76ers

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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2019 NBA draft profile: Grant Williams doesn't fill an obvious need but could still be a steal for Sixers

2019 NBA draft profile: Grant Williams doesn't fill an obvious need but could still be a steal for Sixers

Position: Forward

Height: 6-foot-7 

Weight: 240 pounds 

School: Tennessee 

As far as college success, Grant Williams is among the most accomplished players in this draft class. He won SEC Player of the Year his sophomore and junior seasons at Tennessee and was a consensus first-team All-American last year, when he averaged 18.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. The 20-year-old Williams was part of the Sixers’ pre-draft workout group on June 8, which included Oregon's Louis King and Villanova’s Eric Paschall and Phil Booth.

Strengths 

Williams’ long list of strengths has to start with … his strength. His 20 bench-press reps at the combine were most of any player. He knows how to use that strength, too, and is excellent at drawing fouls, finishing through contact and muscling away opponents to earn post position and grab rebounds. As the hub of Tennessee’s offense, Williams was masterful operating from the high post and elbow regions as he showcased his ability to find open teammates, hit mid-range jump shots, seize offensive rebounds and generally make winning basketball plays in high-pressure situations. Defensively, Williams’ intelligence and competitiveness are outstanding foundational tools. He led the SEC in defensive win shares.

Weaknesses

At his workout with the Sixers, Williams acknowledged the weaker parts of his game. He doesn’t have an obvious position in the NBA, he didn’t get much experience guarding on the perimeter in college and he shot 29.1 percent from three-point range in his three seasons at Tennessee.

“I’ve never really believed in positions much because in this league nowadays, it’s not what you play on offense, it’s what you can play on defense,” Williams told reporters. “No matter how big or how small you are, if you can guard multiple positions and be versatile, I feel like you have a place in this league.”

The best case for Williams is he can indeed stay in front of perimeter players in the NBA while also being capable of defending power forwards and centers in smaller lineups. The worst-case scenario is he doesn’t quite have the necessary lateral quickness to guard wings, and that, despite having a soft touch and shooting 81.9 percent from the foul line last season, his range doesn’t comfortably extend to the NBA three-point line. 

Fit 

Williams is not a player who fits into a neat category, such as an elite shooter like Dylan Windler or an athletic big man like Daniel Gafford. He could help the Sixers’ bench right away as a player who can be used in a variety of lineups, and who has offensive skills besides the ability to catch and shoot. Senior vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley has said the Sixers will prioritize need in the second round (see story), which could hint at an openness toward taking the best player available at No. 24. If Williams is still on the board when the Sixers are up in the first round, he might very well be the best player left. 

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Five things the 2020 NBA Championship odds are telling us

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Five things the 2020 NBA Championship odds are telling us

While the Toronto Raptors lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy signified the start of the offseason, the Anthony Davis to the Lakers trade proves that in the NBA, there’s no such thing as an offseason.

According to Tom Haberstroh, the national NBA Insider for NBC Sports, the Lakers should be the heavy favorites to win the title (see story). But what are the new NBA title odds telling us?

Here are five takeaways from what I think the oddsmakers at FanDuel are telling us about the league, and the eventual 2020 NBA champion.

1. The Sixers (11-to-1) will keep Jimmy Butler

The Sixers have the fifth-best odds to win the NBA title, third in the East, and are significantly ahead of the Boston Celtics (18-to-1), the team with the fourth-best odds in the East. I think this says a lot about what team oddsmakers think the Sixers will have next season, which the value indicates will include free agent Jimmy Butler.

Looking at the available free agents on the market, Butler is the only one that could keep the Sixers in this spot in the oddsmakers' minds. Should he go to the Lakers, or another team, the Sixers would have the current value closer to the Celtics to win the title. While Tobias Harris is a nice player, he doesn’t hae the same value as Butler. The oddsmakers are making an assumption that No. 23 will be back.

2. The Warriors (11-to-1) are underdogs, but you shouldn’t count them out

Don’t be so quick to write off the Golden State Warriors, who will be without Kevin Durant for the entire season, and perhaps Klay Thompson, too. Oddsmakers have them even with the Sixers with the fifth-best odds in the NBA to win the title.

First of all, Steph Curry — a very good basketball player — returns alongside Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala and you’ve already got a formidable trio. Should Thompson return, now you’ve got four players that nearly won the 2019 title themselves. 

Perhaps KD was already going to leave anyway, so his injury could be more symbolic, but it would be unwise to write the Warriors off just yet. 

3. Kawhi is probably going to the Clippers

This reminds me of last offseason when each of the LeBron James suitors had elevated odds, just in case he were to land there. First of all, the Raptors enter the offseason with the third-best odds to repeat at 5.5-to-1, which makes me think that the bookmakers want to keep the Raptors high enough so that no one bets on them before Leonard decides. I have absolutely no interest in the Raptors at the third-best odds without Leonard, but they seem fairly placed in that spot with him. If you like the Raptors to repeat, just wait to see what Kawhi does because their odds won’t move much, if at all, if he stays.

The Clippers, on the other hand, come in seventh-best at 12-to-1 and are elevated given the chance they will land the NBA Finals MVP. The Clippers finished eighth last season out West and the odds currently reflect their strong chance to get Leonard. 

4. The Knicks and Pelicans will have to wait their turn

The Knicks come in at 25-to-1, the 12th-best odds in the NBA to win the title, but what would that number have looked like with a healthy Kevin Durant? Maybe half that number?

The Knicks are a potential landing spot for nearly every free agent, but without KD, the oddsmakers aren’t giving them much of a shot. They missed out on the top pick in the draft, and while they’re likely to get a good player at No. 3 — our Amy Fadool has them taking R.J.Barrett in her mock — they’ve got time before they’re going to be seen as challengers.

Same for the Pelicans (100-to-1), who are being praised for what they got in return for Anthony Davis. With the Pelicans' infusion of youth, it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Zion, Lonzo Ball, and company over the next five years. But this year, according to the oddsmakers, certainly isn’t it.

5. Despite being favored, the Lakers could be the best value

LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma — do the Lakers (4-to-1) need anyone else? Of course they do, but that’s a tremendous start. With their entire complement of talent intact at the start of these playoffs, the Warriors were minus-200 to win the title. Now imagine a team with the three players mentioned, and perhaps, another superstar. With the Warriors weakened, Kawhi perhaps headed to a lesser team and KD out for the season, getting the Lakers at 4-to-1 now could look like incredible value come next postseason.

6. Bonus Longshot: Dallas Mavericks at 42-to-1.

How good will the Mavs be with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis? Not sure, but 42-to-1 could be worth a punt.

Happy NBA “offseason,” everyone. See you on Thursday for the draft, and perhaps, more craziness. 

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