Sixers ‘Biggest Surprise’ Found On Defensive End To Start Season

Joel Embiid, Sixers

Getty Isaiah Jackson #22 of the Indiana Pacers and Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers reach for a loose ball during the fourth quarter at Wells Fargo Center on October 24, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Philadelphia 76ers entered this season with lofty goals. Despite a slow start, the team has gotten back on the right track and find their record back at .500 through the opening 14 games. The biggest takeaways of the season are beginning to be noted across the NBA. Bleacher Report dropped the biggest surprises of the NBA season that each team has noted. As Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report wrote:

“Joel Embiid recently netting 101 points—paired with 21 rebounds, 14 assists, nine blocks and three steals—over a two-game stretch was wild, but it didn’t feel totally impossible given his prodigious talent. Tyrese Maxey making another jump felt right in line with his progression. James Harden being a nightly triple-double threat is just sort of what he does.

The Sixers are, by and large, pretty much exactly what you’d expect. If there is a surprise in Philly, though, it’s the jump from 12th to fifth in defensive efficiency.

That was surely the franchise aim when they added De’Anthony Melton, P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr. this offseason, but it was hardly guaranteed. Sustaining this start, though, will be the real key. The playoffs will provide tests that the regular season cannot and will ultimately determine whether Philly has enough speed and athleticism on the wings to dominate this end of the floor,” per Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report.

Sixers Defensive Emphasis

The focus on defense has been something discussed by the Sixers since before the season started. Joel Embiid proclaimed being the best defense in the NBA as a major goal for the Sixers coming into the season.

This did not prove to be the case at to start of the season, but there has been some massive improvement in recent weeks. Philadelphia has moved up to 4th in the NBA in defensive efficiency and 3rd in opponents’ points per game by allowing an average of just 106.5 points.

Embiid’s Approval of Defensive Growth

The root of this defensive growth has been the re-emergence of Embiid on this side of the court. The Sixers superstar was criticized early on this season for not being locked in on this side of the floor. He did not come into the season in peak shape and acknowledged that plantar fasciitis, hand surgery, and illness each played a role in his lack of fitness.

Embiid himself has admitted that his improvement in this area has been crucial to the team’s success. When asked by the media about what has changed he stated, “[It] started with me just being more impactful than I was the first three or four games. Getting back to myself, protecting the rim first of all, and making sure no one actually drives in there,” per Justin Grasso of Sports Illustrated.

The impact in this area has been felt drastically. During Embiid’s historic 59-point performance, he was arguably more impactful on the defensive end. He ended with 59 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, and seven blocks becoming the first player in NBA history to record this statline. There has always been a great deal of buzz surrounding the two-way ability of the reigning MVP runner-up. Embiid’s willingness to embrace this side of the ball has been essential to the team’s turnaround and will continue to be necessary moving forward if the Sixers are to continue their climb up the Eastern Conference.

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