBA during the 90s has come back in vogue as of late – much to the displeasure of Brett Brown.

It happened against the Brooklyn Nets, then the Miami Heat – earning Philly their first L of the season at the Wells Fargo Center – and most disturbingly in the Sixers Friday brawl against the Dallas Mavericks*.

Why the asterisk? Because the Mavs were without 2019 Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic.

That’s right, the 19-4 Mavericks found a way to defeat the Sixers. On the road. Without their best player.

Ay, caramba, that’s not good.

Now to be fair – or shall I say generous – it’s not like the Sixers were playing with a full deck in all three contests, as Joel Embiid missed the game in Brooklyn, and Al Horford probably should have missed the Heat game (at the very least), but three losses in five games against above-average talent is not a great measuring stick for a team with championship aspirations.

For all of our sake, let’s hope the Washington Wizards don’t know how to play zone too.

But how could this be? How can a professional basketball team not know how to score against a pretty common form of defense, regardless of whether it be 3-2, 2-3, or a man/zone hybrid scheme?

I mean, Matisse Thybulle made a name for himself playing in the Washington Huskies‘ zone scheme, couldn’t he sit the team down and give some pointers?

Maybe he could, but unfortunately, the NBA doesn’t quite work that way.

Unlike in college, where a team will only play a game or two a week outside of tournaments, NBA teams are either playing or on the road more often than not. That leaves very little time for practice – let alone scrimmages – especially for a team suffering through an unfortunate string of injuries in their starting five.

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If given a chance to right the ship, I’m sure Brett Brown could incorporate one heck of a zone-busting offensive package – he is an NBA head coach after all – but with six more games in 2019 alone (as of the time of publication), it’s not the if that’s an issue; it’s the when. Unfortunately, most teams in the NBA know how to play zone and will continue to do some until the Philadelphia 76ers prove they can stop it once and for all.