When the Sixers brought in Eddie Jordan to be their new coach this season, they knew what they were getting—a Princeton offense aficionado, who isn't exactly renowned for his defense (to say the least).
What they didn't expect was a coach so intent on putting in scorers during the fourth quarter that he'll completely sacrifice the team's defensive integrity.
And (dear God, I hope) they didn't expect a 10-24 record coming out of the gates.
About two weeks ago, I initially weighed in on the Sixers' rotation issues , which have been so jumbled that a third of the way through the season, the Sixers players still have no idea how many minutes to expect on a nightly basis.
For example—after reserve Rodney Carney scored 14 points in 15 minutes to help guide the Sixers against an injured Sacramento team last Wednesday, he got a whopping 3:03 of playing time the next night in a 16-point loss to the L.A. Clippers.
Jordan offered a weak explanation for the lineup juggling at the time:
"I thought the last time we played them that the matchup with Rodney was a little bit smaller against [Al] Thornton. And they came off the bench with Thornton and I thought the matchup with [Andre Iguodala] and Thornton was a little bit better. Dre had it going a little bit as far as defensive-minded, and I wanted to stay with him. I just thought coming off the bench with Jrue [Holiday] and coming off the bench with Elton [Brand] was a seven-man rotation that I wanted to have for a little bit, and I didn't want to go deeper because I liked what Dre was doing on the floor."
Keep in mind that Thornton played 23 minutes, took three shots, and finished the game with four points and one rebound.
Meanwhile, Philly-favorite Sam Dalembert (sarcasm heavily implied) had harassed the Clippers' Chris Kaman (a guy averaging 20.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game) into shooting 3-of-12 in the first quarter, while Dalembert managed six points, five blocks, and two rebounds of his own.
Right before being taken out towards the end of the first quarter, the Sixers had gone on a 15-2 run largely keyed by Sammy's defense. When he came back with nearly six minutes left in the first half, the Clippers had cut the deficit to one.
When Jordan removed Dalembert again, this time with four minutes left in the third quarter, the Clippers were in the midst of a 14-4 run that left them with a 13-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. (A large, but not insurmountable lead, if we learned anything from the Sixers-Wizards game on Tuesday.)
Yet when the Sixers needed to play lockdown defense and get some crucial stops in the fourth quarter to give themselves a chance to get back into the game, Dalembert was found sitting on the end of the bench. His "help value" (points + rebounds + assists + steals - turnovers) was higher than any other player on the team, and yet, he played less than 24 minutes.
Meanwhile, Kaman went off for 26 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists in the game.
Jordan made a similar head-scratching lineup decision in the Sixers-Wizards game, when the Sixers were managing to choke away an 18-point lead in less than a half.
Wizards guard Nick Young was single-handedly abusing Allen Iverson on defense, driving to the hoop for easy baskets every time the Wizards got the ball in the fourth quarter. (He had scored eight straight points in a 10-0 fourth quarter run that gave the Wizards the lead for the first time since the first quarter.)
Now, I'm not ripping Iverson for his lack of defense. Even in his prime he was never known as a Bruce Bowen-like defender. To expect anything more from a 34-year old battling arthritis would be foolish.
But when you're watching a lead bleed away and one guy is keying the run by driving straight at your biggest defensive liability every time he takes it down the floor, isn't it time to make a substitution?
"Your best players should be good defenders and that’s what we’re trying to get to. Trying to get our best players to defend as a unit, defend individually, so you can have balance. There’s no such thing as unbalanced. Good teams don’t just put five defenders on the floor. Your better players are your defenders."
I don't know what crack he's been smoking, but Allen Iverson is clearly one of the best five players on the current Sixers, and he's clearly never going to be one of the five best defenders. Likewise, Dalembert is the biggest defensive weapon the team has this year, but his offense leaves a lot to be desired.
Finding the proper balance of offense and defense is the mark of a good coach. Coaches must realize that you can't just sacrifice one for the other.
You can't have Elton Brand and Marreese Speights as your fourth quarter frontcourt when teams are getting gritty and going for stops. Neither one of them can D up on a true center, only Dalembert can.
And trust me , I doubt anyone hates Dalembert's offensive game as much as I do, but that doesn't mean he needs to sit on the bench in the fourth quarter. Even if the tag-team of Brand and Speights can generate points on the offensive end, they're not able to get the stops on the defensive end.
Tell Sammy not to shoot the ball unless he's wide open or within 10 feet of the basket, but don't bench your best defender when you're losing.
Jordan needs to realize that no team in the league has a lineup of five players that are Kobe-esque on offense and Artest-like on D.
Until he does, it looks like he's going to keep hoping the Sixers' best defense is a good offense.
While they ran the Princeton offense beautifully in the first half of that Wizards game, knocking down a ridiculous 61 percent of their shots, when it falls apart like it did in the second half, they need a defensive backbone to lean back on.
Until Jordan acknowledges that his dream lineup is more a figment of his imagination than anything else, don't be surprised to see the Sixers choke away more huge leads.
This Sixers team clearly didn't learn much from their "defensive mini-camp" last week, and their concept of team defense is going to struggle greatly if Jordan continues to rotate lineups and keep the team's best defenders out of the game in crunch time.