76ers

Brett Brown gives insight into Sixers' post offense with Ben Simmons and with Joel Embiid

Brett Brown gives insight into Sixers' post offense with Ben Simmons and with Joel Embiid

While some of the Sixers’ offense is based around designed, structured actions, Brett Brown prefers to put his players in organic environments conducive to their success.

NBC Sports Philadelphia talked with Brown on Friday about the Sixers’ movement off Ben Simmons in the post and the differences with the team’s post offense around Joel Embiid. We got some insight into his thought process and details about how he wants to develop certain aspects of the Sixers' offense.  

‘Explosion’

According to Brown, “the very large majority” of the Sixers’ cutting when Simmons receives the ball in the post falls under the organic category.

We get the ball to Ben and there’s different actions that can happen behind it. The term that we use is 'Explosion.' There is a randomness to possibilities that has helped us. But the real key is movement. Playing static is not how we want to play with Ben Simmons on a back down.

The improvisation of “Explosion” makes it unpredictable. Below, after Jimmy Butler cuts to the rim, JJ Redick comes from the left corner to the left elbow to free Joel Embiid with a back screen. 

Redick often will raise his arm and move toward a teammate’s defender like he’s going to set a screen before sharply accelerating on a cut. He jogged over from the right wing to the right elbow against Sacramento, in the direction of Willie Cauley-Stein. But instead of screening for Embiid, he continued all the way to the rim.

Embiid slid over from the right elbow to the left elbow in Milwaukee to set a cross screen for Redick. Simmons waited for Redick to arrive for a handoff, and the 13-year veteran was fouled by an off-balance Eric Bledsoe.

The Sixers’ options out of “Explosion” aren’t limited to Simmons distributing the ball to others. 

“It’s still stuff we hope to get better at,” Brown said, “because, apart from his ability to pass out of it and the movement behind it, there’s still the ability or recognition that he can score.”

All the off-ball movement around Simmons is usually effective at drawing away potential help defenders and giving him room to score, as he does below against Corey Brewer. 

Simmons is also savvy at recognizing when defenders are too focused on cutters and not enough on him. Devonte’ Graham and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist both bit hard on Simmons’ fake handoff to Redick.

A different world

The Sixers’ post offense around Embiid has different underlying principles, which Brown says stem from his days as an assistant coach with the Spurs.

A little bit more static, a little bit more set the table, where Joel can be comfortable with his outlets. I’ve just pretty much replicated what we did with [Tim] Duncan for 12 years in San Antonio. We go to floor spots and use that as starting points, and then other things happen from those starting points.

When Embiid gets the ball in the post, the Sixers like to have men stationed on the weakside short corner, weakside corner, weakside wing and top of the key. Besides the player in the short corner — typically Simmons — everyone is well behind the three-point arc, behind the “four-point line.” 

The possession below against the Bucks illustrates the setup the Sixers prefer. James Ennis throws the ball into Embiid and slides over to the top of the key, while Simmons takes his spot in the right short corner, with Redick on the right wing and Mike Scott in the right corner.

You can see D.J. Wilson helps off Simmons late in an attempt to double team Embiid, but the Sixers’ spacing around their big man is designed to make effective double teams a challenge. Wilson doesn’t arrive in time to deter Embiid.

Double teams are more dangerous when the Sixers fail to occupy their proper floor spots and put Embiid in positions where he can be “comfortable with his outlets,” as Brown says.

Simmons hands it off to Embiid on this fast break vs. the Kings and, after he takes a couple of dribbles, it’s evident Embiid is in trouble. He doesn’t know where his outlets are, he’s being harassed by Harry Giles and Brewer, and he ends up trying to force a pass to Ennis.

While not being in the preferred floor spots for Embiid is an issue, being in the right spots doesn’t guarantee success. 

Everyone is where they're supposed to be on the play below, but because there’s zero movement around Embiid, it’s not too difficult for Brewer to double team off Harris at the top of the key and nearly strip away the ball. Embiid gets bailed out with a foul call. 

Brown acknowledged that more movement around Embiid might make double teaming him more difficult, or at least cause teams to be more wary of the idea. 

Maybe. The floor spots with Joel are not intended to be like, you just go there and stand. Those are the floor spots that you’d put Manu [Ginobili] in and Danny Green in — you move behind it. … I think that as the playoffs happen, as this season starts to unfold, one of the areas that we are looking at is what we call slashing. You can take home plate and somebody turns their head, and you’re going against a lot of blind defensive players that don’t know what’s going on behind you. The slashing and Tobias and Jimmy interests me a lot. And I think that we can do better with the movement behind Joel as it relates to the starting points.

Sometimes the defense dictates how the Sixers should cut when Embiid has the ball down low. The Bucks had Tony Snell looming as help on the left baseline on the play below, completely ignoring T.J. McConnell in the right corner. Embiid dribbled to the middle of the floor and McConnell found the gap in the defense.

