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John Schuhmann

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Allen Iverson would bring excitement back to Philly, but would he be a defensive liability?
Otto Greule Jr./NBAE/Getty Images

Iverson would be nice, but Sixers should focus on defense


Posted Nov 28 2009 12:07PM

PHILADELPHIA -- In some ways, Allen Iverson seems like the right answer for the Philadelphia 76ers, who are seriously considering signing the controversial free agent in the next week, according to a report on FOXSports.com.

The return of Iverson would bring relevance to a team that ranks 29th in the league in attendance and is way behind the Eagles and Phillies in the Philadelphia sports landscape.

It would also add some firepower to the backcourt of a team that's down one of its best scorers and currently ranks 18th in offensive efficiency. Even before Lou Williams broke his jaw, the return of Elton Brand, the addition of Jason Kapono and Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense had not done much to help the Sixers' ability to score in the half-court, which has been the team's Achilles' heel since Iverson left town three years ago.

But the offense should not be the biggest concern for the 5-11 Sixers, who, with Friday's loss to the Hawks, have dropped five straight games. It's the defensive end of the floor that needs the most attention right now. What has been Philly's strength the last two seasons has become a weakness. And the Sixers have lost their identity.

Philadelphia 76ers, Last Three Seasons
Season Pace RK Off. Rat. Rk Def, Rat. Rk
2007-08 93.1 20 103.0 20 103.4 10
2008-09 92.6 20 104.7 20 104.7 14
2009-10 93.8 21 103.1 18 107.2 25
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
Off. Rat. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Rat. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

The defensive issues start with the personnel. Gone are veterans Andre Miller, Reggie Evans, Theo Ratliff and Donyell Marshall. With their departures, increased minutes have been given to Williams, Marreese Speights and Jason Smith, with rookie Jrue Holiday now running the point with Williams out.

"Older guys who've been in the league for a long time understand different matchups," Andre Iguodala said Friday. "They've been through every situation, so they defend a little bit better than guys who haven't been in the league as long and struggle defensively with the learning curve."

Miller was the guy that led the Sixers' break, but they may be missing him most on the defensive end of the floor. The defensive problems start on the ball, where Williams has trouble keeping his man in front of him. And once the ball gets past the initial defender, the defense is compromised and in a scramble situation.

The Sixers are still forcing turnovers at a high rate, they're not allowing their opponents to get to the line often, and they're no worse a defensive rebounding team than they have been in the past. But their opponents are shooting at a much higher percentage than they have in the last two years, both inside the arc and beyond it. Shots are not being contested.

Veteran guard Willie Green believes that, even after two months together, the Sixers have yet to figure out what kind of team they want to be.

"We're trying to learn what we want to do on defense," Green said. "Do we want to run? Do we want to be a half-court team? We're trying to find our identity. In the meantime, we're taking some tough losses on the chin."

Instead of maintaining what the Sixers excelled at in the past and building on it, the team has regressed. And it has become apparent that, in trying to learn Jordan's offense, they haven't focused enough on the other end of the floor. The coach has spoken about the importance of defending, but the results speak for themselves.

"We're not as defensive-minded as we have been in the past," Iguodala said, but he believes that the amount of time needed to learn the Princeton is not an excuse. "Defense is more or less just getting down and getting after it. And we haven't been doing that."

Would Iverson help? He plays hard, sure. But Iverson isn't the fundamentally sound defender the Sixers need at the top of their defense. His speed and instincts will help them force even more turnovers than they already do, but by gambling, he'll also compromise the defense when he doesn't get a steal or deflection.

Offensively, Iverson will help the Sixers get into the paint and to the line more often, but the Princeton is strongest when the ball and players are moving. That doesn't happen when Iverson's on the floor.

And this is a team that's still trying to get everybody on the same page. Before straining his hamstring, Brand had his most productive stretch of the season, but Philly has yet to get a strong game from Brand, Iguodala and Thaddeus Young on the same night. The Princeton not only takes time to learn, but it takes time to perfect.

Now the Sixers want to add another layer of complexity to the mix? They would be better off fixing their problems from within. And those start on the defensive end of the floor.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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