76ers

It looks like Sixers have another dynamic duo in Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons

It looks like Sixers have another dynamic duo in Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons

Almost two weeks ago, Sixers head coach Brett Brown said Ben Simmons faced the “biggest adjustment” playing with Jimmy Butler.

It’s fair to say that adjustment has gone smoothly.

As our national NBA insider Tom Haberstroh detailed, Simmons and Butler have excelled offensively when they’ve shared the floor (see story).

When Butler’s been on the court, Simmons has usually been there with him; he’s played 31.8 of his 33.8 minutes per game with Simmons.

In the 254 minutes Butler has played with Simmons, the Sixers have a 115.1 offensive rating. In the 16 minutes he’s played without him, the team’s offensive rating is 89.2. It’s a very small sample size, but the early returns are encouraging.

Simmons has already assisted on 16 of Butler’s field goals, and the Sixers’ newest star is 25 for 55 (45 percent) on passes from Simmons.

“He’s a basketball player,” Butler said of Simmons on Thursday. “Point guard, point forward, whatever you want to call him, I think he does everything in his power to help us win games. Whatever he has to do, he’s going to do it to the best of his ability. He’s a young guy but the way that his mind works, it’s like a vet. He’s one of the leaders here and he really does want to win. He’s constantly in the gym putting in the work. Whenever you have a guy like that at the head of the snake, it’s hard to do.”

Along with Butler and Simmons, the JJ Redick-Joel Embiid pairing has been excellent as usual for the Sixers.

That duo has played the most minutes of any two-man Sixers pairing and has a plus-10.6 net rating. Their creative, constantly evolving two-man game has a seemingly infinite number of options. Last season, Embiid and Redick had the 10th-best net rating of any two-man unit in the NBA at plus-12.8 (minimum 1,000 minutes).

Though Embiid and Simmons were fourth-best in that category last season, they haven’t been quite at the same level this campaign — the pair has a plus-4.1 net rating together.

And, as Habestroh notes, Embiiid and Butler haven’t gelled yet, though you’d expect their pairing to improve as Brown incorporates more pick-and-rolls between the two in the Sixers’ offense, something he’s said he’d like to do.

Taking a step back, the potential of the Sixers’ new starting unit is vast. The five-man group of Butler, Redick, Simmons, Embiid and Wilson Chandler has a plus-15 net rating in 95 minutes, the fourth-best mark of any five-man group in the NBA that’s played at least 90 minutes.

If Butler continues to develop his chemistry with Simmons, there’s a real possibliity the Sixers could wind up having two of the best duos in the NBA, or even three if Embiid and Simmons can return to last season’s form together.

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Brett Brown calls out Sixers' turnover problem: 'Until we fix this, this is a house built on sand'

Brett Brown calls out Sixers' turnover problem: 'Until we fix this, this is a house built on sand'

Brett Brown has been asked about turnovers many times during his six-plus years as head coach of the Sixers. They are a concern, he has acknowledged often. 

“Our turnovers continue to haunt us and we can’t let it go,” he said in December of 2016.

“It is on me, and it keeps us up late at night,” he admitted a little over a year later.

On March 13, 2018, Brown said of the Sixers’ turnover woes, “As a team, we have to get better. Some of it I have to own.”

So, in one sense, what Brown had to say Sunday night about the Sixers’ turnovers shouldn’t be shocking. He hasn’t shirked away from this problem. And, for the most part, it’s been an issue that’s gnawed at the Sixers throughout his tenure. The team has finished either 29th or 30th in turnovers in the NBA every season under Brown besides last year, when they were 25th. After recording 20 turnovers Sunday in a 114-106 win over the Hornets, the 6-3 Sixers are last in the league with 18.8 turnovers per game. But Brown’s comments Sunday were perhaps as impassioned as we’ve heard him on the subject.

This is what I tell the team: Until we can fix this, this is a house built on sand. It is fool’s gold. And we have to find a discipline and a better way to control that. Because the turnovers in the first half, some of them were live ball, a lot of them were just getting things batted out of our hands. We can’t fool ourselves — this is a problem. This is a problem. And we need to own it. I’m the head coach, I’ve gotta find a way to fix it. There needs to be a level of accountability with the players. And that’s that. It’s not anything that we take lightly — we don’t dismiss it. The times are over when you’re looking at some of the young guys and you can justify it. You can’t do that anymore. It’s time that we get better at that. And the players know it. They understand it. But we better fix it.

Like in years past, there are a variety of reasons the Sixers have committed this volume of turnovers. Joel Embiid inflated the number by coughing it up eight times in the Mile High City. There are two new starters in Josh Richardson and Tobias Harris, and some new players coming off the bench. As Brown said, though, youth is no longer a good excuse. 

“That’s definitely our biggest flaw right now,” Richardson said. “I think sometimes we get careless. And I think sometimes we get too unselfish, too. On possessions where you get a decent look and pass it up and then we end up turning it over. It’s like, could we really have gotten a better look at it? But I think that’s a good problem to have. I think we’ve just gotta watch the film and figure out what we’re doing wrong outside of that.”

It’s possible to turn the ball over a lot and still go far as a team. Last year, Monty Williams — at the time an assistant with the Sixers, now the head coach of the Suns — noted that “being in the top five or even the top 10 in turnovers does not guarantee you success.” 

The Sixers have mitigated some of their turnovers by being the best offensive rebounding team in the league. They’re also forcing 16.8 turnovers per game, over four more than they did in 2018-19. The turnovers hurt, but perhaps not as badly as they would for a team also losing possessions in those other categories. 

“That’s been our biggest thing this year,” Tobias Harris said. “A lot of them have just come from — like myself today, I had two travels in the beginning. We’re going to find each other and our spots and how we want to play, things we can do to execute better. If we can just limit to half of those, protect the ball a little bit better, I think that will help us out a whole lot.”

Cutting their turnovers in half would lead the Sixers to be the best in the league at taking care of the ball, so that’s likely not a realistic goal. But Harris’ overall point is fair. It’s not this simple, but if the Sixers could, in each game, eliminate an unforced turnover, an excessively unselfish turnover, and a “new guys getting used to each other” turnover, that would go a long way. 

The NBA started officially recording turnovers in the 1977-78 season. No team has both led the league in turnovers and won an NBA title since then. 

“I think a lot of them were guys mean[ing] well and trying to make certain reads,” Horford said. “We’re just not necessarily clicking how we need to be. Maybe some plays are there … we’re just getting to know each other. Also, we have to be more conscious about taking care of the ball. I believe that as the season goes on, we’ll be fine.”

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Sixers' Josh Richardson opens up about mental health: 'It's tough to dig yourself out of that hole'

Sixers' Josh Richardson opens up about mental health: 'It's tough to dig yourself out of that hole'

After being traded from the Miami Heat to the Sixers this summer, Josh Richardson admitted he was in a "hole" with his mental health.

“It’s one of those things you constantly have to think about," Richardson said. "You have to consciously stay on your mental health, because if you don’t, you can look up and you’re depressed or you’re just not in the right state of mind. I’ve seen guys succumb to that. It’s tough to dig yourself out of that hole. I was there, to be honest. I was there this summer for a while. I got a therapist and I’ve been trying to work that out."

In an open interview, which you can watch above, Richardson discussed the challenges of being diligent about mental health in the highly competitive environment of the NBA, and explained why he tries to “embrace the negative.”

NBC Sports Regional Networks has launched a multi-platform campaign on mental health and men's health, HeadStrong: Mental Health and Sports, for the month of November. You can find more information about the initiative here

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