The 2014-15 Sixers won 18 games and used 25 players. In comparison, adjusting to a few games without Jimmy Butler or a rest day for Joel Embiid must feel like nothing for head coach Brett Brown.
Let’s review how Brown has been adapting the Sixers’ offense based on the constant changes with his team.
The offense without Butler and Embiid
The Sixers run a lot of actions out of their “Horns” alignment when Butler and Embiid are off the floor, starting with two big men at the elbows and two wings in the corners.
On the play below, T.J. McConnell makes an entry pass to Mike Muscala at the elbow. At the opposite elbow, Ben Simmons sets what the Sixers call a “sprint away” screen (also called a wide pin down) for JJ Redick. Muscala gives Redick a dribble handoff, then a second screen, and pops behind the arc. Simmons rolls to the rim and Redick finds him for a dunk.
It’s a pretty, free-flowing-play, the kind the Sixers rely on when shot creators of Butler and Embiid’s caliber are out.
These actions often center around Redick, a player with a lot of “gravity.” This essentially means Redick attracts plenty of the defense’s attention because of his shooting ability, something the Sixers can exploit to create open looks for his teammates.
Here, Redick sets a back screen for Simmons at the elbow, then flares behind the arc off Jonah Bolden’s screen. Redick drives baseline around Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets’ defense is forced to scramble, and Redick hits an open Landry Shamet, who draws three free throws.
The other central focus of the Sixers’ non-Butler, non-Embiid offense is Simmons in the post. Once Simmons receives the ball in the post, the Sixers often make “split cuts off him,” a concept we touched on in last week’s film review.
After Simmons gets the ball, the man who made the entry pass and the next closest perimeter player initiate a two-man screening action. In the example below, Corey Brewer feeds Simmons and cuts to the middle, screening off Landry Shamet’s man, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and giving the rookie space to knock down an open three-pointer.
The offense with Butler and Embiid
Brown introduced an interesting twist to the Embiid-Butler pairing Tuesday in Los Angeles, giving Butler minutes at the point guard spot (see story). The early returns on the experiment were positive, with the side pick-and-roll an especially effective action between the two.
On this play, JaVale McGee moves to the right in anticipation of Butler using Embiid’s screen. As we noted last week, Butler likes to reject ball screens, and this a great example why. There’s no help in the middle of the floor until he’s already made it into the paint.
The attention both Butler and Embiid attract is immense. Here, Butler uses Embiid’s screen and drives to the right. Tyson Chandler blocks his path to the hoop with solid drop coverage, but the Lakers bungle their rotations and Brewer is all alone on the opposite wing.
While we’re on the topic of simple looks with plenty of potential, we’d be remiss not to mention the two “snug pick-and-rolls” Brown ran with Simmons and Embiid early in the fourth quarter against the Lakers.
Simmons makes an "Iverson cut" on top of Embiid’s screen and gets the ball from Butler on the wing. From there, McGee and Josh Hart have no idea how to handle Embiid’s roadblock of a screen 12 feet from the rim.
An action that works regardless of personnel
Brown certainly tailors his offense to his player’s strengths, but there are plenty of foundational pieces that don’t require any elaborate adaptation.
“Elbow rub,” which we covered several weeks ago, is one such piece. The Sixers have various options out of this initial action, but they’re frequently not required. It’s incredible how much the first look — one player looping around a back screen from another at the foul line — gets the Sixers an easy alley-oop.
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