Seltzer's Notebook | Defense Climbing Ranks; New Year, New Vibes

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Defense on the Rise

In recent years, Brett Brown has set as a goal for the Sixers to finish among the top half of the NBA in defense. Thanks to a stingy pre-Thanksgiving stretch, the club is well on its way.

As of Friday morning, the Sixers’ defensive rating stood at 101.8 points allowed per 100 possessions, eighth-best overall. The mark was second-lowest in the Eastern Conference only to the 96.4 defensive rating of division rival Boston.

Only figuring to help the Sixers’ mission to develop a playoff-caliber defensive unit is the mindset of one of their key contributors.

“Not to be cocky, but I think I’m the best defensive player in the league right now,” Joel Embiid said following Wednesday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Through 15 appearances, Embiid has generated a 96.6 individual defensive rating, just outside the league’s top 10. He’s tied for third in the NBA with 1.9 blocks per game, a figure he’d like to see go up. The big man has been encouraged by his efforts on the glass, as he boasts a 30.6 defensive rebounding percentage that’s good for fifth in the league.

“I just want to keep on growing,” said Embiid, who again Wednesday reiterated a desire to win Defensive Player of the Year. “I’m doing a lot of things to help the team win, and the guys around me do a lot of things to help, too.”

Between their last two outings - victories over Utah and Portland - the Sixers have combined to produce a 34.5 opponent field goal percentage, and 29.6 opponent 3-point field goal percentage. The 86 points the Sixers spotted the Jazz  was a season-low, until Embiid and Co. yielded a meager 81 points to Rip City two days later.

McConnell Detects Different Feel

With a pair of blue chip headliners like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, it might be easy, at times, to overlook the heady contributions of other Sixers on a game-in, game-out basis.

Take TJ McConnell, for instance. In the Sixers’ past two outings, the back-up point guard has brought a particularly high-energy, instant-impact presence to the court. He finished with 8 points (3-6 fg) and 5 assists in 33 minutes Monday versus Utah, before posting 13 points (5-7 fg), 7 dimes, and 3 boards Wednesday against Portland. 

Having the benefit of hindsight, McConnell senses a new vibe around his team. In previous seasons, as has again been the case this year, the Sixers were determined to succeed. The difference now is that, with an enhanced talent base, their hard work is translating to the win column more frequently.

“My rookie [2015-2016] year we came in expecting to win, but we didn’t have the players to get us over the hump,” McConnell said Wednesday. “Definitely this year there’s a lot of expectations, and we’ve got a lot of good players here. I think we come in expecting to win every game.”