Former Sixers Hater Now Has Philly Fielding Two DPOY Candidates

Dan Burke Dwight Howard Philadelphia 76ers

Getty Philadelphia 76ers assistant Dan Burke confers with players, including Dwight Howard, during a game against the Washington Wizards.

If one were to have compiled a list of the Philadelphia 76ers‘ least-likely acquisitions ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, Dan Burke’s name may have been near the top. Following an ill-fated showdown with the Sixers last season, the Indiana Pacers fixture famously went off when describing his less-than-rosy feelings about the squad.

“I hate that team,” he said. “I really wanted to win that game. I think Embiid gets away with a bunch of crap the league ignores, and it would have been a good one to just walk away from.”

Fifteen months later, the defensive guru and veteran of three-plus decades as an assistant coach is on Doc Rivers’ bench, helping Philadelphia put up an elite-level front featuring multiple Defensive Player of the Year candidates.

Simmons, Embiid & Co. are Locking Down

On Tuesday,’s Steve Aschburner updated his defensive player ladder and, for the second straight week, Simmons was the top-ranked defender, just ahead of two-time DPOY and Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert.

In the write-up, he noted that Simmons’ ability to guard four positions and hustle stats — he currently leads the league in deflections (3.9) and loose balls recovered (1.4) per game — continue to warrant top honors.

Meanwhile, Embiid returned to the list in the No. 4 spot, and it was noted that he has opponents shooting under 40 percent at every distance from five feet away from the hoop and farther. He and Simmons aren’t the only ones locking it down on D, though. It’s a team-wide phenomenon.

Matisse Thybulle leads the league in deflections per 36 minutes at 5.7. Shake Milton has improved to that point that he is zeroing in on a top-10 defensive rating; when he is on the floor, the 76ers are conceding just 103.8 points per 100 possessions. Dwight Howard, himself a three-time DPOY, is also posting one of the higher block percentage estimates (4.8) of his career.

As a team, the Sixers have clearly become one of the Association’s elite defenses. They’re hounding teams at the rim, allowing the league’s fourth-lowest conversion rate of 60.3 percent. On the whole, they are conceding just 108.6 points/100 poss., which is the fifth-best mark league-wide.

Joel Embid Sixers Domantas Sabonis

GettyJoel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers defends the Indiana Pacers’ Domantas Sabonis.

The Burke Effect

It’s probably not a coincidence that the Sixers have dominated defensively with Burke in the fold. Two years ago, they ranked near the middle of the pack in defensive rating. Last season, the team jumped to the No. 8 spot; now it sits in the top five.

When you compare that trajectory with what has happened in Indiana in the wake of Burke’s departure, it becomes difficult to discount his impact. In 2019-20, Indiana’s 107.5 points/100 poss. allowed ranked sixth in the Association. This season, the club is sitting at No. 13 in D-rating at 110.9, even as Myles Turner continues to show out.

Clearly, there’s a reason he continued to remain in Indy as the Pacers moved from Larry Bird to Isiah Thomas to Rick Carlisle to Jim O’Brien to Frank Vogel and, finally, to Nate McMillan.

A lot of attention has been paid to the tweaks Simmons has made in his offensive game now that he is working with Rivers favorite Sam Cassell. But Burke likely deserves an equal amount of praise for helping the former No. 1 overall pick become an even better defender.

He has always been good — now he may be the league’s best. Just ask Doc.

Laying Old Beefs to Rest

While Burke may have singled out Embiid as a thorn in his side in the past, it would seem that the two are getting along famously now.

“I think he’s a great guy,” Embiid said, via Sports Illustrated’s Justin Grasso. “We’ve actually been very close since he got here.”

At the least, the partnership between Burke, Embiid, Simmons and the rest of the Sixers has proven to be a winning one.

READ NEXT: Embiid & Simmons Will Miss Games due to COVID-19 Exposure

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