For Brown, though, proactive movement is of greater interest. On this play vs. Sacramento, everyone started to jog over to their floor spots as Embiid got the ball. Rather than mindlessly park himself in the right corner, Simmons did well to jump in front of Nemanja Bjelica, earn position at the front of the rim, and draw a foul. 

Brown has tailored the Sixers’ post offense around Embiid in a way that plays to his strengths, just as he has with Simmons. And, though he continues to trust his players to make good things happen in advantageous situations, he knows the Sixers and Embiid might benefit from a little more of the off-ball movement characteristic of “Explosion.”

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Sixers' James Ennis makes donation to a cause close to his heart

Sixers' James Ennis makes donation to a cause close to his heart

When James Ennis learned about ACHIEVEability, it hit home. ACHIEVEability is a local nonprofit in West Philadelphia focused on homelessness and breaking the generational cycle of poverty.

This summer, Ennis returned to a place that brings back a lot of memories. After hosting a free kids day camp at Westpark in Ventura, California, Ennis traveled a few blocks down the road to Westview Village, a public housing community where he grew up. Ennis hadn’t been back since he left to play basketball, and this time it looked a little different. A brand-new basketball court, which was being dedicated in his name, was now standing in place of his childhood home.

“The West Village projects,” Ennis said to NBC Sports Philadelphia when talking about his childhood. “Where the basketball courts are right now, that's where our place was at. … It's where we used to live.”

Ennis can remember multiple times when his family needed a helping hand growing up.

“We were unstable a lot. I went to four different high schools my freshman year.”

There was one program his family was in for a few months where he remembers his entire family staying in one room with five beds.

There was another that he simply said was much worse. There was also the hotel in Oxnard, Budget Gardens, that they stayed in while waiting for housing.

“There was this one room. One bed. And that was when I was a freshman in high school — this was all during high school. I stayed in a hotel in Oxnard, and every morning we had to walk to the bus station and take the bus to Ventura High School, but no one knew where we were going. We just always got on the bus and left. It was tough, but I'm glad everything worked out and we're here now.”

Ennis credits his father with keeping his family together through such difficult times.

“I respect my dad a lot,” Ennis said of his father keeping the family together. “I thank my dad. … I feel like if my dad just left, we would've all split up and gone different ways, but he stayed, and that's how we stayed together.

“I'm glad everything worked out and we're here now.”

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According to the most recent 2018 U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate in the United States is 11.8 percent.

In Philadelphia, nearly a quarter (24.5 percent) of residents — and 34.6 percent of children — live below the poverty line, making it the poorest of America’s 10 largest cities.

Harold Barrow, now the programming and outreach manager for ACHIEVEability, was just another statistic. After growing up in an abusive household and using drugs at 11 years old, Barrow dropped out of school and was living on the streets by 14.

By the time he was 30 and living in an abandoned house across from Carlton Park in Germantown, he also had an infant daughter, Deiana. Thankfully, ACHIEVEability was there and took him in.

“For me, I came to this program not really knowing that I could be anything but a heroine addict, homeless,” Barrow said. “That was going to be my plight in life and that nothing else was going to happen good for that — that I was just going to die being an addict. They were like no, you can re-write the story, but you've got to work hard.”

So that’s what Barrow did. Incrementally, with affordable housing through ACHIEVEability and a manageable action program that held him accountable, Barrow held his first job at Popeyes and received an academic scholarship to Drexel University (after graduating from community college with a 3.87 GPA). When he struggled with classes at Drexel, they helped him find a learning psychologist and a tutor. 

For eight years, Barrow was a beneficiary of the program. And ever since, he’s been giving back to those that come aboard.

“We take families at different levels … all of them are homeless, all have addiction or domestic violence. Some of it is generational poverty. For us, it is important for us to see families move from impoverishment to self-sufficiency. When I started working here was when my social worker said no more food stamps for you. You've got to learn how to do without that. We are there for families throughout this whole process.”

And being here with families throughout this whole process is something that Ennis can really relate to, and one of the reasons he chose to donate $15,000 to the program.

“I feel like this program was a lot different than the program that I was in (growing up), because basically once you got on your feet, they think you're OK and they put you back on the street,” Ennis remembers of similar programs growing up. “But [ACHIEVEability] makes you accomplish things to stay there. I think that's really good. I wish they had that back then.”

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And accomplishing results is exactly what ACHIEVEability has, well … achieved.  Since 2014, 100 percent of high school seniors associated with ACHIEVEability have graduated and 80 percent have enrolled in college.

“One of the things I remember the executive director (Jacques Ferber) saying is that we really want you to build a life that once you look at the life you have now, you'll look back and never want to trade that in,” Barrow said. “That really became reality for me. I ain't going back to that. No matter what I had to do.”

In the past year, ACHIEVEabilty has served over 115 families and 215 children.

