Take a second and think about this season for a moment. Specifically, think about the Sixers' defense. Now think about last season. Think about your reactions, as a fan, when you were watching games last season. What's missing? What did you see countless times last year that rarely, if ever, happens this year?
For me, this is missing: "Jesus, why would you leave him?" and "How did he get that wide-open?" and even, "The guy has already hit two threes this quarter, why would you help off him?" Those breakdowns simply aren't happening this year, and unfortunately for Thad, I think he's been identified as the main culprit by Doug Collins.
Thad's minutes are dropping, and he's almost never on the floor in crucial situations anymore. His over-helping is a killer to an undermanned defensive squad which is necessarily dependent on solid principles, especially when it comes to helping each other.
Here's a quote from Collins on Thad from CSN Philly:
"I think Thad is learning," Collins said. "We are a very disciplined defensive team. That's not to say he isn't disciplined. Your four and five men, they have to be on a string with one another so when one helps that other one has to help. It is a help the helper theme. And Thad sometimes just gets caught about where to help and when to help."
Thad just doesn't get it, and this is nothing new. We can hide our head in the sand and pretend Eddie Jordan is to blame for Thad's helplessness on defense - and he certainly didn't help - but at some point you have to bite the bullet and face reality. Thad just doesn't grasp the fundamental philosophy behind help defense.
Doug Collins has 74 games, maybe a handful more, to somehow get through to Thad. If progress isn't made in that time, he may just be a lost cause. As Derek suggested in our SixersBeat show last night, Thad's remaining time in Philly may be even shorter than that. There's a very good chance Rod Thorn will move Thad prior to the trade deadline if they determine he isn't a good fit in the long term (Thad will be a restricted free agent this summer, and he's due a qualifying offer of nearly $4M.)
One thing is for sure, though. Until Thad gets it, whatever it is, his minutes are going to be limited, as is his role for the team. Collins has taken the Sixers from one of the worst teams at defending the three to one of the best in the league. That's not an exaggeration, last season, the Sixers allowed 7.4 made threes per game, only Minnesota was worse (7.5). Opponents shot 39.3% from three, worst in the league. So far this year, they're allowing only 5.3 per game, second only to Portland (5.2), and their opponents are shooting a dismal 30.7% from distance, good for fourth in the league.
What was a glaring weakness has become a distinct strength for the Sixers and Thad's reduced role has been a factor in that drastic improvement. When you're talking about defending the three, you really are only as strong as your weakest link.
Keep an eye on how the Sixers close out on shooters tonight against Dallas, and count the number of times a guy gets a clean look. Then think about any game last year. It's night-and-day.
My preview for tonight's game will be up in the early afternoon, game thread an hour-and-a-half prior to the tip.