After impressive Game 3 win, Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid think 'chemistry is overrated'

After impressive Game 3 win, Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid think 'chemistry is overrated'

When a team is two games away from the Eastern Conference Finals and fresh off a blowout win in front of a ecstatic home crowd, the norm is to hear about how everyone is gelling well, the pieces are fitting perfectly, and the chemistry is excellent.

Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler didn’t characterize the Sixers that way after the team’s 116-95 win Thursday night over the Raptors in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series (see observations). They were both pleased with the team's performance, sure, but there was a word both wanted to avoid in describing it.

“I think chemistry is a bad word," Butler said. "Everybody wants to say that because we played together however many games, we didn't play together however many games. It's simple enough to know that whenever you have some good basketball players out there, the game happens. You make the right plays, you do what you're supposed to do with the basketball, and that's all it is. The game is really, really simple. I think at times we, as players, decide to make it hard, but if you're open, shoot it, if you're not, pass.”

For what it’s worth, the Sixers’ starting five has now played 17 total games together and lost only four. Their plus-34.5 net rating in the playoffs is the best of any five-man lineup that’s played at least 100 minutes together. 

Embiid, after a 33-point, 10-rebound, five-block night, agreed with Butler’s assessment. 

I still feel like we have so much potential, especially with Tobias [Harris], Ben [Simmons], JJ [Redick]. Just like [Jimmy] said, chemistry is overrated. When you have great basketball players on the floor, it's easy. It's not that complicated. We're all willing passers. We're so unselfish. We understand that it's all about moving the ball. We don't want to ever get in situations where one guy has the ball and trying to create. We know that we got to move the ball. It just makes it easier.

The notion that “chemistry is overrated” is likely, in part, semantics. The Sixers have been asked about how their chemistry is growing, whether they have enough time to develop their chemistry or some variation of that question at practically every media availability since Elton Brand’s splashy trade deadline. Hearing a word that nobody appears to fully understand but everybody seems to use regularly might be exasperating.

Unlike Butler and Embiid, Simmons didn’t mind talking about chemistry. In fact, he brought it up unprompted after the game when asked about the Sixers’ balanced offensive night. All five starters scored in double figures, while James Ennis also added 10 points.

“Everybody’s a threat,” Simmons said. “Our chemistry is building over time, it’s getting a lot better, and I think we’re at the point where we’re kind of figuring it out.”

Toronto in Games 2 and 3 looked reliant on the brilliant Kawhi Leonard, who's averaging 35.7 points on 63.8 percent shooting in this series, to generate their offense. The Raptors have been outscored by 32 points in the 27 minutes Leonard has been on the bench.

The Sixers, in contrast, have had options when Embiid has been double teamed, Simmons has been stymied in transition, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick have been cold or Butler has assumed a more passive role.

There’s no perfect way to balance their stars’ respective strengths and weaknesses, and the combinations might be clunky at times. But, whether you call it chemistry or call it something else, this team is playing together at a high level.

“… There's an inverted attitude that I love — we're trying to guard,” Brett Brown said. “We're really trying to play defense. … And so when we come down to the offensive end, the evolution of Jimmy [Butler] with the ball, or posting Jo [Embiid], or utilizing Ben [Simmons], bringing JJ [Redick] off screens, making sure Tobias [Harris], who can score a bunch of different ways, is used. I think it's evolving, but I can't pinpoint a time. I can tell you winning sure allows us to keep it moving forward.”

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Sixers sign and then waive Shizz Alston Jr., Terry Harris for purpose of adding them to Delaware Blue Coats

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Sixers sign and then waive Shizz Alston Jr., Terry Harris for purpose of adding them to Delaware Blue Coats

Updated: 2:27 p.m.

The 2019-20 Delaware Blue Coats are shaping up to be a fascinating team.

The Sixers are signing and then waiving Terry Harris, Shizz Alston Jr., Julian Washburn, Jared Brownridge and Xavier Munford with the purpose of adding them to the Blue Coats. Harris' deal is an Exhibit 9 contract.

