76ers

Breaking down Sixers' defensive woes and ATOs

Breaking down Sixers' defensive woes and ATOs

Without Joel Embiid, nobody expected life would be easy for the Sixers after the All-Star break.

In this film review, we’ll examine the defensive issues exacerbated by Embiid’s absence as well as the Sixers’ smart, efficient after-timeout actions, one reason why the team has managed a 2-1 mark since Embiid has been sidelined by left knee soreness.

Defensive woes

Pick-and-roll defense has been a season-long concern for the Sixers. 

Brett Brown has either needed to expose the not-exactly-agile Boban Marjanovic or use smaller lineups without Embiid, which has left the Sixers vulnerable whenever their initial pick-and-roll coverage fails. On the play below, JJ Redick falls a step behind Rodney Hood. That leaves Mike Scott, at the center spot in this lineup, to pick up the Blazers wing. Scott’s help leads to an easy dunk for Enes Kanter. 

Redick gets crushed by Bam Adebayo’s screen on this next play vs. Miami, which puts Jonah Bolden in the spot Scott was on the play above — forced to cover for Redick and pick up the ball handler, Rodney MacGruder. As Adebayo rolls to the rim, Redick makes the belated decision to keep trying to defend MacGruder instead of take Adebayo. With Jonathon Simmons late on his weakside rotation, Adebayo has plenty of free space at the rim. 

Both a delayed rotation and the lack of a legitimate rim protector again hurt the Sixers late in New Orleans. Jonathon Simmons and Jimmy Butler blitz Jrue Holiday on the pick-and-roll, a high-risk late-game strategy. Tobias Harris helps late off Frank Jackson in the corner, which is actually a reasonable approach here given that the Sixers are up three and don’t want New Orleans to have a shot to tie the game. But, as a result, Julius Randle scores inside. 

Notice again that the Sixers had no true big man on the floor. 

The Sixers’ defensive issues haven’t come exclusively on pick-and-rolls and dribble handoffs. Communication in general has been problematic, an understandable concern for a unit with very little experience playing together. Still, some of the defensive mistakes the Sixers are making — even with the valid excuse of no Embiid — are worrisome. 

After a timeout, Harris and Redick appear caught off guard by a quick down screen in the corner by Derrick Jones Jr. for Josh Richardson. If you look at the Sixers’ bench, you can see assistant coach Billy Lange, who’s in charge of the team’s defense, throwing up his hands following Richardson’s dunk.

The next trip down, the Heat run the same action. Harris and Redick overreact to Richardson's dunk, with both players sprinting to cover him curling up to the wing. Jones slips to the rim unattended as Harris realizes his mistake too late. 

ATO success

On a more positive note, Brown, assistant coach Monty Williams and company have been very successful at creating good looks for the Sixers through ATOs.

Butler has often been the beneficiary. On this play vs. Portland, the Sixers run “Thumb point,” a regular part of the offense. Redick camps out under the baseline next to another wing, then decides which down screen to curl around. Here, as is often the case, the off-ball movement clears out the lane, and Butler drives by Damian Lillard for the dunk. 

Butler backdoor cuts have grown into an after-timeout feature. The play below starts out as if it’s going to be the Sixers’ common “Ear tug” lob, with Jonah Bolden screening for Butler at the nail. After Bolden receives the ball from Simmons, Butler moves up like he’s going to take a handoff from Bolden before capitalizing on Holiday denying him the ball.

Jahlil Okafor was the man who paid for overplaying Butler on the action below. JJ Redick sprints up to get the ball at the top of the key, then gives it to Marjanovic at the left elbow. Redick acts as if he’s going to set a down screen for Butler at the right elbow, a clever misdirection that fools Okafor.

Late in games, the Sixers’ primary goal on sideline out of bounds plays is often just to get the ball inbounds. That wasn’t the case on this sharp action vs. New Orleans, which began with Redick setting a cross screen for Butler. Once Marjanovic found Butler, Redick set a back screen for Simmons at the elbow. Though Butler missed an open Simmons under the rim, the Sixers kept the ball moving. And again, Butler got himself a bucket after a timeout. 



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Joel Embiid stars, Russell Westbrook struggles in Sixers' NBA2K simulation win over Rockets

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NBCSP

Joel Embiid stars, Russell Westbrook struggles in Sixers' NBA2K simulation win over Rockets

Give virtual Russell Westbrook credit for one thing — he never stopped shooting.

Westbrook put up 28 shots Tuesday night in NBC Sports Philadelphia’s NBA2K simulation of the Sixers’ game vs. the Rockets, missing 22 of them in a 72-47 Houston loss (eight-minute quarters). 

Here are a few observations on the Sixers’ 2K win: 

Not Westbrook’s night 

Westbrook’s 21.4 percent mark from the field was his worst a Rocket. Shake Milton guarded him well, sagging off and encouraging Westbrook to shoot while also not allowing him to accelerate on drives toward the rim.

Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni left Westbrook in for the bitter end of the blowout, apparently not concerned with giving one of his best players a little rest. 

Coming up big 

Though it took the Sixers a few minutes to get comfortable with the Rockets’ style, Houston was always going to be vulnerable against Joel Embiid and Al Horford. The Rockets don’t play a true center, which meant players like P.J. Tucker and Austin Rivers were guarding Embiid. He took advantage, scoring 24 points (22 in the paint).

Horford was effective down low, too. He hit his first four shots and had the Wells Fargo Center crowd very much on his side.

There was even a Horford Fathead visible in the stands early in the second quarter.

Thybulle is not a point guard 

It’s nitpicking in a game in which the Sixers were very strong across the board, but 2K Brett Brown’s insistence on using Matisse Thybulle as a backup point guard remains perplexing.

Sure, the Sixers don’t exactly have an excess of capable ball handlers with Ben Simmons injured, but Josh Richardson, Alec Burks and  Furkan Korkmaz would seem to be better suited for that job.

Thybulle's defense was excellent, as usual. 

What’s up with the blimp? 

Sixers fans were obviously very excited during the action, enjoying Embiid’s dunks and Westbrook’s woes. They were generally quiet during timeouts, however, which is one reason why we couldn’t help but notice that a large Sixers blimp — seemingly close to the size of an entire section of fans — floated around during breaks in the action. The blimp is certainly a curious addition to the game presentation experience. 

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Sixers Talk podcast: Dr. J, A.I., The Process and our best Sixers moments

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: Dr. J, A.I., The Process and our best Sixers moments

On this edition of Sixers Talk, we debate which era of Sixers basketball we'd like to see a documentary on, our top Sixers moments and much more.

• Would you rather see a doc on the 80's Sixers or Process Sixers? (8:09)

• What if the Sixers didn't draft Markelle Fultz? (17:59)

• We pick our top three Sixers moments (33:56)

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