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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Sixers vs. Raptors: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Sixers vs. Raptors: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

The Raptors (15-6) return to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since Game 6 last postseason to take on the Sixers (16-7).

Joel Embiid (left hip contusion) will return to the lineup and look to overcome his previous struggles against Marc Gasol and Toronto. Rookie Matisse Thybulle is listed as questionable after rolling his right ankle in last night's win over the Cavs. He will go through pregame warmups before determining his status, per a team source.

The Sixers will again be without Josh Richardson, who will miss his sixth straight game with right hamstring tightness. Richardson did participate in full-court activity Saturday, but the team continues to exercise caution so early in the season.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 6 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch for tonight's game:

Embiid’s boogeyman

Embiid has struggled mightily against Gasol and the Raptors in his career, but nothing compared to the first scoreless game of his NBA career back on Nov. 15 in Toronto. In six career regular-season games against Gasol, Embiid is averaging just 11.7 points a game and shooting below 30 percent. 

Head coach Nick Nurse deployed a different strategy last month than he did during the seven-game series between these two teams. Embiid faced double teams fairly often in the postseason, but in the last matchup, the Raptors had an extra player on Embiid on every single post touch. Nurse was daring the other Sixers to beat them — and they didn’t.

Embiid has done better handling double teams in general this season. This will be an interesting test.

Simmons shooting

For the first couple years of Ben Simmons’ career, Brett Brown has been fairly diplomatic when discussing his All-Star point guard’s shot.

After Simmons hit his second career three Saturday night, Brown was much blunter.

This is what I want, OK — you can pass this along to his agent, his family and his friends and to him — I want a three-point shot a game, minimum. The pull-up twos, I'm fine with whenever he's open but I'm interested in the three-point shot. And the mentality that he has where he's turning corners and taking that long step, that gather step and bringing his shoulders to the rim and trying to dunk or finish tight, will equal higher efficiency or getting fouled. That's the world that interests me the most — those two things. And when you say, 'OK, what's the number?' I immediately throw out eight [free throws]. For whatever reason, I'm not sure, but that's a number that I think is attainable.

It was against a bad basketball team, but it still provided a blueprint for how Simmons should be playing and attacking. Embiid needs all the help he can get.

Looking to stay perfect … but it won’t be easy

The Sixers are a sparkling 11-0 at home, but they’re facing an opponent that’s played well on the road. The Raptors are 6-4 away from Scotiabank Arena.

Philly native Kyle Lowry has returned to the lineup. While Toronto has lost the two games since, Lowry has been playing well. Kawhi Leonard is in L.A. but this Raptors team is still mighty dangerous in general. Pascal Siakam is playing at a superstar level while Fred VanVleet has put up career-best numbers as a starter.

The biggest thing will be slowing down Toronto’s three-point shooting. The Raptors are the second-best team percentage wise in the league while hoisting a healthy amount beyond the arc. Six of their regulars are shooting 37 percent or better from distance. Meanwhile the Sixers are allowing the fewest threes per game.

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Brett Brown makes it clear what he wants from Ben Simmons

Brett Brown makes it clear what he wants from Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons had arguably the finest game of his young NBA career. He set a career high in points (34) and made his second NBA three. He also made 9 of 12 from the free throw line.

Yes, it was against a bad team in disarray in the Cavaliers who the Sixers crushed in a 141-94 win at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night (see observations).

But it showed us the blueprint of what Brett Brown is looking for out of his All-Star point guard.

This is what I want, OK — you can pass this along to his agent, his family and his friends and to him — I want a three-point shot a game, minimum. The pull-up twos, I'm fine with whenever he's open but I'm interested in the three-point shot. And the mentality that he has where he's turning corners and taking that long step, that gather step and bringing his shoulders to the rim and trying to dunk or finish tight, will equal higher efficiency or getting fouled. That's the world that interests me the most — those two things. And when you say, 'OK, what's the number?' I immediately throw out eight [free throws]. For whatever reason, I'm not sure, but that's a number that I think is attainable.

After an abysmal performance Thursday night where he was indecisive and turned the ball over seven times, Simmons was the complete opposite against Cleveland.

Missing Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson, the Sixers needed this version of Simmons. He attacked the rim, got to the line, hit midrange jumpers and, of course, made another three.

But what happens if/when Embiid returns to the lineup in a juicy matchup against the Raptors Sunday night? The pair have always been an imperfect fit with Simmons’ ability to push the basketball and Embiid’s dominance on the block.

If the evolution of Simmons’ game is what we saw Saturday, it could go a long in way in the duo figuring things out.

“Just learning with Jo,” Simmons said. “It’s great to have somebody like that that’s so dominant and helping him with the double teams, and just putting him in the best position to help us win games. So, having him back tomorrow is going to be great.”

For the record, there’s been no official update on Embiid, who missed the game against the Cavs with a left hip contusion.

But one the biggest things that could help Embiid navigate double teams and aid him against his boogeyman Marc Gasol is Simmons consistently attempting outside shots.

Much like the first three of his NBA career, Simmons reacted as if he’d hit 1,000 before it.

“What do you want me to do? Jump up and celebrate?”

Simmons has taken two legitimate threes this season and buried both, so the confidence isn't totally irrational. If it gets to the point where it truly isn’t newsworthy that Simmons hits a three, look out.

While Brown has been careful not to make too big a fuss over it and chosen his words carefully when talking about Simmons shooting, he couldn’t help but ponder what it would mean for Simmons — and for his basketball team as a whole.

I think the drama of it is overblown,” Brown said. “The reality that he can shoot and it ultimately, it's going to need to come into his game in a more pronounced way just from an attempt standpoint, that's not overblown. I think the drama surrounding it is completely overblown. When I just put on my coaching hat and I'm looking at a 23-year-old young man trying to grow his game, it's completely — first in his wheelhouse and secondly, he will be liberated. His world will open up. And I think, in many ways, so will ours.

His coach gave him the blueprint. Now it’s up to Simmons to implement it.

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