“If you talk to our families and ask them why they are doing this, they will give a lot of reasons, but almost everyone says because I want a better life for my kids,” Jamila Morris-Harrison, current executive director, said. “I want a better life for my family. I want to give them something that I wasn't able to get, that sort of commitment to the kids is a really powerful motivator.”

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This past Friday night, at the Sixers’ final preseason game against the Washington Wizards, Ennis and Barrow got to meet up for the first time. A group of 50 people from ACHIEVEability were in attendance. Ennis took pictures and signed Sixers souvenirs, but most impactfully told the group that he understands where they all came from and reminded them to believe in themselves and stay strong.

Philadelphia 76ers

For Harold, he hopes Ennis understands the impact that his donation will have.  

“You just don't know the impact that that money is going to have on some homeless family, some struggling family, it's just going to make all the difference in the world, man. And I would tell people all the time, stories like mine don't happen in a vacuum, it happens because people care enough to give and get involved and volunteer and become a part of it, because in poverty and homelessness, there is no such thing as delayed gratification.

"You don't know about working hard for something now to have it later, you’re just kind of like, I hope tomorrow I have some food or tomorrow I have somewhere to lay my head. You're not hoping anything beyond tomorrow or tonight. I hope tonight I have somewhere to go that's safe. Donations for people like himself make all the difference in the world. Some person is going to have another story, a success, donations from people like them, that just care. I don't know why he looked at our organization and we touched his heart in some way to make him want to give, but it makes all the difference in the world.”

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'It's not just another game' for Al Horford against the Celtics

'It's not just another game' for Al Horford against the Celtics

Al Horford is a seasoned veteran. The 33-year-old is entering his 13th NBA season for his third team. GM Elton Brand brought him in hoping he'd be one of the final pieces on a championship roster.

So Wednesday night’s season opener against the Boston Celtics, where Horford spent the last three seasons, will just be another game.

Right?

“Yeah, you know, it's definitely going to be weird for me — different — facing my former team,” Horford said after practice Sunday. “It's probably as good of a scenario as it can be, first game of the year. It's definitely going to be different. It's not just another game. It's a big game given the rivalry between Philly and Boston.”

A rivalry that he’s helped add another layer to.

Horford is the epitome of what an NBA veteran should be. When his teammates and head coach have been asked what’s stood out about the starting power forward, professionalism is generally one of the first words uttered.

With that in mind, it was a bit surprising — and perhaps a bit refreshing — to hear Horford acknowledge that Wednesday won’t just be one of 82. Horford left an indelible mark on the Celtics’ franchise. He was their first marquee signing after head coach Brad Stevens had returned Boston to respectability.

Players there still talk about his leadership and what he meant to them. None of that is lost on Horford.

“It's the way this business is. I've learned that throughout the years,” Horford said. “The one thing I always take from those groups [on the Celtics] is [it’s a] great group of guys — always competing, always playing hard for one another. I really felt like I made the most out of my time when I was there.”

This won’t be the first time Horford has had to go up against his former team. He had to face the Atlanta Hawks, a team that made him the third overall pick in 2007, when he signed a big free agent contract with Boston in 2016.

The last season Horford was in Atlanta, the team won 48 games. The first season after Horford left, they won 43. By 2017-18, the Hawks won just 24 games and parted ways with head coach Mike Budhenholzer. Meanwhile, the Celtics went from 48 wins to 53 in Horford’s first year and 55 in his second season — before Kyrie Irving came in last season and ruined everything.

For the Sixers, it’s fair to wonder what’s better: Horford’s presence helping them or his absence hurting the Celtics. He'll now look to improve the Sixers, a team that's won over 50 games and a playoff series in back-to-back seasons and that has championship aspirations.

For the past couple seasons, he’s been a thorn in the side of the Sixers — especially Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Horford might be the only player in the NBA that’s had success guarding both of the Sixers’ young All-Stars. Now practice will be the only time that happens.

And both players are quite happy about that.

So is his new head coach, who’s already seeing the positive influence Horford is having on his team.

“I think for him, probably internally more than me or his teammates, he feels something I'm sure, a little bit differently than then we would feel,” Brett Brown said. “I bet he feels internally a heck of a lot more than us. 

“I think he is a resource. I have him speak to the team, ask him what he thinks — like what do you think you'd like to share with us as it relates to opening night and Celtics? And he's great. He's thoughtful, he's smart, he's a veteran. And he helps me.”

Will it be different? Of course. Will it be weird? A little.

But Horford is a pro’s pro. He’s unassuming and doesn’t put up eye-popping stats, but he affects the game as much as any player on the floor.

Starting Wednesday, he’ll have that effect for the Sixers against the Celtics.

“It's the first game so once we play it, I think both sides will be able to move on with their season,” Horford said. “I think that now we're all shifting our focus on the beginning of the regular season. Obviously, Boston's our first matchup, getting that going and that's that.”

Horford seems anxious to get the reunion over with and help the Sixers try to win a title.

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