By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor
Last offseason the Sixers doubled down on length and size for their roster. Elton Brand looked to turn the Sixers into a defensive powerhouse that could wear down any team with its size. The Sixers would then be labeled the team with the “Giannis-stopping” lineup. Now that the Sixers have made some changes in their starting lineup the question has to be asked if they still match up with the Eastern Conference juggernaut.
The Sixers on paper look like the only team in the league built to stop the reigning MVP, but how they handled him defensively got mixed results. This season Giannis averaged 29.6 PPG, 13.7 RPG, and 5.8 APG. In his three games against the Sixers, he averaged 28.3 PPG, 17.0 RPG, and 7.0 APG.
Although his averages do not change much against the Sixers, there is one game that stands out. Christmas day this year the Sixers not only beat the Bucks but were able to neutralize and frustrate Giannis. He finished the game with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists while shooting 8-27 from the floor and 0-7 from three.
Now let’s be real, there is no fully stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo in a game or seven-game series. The objective is just going to be slowing him down enough to put the team in a position to win as they did on Christmas day. With Al Horford now out of the starting lineup and Ben Simmons sliding to the frontcourt the Sixers might be going smaller, but they arguably just as equipped to slow down Giannis and the Bucks.
Ben Simmons sliding to the power forward position now puts the Sixers top two defenders together down low. This could be big as the Sixers will look to wall off the lane with as many bodies as possible to slow down Giannis attacking the rim.
Having Simmons and Embiid down low together gives the Sixers the size, strength, and speed to clog the lane on Giannis. Also, having Simmons hovering around the rim puts him in a good position to play the passing lanes when Giannis looks to kick the ball out to shooters.
Outside shooting is another aspect of the Buck’s offense the Sixers will have to worry about. Milwaukee’s offense is a well-oiled machine and their spacing is some of the best in the league. They have done a great job putting a group of shooters around Giannis to give him a wide-open lane to attack.
This is one area where going smaller might help the Sixers. Adding Shake Milton to the starting lineup gives them a smaller quicker defender to chase around shooters on the perimeter. The Sixers will not have two guards in the backcourt with the quickness and length to disrupt shooters on the outside.
The Sixers now will have enough size around the rim and length on the perimeter to try and create havoc on the Buck’s offense. Josh Richardson has a wingspan of six foot ten and Shake Milton has a seven-foot wingspan. Those two have the length to play the passing lanes and to contest shots from anyone to Khris Middleton to Brook Lopez.
The Sixers also have options off the bench of size and perimeter defense to slow down the Bucks. Brett Brown will now have the size in Al Horford to call on when Embiid comes off the floor, and have wings like Matisse Thybulle, Glenn Robinson III, and Furkan Korkmaz who could come in and disrupt Milwaukee’s perimeter threats.
We saw back on Christmas that the Sixers’ size can disrupt the Bucks enough to walk away with a win, and the team has arguably gotten better and more versatile since then. It is not going to be easy to stop a team that was on a historic pace before the suspension of the season, but even with the lineup change the Sixers are just as equipped to slow down Giannis and the Bucks come playoffs.