Terry Harris is the younger brother of Sixers forward Tobias Harris, whom the team re-signed to a five-year, $180 million contract this summer. Terry played for the Sixers this year in summer league and scored nine points in three games. The 6-foot-6 wing worked out with the Sixers in June and said "it would be a blessing" to play with Tobias for the first time since eighth grade. As a redshirt senior at North Carolina A&T, Terry averaged 8.1 points per game and shot 41.1 percent from three-point range. Outside shooting is his trademark skill.

Alston grew up in Philadelphia and attended The Haverford School before going to Temple, where he played for four years. The point guard had an excellent senior season, leading Temple to a 23-10 record and averaging 19.7 points and 5.0 assists per game. Like Harris, he had a pre-draft workout for the Sixers. Alston played with the Indiana Pacers in summer league and scored 24 points across three contests.

The 6-foot-8 Washburn has 136 career games of experience in the G League, including 38 last season between the Austin Spurs and Memphis Hustle. He signed a two-way contract with the Grizzlies in January and appeared in 18 NBA games last year, averaging 2.2 points and 2.3 rebounds. Washburn was part of the trade between the Grizzlies and Warriors in July involving Andre Iguodala, and was later waived by Golden State.

Brownridge, who played his college ball at Santa Clara, played 49 games (27 starts) with the Blue Coats last season. He led the G-League in threes made with 187.

Munford spent last season with the Milwaukee Bucks G-League affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd. He's also played in China and Spain after his collegiate career at Rhode Island ended.

In addition to Washburn, Alston, Harris, Brownridge and Munford, 7-foot-3 Christ Koumadje, Saint Joseph's product Isaiah Miles and Haywood Highsmith are candidates for the Blue Coats this season. Those three players were part of the Sixers' preseason roster and will be waived (see story).

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Sixers waive Christ Koumadje, Haywood Highsmith and Isaiah Miles

Sixers waive Christ Koumadje, Haywood Highsmith and Isaiah Miles

Updated: 2:17 p.m.

The Sixers have waived Christ Koumadje, Isaiah Miles and Haywood Highsmith. Those moves leave the team with its regular-season roster of 15 players, with Marial Shayok and Norvel Pelle on two-way contracts.

Because Koumadje, Miles and Highsmith signed Exhibit 10 contracts this summer, they can be incentivized to join the Delaware Blue Coats. Under the terms of an Exhibit 10 deal, a player who is waived can receive a bonus of up to $50,000 if he signs with the team's G-League affiliate and stays there for at least 60 days. 

Koumadje played four years of college basketball at Florida State and stands 7-foot-3 without shoes. He’s seeking to become the first NBA player from the country of Chad. Senior vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley said in June at a pre-draft workout featuring Koumadje that the big man is agile for his size, which Koumadje attributed to playing soccer and running before fully focusing on basketball.

Koumadje has been seen working on his game with 7-foot-2 player development specialist Roy Hibbert. He said at media day that the Sixers’ player development staff has been helping him develop some of the finer points of his offensive game, such as non-dunk finishes near the basket and ball handling.

A 6-foot-4 wing, Highsmith played in 46 games for the Blue Coats last season, averaging 12.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He also played in five games for the Sixers, with the team converting his contract to a two-way deal in January. Highsmith, who was waived by the team this summer to free up the two-way spot used on Pelle before signing his Exhibit 10 deal, played at Division II Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.

Miles played his college basketball much closer to the Wells Fargo Center, at Saint Joseph’s, and is, like Highsmith, a native of Baltimore, Maryland. The 25-year-old was on the Sixers’ summer league teams in 2017-18 and 2018-19, and last played for Limoges CSP in France’s Pro-A league.

Based on what we saw in the preseason, below is a rough, projected depth chart by position. The backup point guard picture isn't yet clear, while several of the players at the shooting guard and small forward spots are interchangeable:

Point guard

Starter: Ben Simmons

Depth: Josh Richardson, Raul Neto/Trey Burke, Shake Milton

Shooting guard

Starter: Josh Richardson

Depth: Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Shake Milton, Zhaire Smith, Marial Shayok (Two-way player)

Small forward

Starter: Tobias Harris

Depth: James Ennis, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz

Power forward

Starter: Al Horford 

Depth: Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, Jonah Bolden 


Starter: Joel Embiid

Depth: Al Horford, Kyle O’Quinn, Jonah Bolden, Ben Simmons, Mike Scott, Norvel Pelle (Two-way player) 

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