76ers

Brett Brown says Sixers will play 'smash mouth offense and bully ball defense'

Brett Brown says Sixers will play 'smash mouth offense and bully ball defense'

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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2020 NBA draft profile: Tre Jones is a stellar defender who could fit well on the Sixers

2020 NBA draft profile: Tre Jones is a stellar defender who could fit well on the Sixers

Tre Jones

Position: Point guard
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 185 pounds 
School: Duke

Looking at the 2020 NBA draft prospects, there might not be a player that has been more closely scrutinized than Tre Jones. Such is life when you’re the point guard at Duke.

A look at Jones’ two years in Durham is a study in contrasts. In his first season, he played Ringo in a Fab Four freshman class that included Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. (Apologies to Joey Baker for not being included in that group.) Oftentimes, Jones would defer to his more prominent teammates to the point of disappearing offensively in games.

Jones was the lone member of that unit to return to school for a sophomore season. The Minnesota native emerged as the team’s leader and most complete player en route to earning ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors. Only Shane Battier and Malcolm Brogdon have accomplished that double this century.

But how does Jones’ game translate to the NBA? Let’s examine his strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths 

Excellent defender: Jones earned that Defensive Player of the Tear award on merit. The best example of his prowess on defense came in his last college game, a 13-point win over rival North Carolina. In that contest, Jones placed the clamps on likely lottery pick Cole Anthony. The UNC star scored just 9 points on 4 of 14 shooting while adding only three assists in 39 minutes. 

You can count the number of on-ball defenders who were better than Jones in the NCAA last season on one hand. That said, the 6-foot-3 guard will have to continue to develop strength if he’s going to disrupt NBA-caliber point guards on a consistent basis.

Embraces the moment: As mentioned above, the affable Jones willingly played facilitator in his freshman season. But in his second season, Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils counted on Jones to take the team’s big shots. Obviously, one could point to the game-tying buzzer beater in Duke’s other game with North Carolina last season as evidence of that. But there were countless times in 2020 when Jones read the moment and made a play when his team needed it.

Jones will not be a primary offensive option in the NBA, but his defense has the opportunity to keep him on the floor at the end of games. He won’t be afraid to take and make big shots in those instances.

Weaknesses 

Shooting: Tre is actually the second Jones to make his way through Duke in recent years. His brother Tyus, you may recall, starred for the 2015 national champions alongside Jahlil Okafor. Tyus displayed a great deal of offensive weapons in his lone season at Duke. The younger Jones is slightly more limited on the offensive side of the ball, specifically when comparing the two as shooters.

Tre shot over 42 percent from the field as a sophomore, a tick up from his freshman campaign. But where he really improved was as a three-point shooter, going from 26.2 point to 36.1 percent. Jones will need to continue to improve that part of his game, because NBA coaches are going to help off him initially and force him to hit open shots.

To his credit, Jones is a good free throw shooter (over 75 percent from the foul line in both seasons at Duke), and he gets better in that department late in games.

Ball handling:  A willing passer and good decision maker, Jones is the type of player you want to play alongside. But he’s not a point guard that can get anywhere he wants off the dribble. He’ll need screens in order to consistently get into the paint as an NBA player. 

His handle is also a little loose for a player of his size. That didn’t cost him much in college, but it will be a different story next season.

Fit 

Chances are that Jones will likely fall to the bottom part of the draft’s first round, and that might be a blessing in disguise for the 20-year old. He’ll never be the type of player that can change a franchise. But Jones has the potential to be a fit for a good team like the Sixers, initially as an eighth or ninth man. One could see Jones providing capable defense while taking some minutes as a lead ball handler when Ben Simmons needs a rest. He’d also provide the potential for giving the Sixers a ridiculous shutdown lineup of Jones, Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Joel Embiid and any other player you’d like.

In a best-case scenario, the Duke star becomes Kyle Lowry, a tenacious defender that runs his team and does enough offensively to be a factor. But if he doesn’t become a better offensive player, he might be relegated to NBA journeyman. I’d bet Jones ends up as a solid contributor to playoff teams for the better part of the next decade.

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Sixers Home School: The 1966-67 Sixers were one of the best NBA teams ever

Sixers Home School: The 1966-67 Sixers were one of the best NBA teams ever

From 1959-1969, the Boston Celtics won 10 of 11 NBA titles. The one year Boston didn't win was 1967, when the Sixers ran roughshod over the entire league, including the Celtics. That 1966-67 Sixers team went 68-13 in the regular season, which remains one of the top five regular-season records in NBA history.

You probably know some of the names from that team. Wilt Chamberlain, obviously. Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Chet Walker — all Hall of Famers.  What's great about this video, which is essentially a video yearbook of that 1966-67 team, is that you really get to understand the skill sets of those players and what made the team so dominant. It's also a time capsule. The shots of fans in suits and dresses inside the old Convention Hall really drive home that you're in a completely different era. (The Spectrum would open the following season.)

At the 1:55 mark, head coach Alex Hannum breaks down what each player brought to the team while you see video of those players. By the time he's done, you understand that Greer was a great mid-range jump shooter and that Luke Jackson and Chamberlain gave that team a "Twin Towers" look in the paint. It's a fascinating breakdown of what each player brought to the table and how the pieces fit together.

The real fun begins at 6:04, with a look at the Eastern Division Finals series against the Celtics. You get to see Chamberlain tangle with Bill Russell, and his combination of size, athleticism and skill just jumps off the screen. He averaged 21 points, 32 rebounds and 10 assists for the series. The absurdity of those numbers begins to make sense when you watch him do it. It’s impossible to watch the video and not believe that Chamberlain would have been a star in any era.

You also have to put into perspective what you’re watching as the Sixers overwhelmed the Celtics 4-1 in that series, including a 140-116 beatdown in Game 5 in Philadelphia. The Celtics were the eight-time defending champions. Russell had thwarted Chamberlain’s championship aspirations at every turn. But in 1967, the Celtics were a mere speed bump on the Sixers' road to a title.

At 16:47, you see Sixers fans holding a banner that says “Boston Is Dead” and you can feel the magnitude of that moment. At 18:21, you hear Chamberlain, Walker, Cunningham and others describe their feelings on finally vanquishing the Celtics as you watch the pure joy of the champagne celebration in the locker room.

The Sixers still had to finish the job, and the Finals series against the San Francisco Warriors begins at the 20:25 mark. You see the Sixers clinch the championship on the road in San Francisco before returning home to cheering fans at the airport.

The video begins and ends with a song from that era celebrating the 1966-67 Sixers. Here’s the chorus:

There's Hal and Larry, Matt and Bill and Wali Jones to pass it.

Luke and Billy, Chet and Dave and Wilt to guard the basket.

Those are names Sixers fans should know from what remains one of the greatest teams in NBA history.

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