The 2022-23 Sixers will start their season on Sept. 27 in Charleston, South Carolina.
Before training camp begins, we’re looking at questions that will define the team’s season and ultimately determine whether the Sixers advance past the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
First, we examined whether the Sixers can win the turnover battle.
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Next up: Will the Sixers solve their rebounding problem?
Naturally, defensive rebounding woes tend to be more irritating than offensive rebounding weakness.
Everyone can see inferior effort and focus on the defensive glass — failing to track P.J. Tucker as he rushes in from the wing; letting Thaddeus Young find space to create valuable extra possessions; balls bouncing into the opponent’s hands without noticeable resistance.
The Sixers didn’t try to deny those issues were present too often last season.
“A lot of those rebounds and 50-50 basketballs, they were just outhustling us," Tobias Harris said after a Dec. 9 loss to the Jazz. “We’ve got to take more pride in that. There were just too many possessions when they were able to come up with a play, an added possession for them. It’s hard for me to say why that is. It’s just something we need to be better at and that we have to figure out.”
Following that defeat, the Sixers did improve. Per Cleaning the Glass, they were 26th in defensive rebounding percentage over their first 26 games and 10th over their final 56. Of course, Joel Embiid missing nine November games with COVID-19 is a large reason for that disparity.
Still, it never seemed the Sixers were sturdy on the defensive glass. The Heat grabbed 13 offensive boards during their Game 6 win at Wells Fargo Center and Harris pinpointed “mental toughness” in explaining why the Sixers again didn’t advance beyond Round 2. While it would be silly to rely on the newcomers for everything in the toughness department, it’s fair to expect Tucker, Danuel House Jr. and De’Anthony Melton to enhance the Sixers’ collective scrappiness. And Melton has been a particularly strong defensive rebounder for his position. The 24-year-old pulled down 15.1 percent of opponents’ missed field goals last season, leading all combo guards in that category.
Though subpar offensive rebounding might not be as inherently glaring, it’s also quite impactful. And the Sixers finished 30th of 30 teams in offensive rebounding percentage last year outside of garbage time.
If you saw that statistic and knew nothing about the Sixers, a theoretical silver lining might be, “Well, they must have been cautious about sending men to the offensive glass and been solid in transition defense." Not exactly how things played out.
The Sixers allowed their opponents to have transition plays off 29.7 percent of live-ball rebounds, which ranked 25th. Any reluctance about adopting a more aggressive offensive rebounding approach was logical.
On Jan. 2, Sixers assistant Dan Burke (serving as acting head coach with Doc Rivers sidelined by COVID-19) said he’d told Matisse Thybulle to “find your spots and go ahead and crash,” but he didn’t want Thybulle to “just fly in and give them transition.”
“That’s where I’m scared to death,” Burke said of crashing for offensive boards harming the Sixers’ transition defense. “But again, you’ve got to put guys in position to succeed. And if they know (Thybulle) is crashing and we have good balance and spacing offensively, we’ll be able to cover for him.”
Again, the Sixers will aim to land on a middle ground — or at least climb out of the offensive rebounding basement while not recklessly sacrificing their transition defense.