The fact that the Sixers will have a monstrous starting five is not lost on Brett Brown.
They’ll essentially start two centers in Joel Embiid and Al Horford, a 6-foot-9 wing in Tobias Harris and a 6-foot-10 point guard in Ben Simmons. Josh Richardson will be the shortest of the bunch at 6-foot-6.
That’s serious size.
And Brown knows exactly how he’s going to use it.
When you all leave the room, you should all write this and hear me loudly: We will end up playing smash mouth offense and bully ball defense,” Brown said at a luncheon Wednesday in Center City. “We have the team that can do that.
Now that is an identity.
And it’s not just about size either. With the exception of Harris, who will have to make an adjustment going from guarding fours to chasing wings at the three, all the members of the starting unit are considered excellent defensive players.
At times last season, Brown sacrificed defense to keep JJ Redick’s elite shooting on the floor. Other times he was forced to go to James Ennis, who provided significantly better defense but not the offensive prowess or floor spacing the team desperately needed.
Brown doesn’t forecast the same issues arising this season.
I don't see that with this starting five,” Brown said. “I'm not sure who or where the liability exists. … Even Tobias promises me, 'I will be better defensively.' I say I hear you loudly and I look forward to seeing it. I think any time you have an athlete with character, which he is, he can play defense. And I feel like getting him in late and understanding all our words and schemes, by any stretch is difficult. …
“I'm not feeling many deficiencies defensively. … Forget my opinion, looking at the statistical facts — when Joel Embiid is in the game, we're the best defensive team by a lot in the NBA. When Joel sat, we plummeted to 24th. That's a canyon. I don't see that with Al at a 5 or Kyle [O'Quinn] at a 5 or Jonah [Bolden] or whatever. How you cover that and is it based on matchups; my first glance is I'm wondering where the holes are going to happen.
The one deficiency that could arise is shooting. With Redick departing for New Orleans, the Sixers lost one of the best three-point shooters of the last decade. That’s not something that’s easily replaced.
Brown doesn’t share those concerns. He may not have Redick anymore, but he does have Harris. Harris was flirting with a 50-40-90 season with the Clippers before his trade to Philadelphia. Then a 27-game slump came at the worst possible time as he struggled to assimilate into the Sixers’ star-studded lineup.
Shooting may not be the forte of Horford or Richardson — both players have shot over 36 percent the last four seasons, right around the league average — but they’re threats opposing teams will have to respect.
Even if the outside shooting sits around the league average, Brown isn’t worried. He knows where his team will hang their hat and that this roster is full of offensive talent.
I know that we'll play defense,” Brown said. “That rules my day, it's where my head is centered as our starting point. You hear me talk about Philly edge, hard and real, and it's true. … So I feel comfortable that we're going to defend, because we can, and it's how I see the world. I feel confident that we're going to score because we have options … [A reporter] asked me about the perimeter game and that's always on my mind, but I don't see it as being sort of our pre-mortem — if we're going to die, what's it look like? I don't see that.
What Brown is talking about is a bit of a departure from the modern NBA. Most teams want to play fast and they want to shoot a ton of threes. Brown insists the team will still play with pace with the “fastest person in the NBA” in Simmons running things, but the Sixers don’t fit the mold of most modern teams.
Brown harkened back to the days of Jerry Sloan’s Jazz and Phil Jackson’s triangle offense with the Bulls after he recently watched an old game on NBA TV. He asserts that he doesn’t want to bring that back. He’s constantly talked about the NBA’s move out to the three-point line and that the game will never go back.
That’s why you shouldn’t take the “smash mouth offense” stuff too far.
Bucking trends, we're not doing that,” Brown said, “but bully ball might be whose guarding Tobias and he's got somebody small, we're just going to pull it and drive it. Not maybe a play back down game, maybe he's just going to shoot over at the rim somebody that's 6-4. When I say bully ball, I don't mean entirely like pound pound, long twos, contested twos stuff. I just know that we've got the ability to punish smaller people in different ways.
Whatever you want to call it or however you want to phrase, Brett Brown is speaking a language Philadelphia can appreciate.
And he’s forging an identity that suits his new-look team.
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