76ers

Looking at Tobias Harris' role in Sixers' offense, Joel Embiid's guard-like skills

Looking at Tobias Harris' role in Sixers' offense, Joel Embiid's guard-like skills

In this week’s film review, we look at Tobias Harris’ role in the offense 14 games into his tenure as a Sixer. And, with the return of Joel Embiid, we dive a little bit into how the Sixers are using his guard-like talents.

Harris’ role in the offense 

Much of Harris’ offense has come from running with Ben Simmons on the fast break, lurking on the edge of plays, or knocking down spot-up three-pointers. Recently, it seems the Sixers have worked to give him a more central role.

The play below begins with Harris and Jonah Bolden setting staggered screens for T.J. McConnell. As McConnell dribbles right, Bolden screens for Harris off the ball, taking James Harden out of the play. Bolden’s screen gets Harris an advantageous matchup against Nene and he winds up with a good look at the rim.

Here’s another example of that same action vs. Indiana. On this occasion, Harris flares off Amir Johnson’s screen and gets an open three.

Tuesday night, Harris was the player receiving the staggered screens. Mike Scott set the first screen and popped, Boban Marjanovic set the second screen and rolled, and Harris had a chance to attack Channing Frye. The veteran didn’t look thrilled to be left all alone against Harris.

Marjanovic’s size obviously means he’s difficult to handle as a screener, but he’s also shown decent feel as a passer. The timing and touch on this bounce pass to Harris was beautiful — the two friends clearly have an advanced understanding of each other on the court.

The Embiid-Harris pairing is young, but it appears to be developing. Here, Embiid gets the ball on the left wing and takes a dribble toward Harris in the corner, prompting Harris to cut backdoor behind Cedi Osman. 

Embiid’s guard-like skills

Embiid has reminded us — in between the inevitable stretches of rustiness and sloppiness that coincide with an eight-game absence — of his prowess as an interior defender and post scorer. He’s also shown flashes of sublime skill for a man his size.

To Brett Brown’s credit, he often puts Embiid in spots that aren’t typical for seven-footers. On this after-timeout play, Simmons gives the ball to JJ Redick at the top of the key, and Redick passes it to Harris at the right elbow. From there, Redick sprints down to the left block to set a down screen for Embiid. The big man flares off Redick’s screen instead of curling up and crosses over Myles Turner.

Embiid beat Turner on a drive again a little over a minute later. After getting a pass on the left wing from Simmons and dishing it to Embiid, Redick curls toward Embiid, seemingly set to initiate their familiar two-man game. But Embiid fakes the handoff and gets to the rim with two long, fluid dribbles. 

This final play was one of the Sixers’ best offensive sequences this week, and it all started with Embiid operating from the top of the key. With a mismatch against Jordan Clarkson, Embiid drives to the rim and forces Cleveland’s defense to scramble. They never recovered from that initial pressure placed on them by Embiid. 

Though he can be a dominant post player, Embiid is far from useless on the perimeter. Sure, he might sometimes need to stifle his instinct to play like a guard when it leads him to force the action and turn the ball over, but Brown and the Sixers know Embiid's agility and ball handling can pose problems against opposing big guys. 

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A team will rise from the NBA chaos — why not the Sixers?

A team will rise from the NBA chaos — why not the Sixers?

Plucking a quote from one of the most despicable characters in 21st century television isn't my customary method of persuasive writing, but …

"Chaos is a ladder," Petyr Baelish said.

The guy has a point. Amid the rubble of the stalled NBA season an opportunity has arisen. 

At 39-26, the Sixers have limped to an inauspicious spot as the sixth-best team in the East. Whether the eight games they have left before the playoffs changes their seeding or not, this unanticipated sprint to the NBA title following an abrupt four-month layoff could benefit the Sixers.

Back in March when the season was first put on ice, Sixers fans weren't sure when a nerve impingement in Ben Simmons' lower back would allow him to play again. Some very convincing Instagram videos and more than four months since his last game has seemingly allowed him to heal and squelched concerns about a lingering injury.

Joel Embiid was nursing a banged-up shoulder which has had the same time to mend. When Alaa Abdelnaby joined us on the latest Sixers Talk podcast, he said he heard Embiid is working out six days a week. So, forget about the quarantine 15 for “The Process” and the obligatory conditioning conjecture that goes with it.

The Sixers top two players are healthy and conceivably the rest of the roster is as well — save the bedeviled Zhaire Smith — all benefitting from the extra healing time the layoff provided. A lack of health is one reason for the team's lack of chemistry this season. It’s a point Tobias Harris acknowledged as a source for the team's struggles and inconsistencies on a recent television appearance.

For my money, although it may not seem like much, grabbing Ryan Broekhoff and throwing him into the mix was a sound move as well. He helps to increase the healthy competition for minutes among a bench where playing time will be hard to come by if you don't have a defined role.

The Sixers are expected to be in Orlando and enter the NBA bubble on July 9, with the playoffs wrapping on or before Oct. 13. The marathon that was the NBA campaign is over. Following the coronavirus shutdown, 22 teams are now poised to try to race to the finish of a season which could be the most challenging ever, all things considered. 

Charles Barkley endorsed the Sixers’ talent by saying he thinks they have the best two players on the floor, in Simmons and Embiid, against any Eastern Conference foe except Milwaukee. Talent will take them far in this resurrected season, but a test of their minds and wills is likely where the most intense battles will be fought in the months to come.

If this team is really built for the playoffs, as GM Elton Brand proclaimed before an assembled room of players and media before the season, the gauntlet of the NBA bubble will reveal the truth like a soothsayer's decree. Chaos could surely be a ladder for the team who galvanizes quickly in this nouveau world of no fans and neutral sites.

Why can’t the Sixers be that team?

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Brett Brown is 'shocked' his pitch worked on Ryan Broekhoff, who had a lot to consider

Brett Brown is 'shocked' his pitch worked on Ryan Broekhoff, who had a lot to consider

Brett Brown didn’t think Ryan Broekhoff would buy his recruiting pitch. 

“I was shocked that he agreed to come,” Brown said Wednesday on a video call with reporters. 

Yet the 29-year-old Broekhoff decided to join the Sixers for the remainder of the NBA season, signing the substitute contract the team had available because of its vacant two-way contract spot. He’d been a free agent since February, when he was waived by the Mavericks so Dallas could make room for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Broekhoff, who played 59 games over two seasons with the Mavs and converted 40.3 percent of his three-point attempts, has a connection with Brown through the Australian national team. Brown recalled Wednesday that he’s known Broekhoff since he was around 17 years old, while Broekhoff couldn’t recall the exact date of their first meeting. 

He's known Ben Simmons, a fellow native of Melbourne, Australia, since Simmons was about 16. 

“He’s had a lot of influence down in Australia,” Broekhoff said of Brown, who’s the current head coach of the Boomers and also held that position from 2009-2012. “I do remember he cut me from the 2012 Olympic squad, so that’s one thing that I can joke about now. Over the last couple years and especially now, with him being announced as the national team head coach again, we’ve had more conversations.

"I see this as a way to sit up close and personal and get some extra time to learn his philosophies and how things may work, not just with the Sixers but also with the national team.”

The odds of Broekhoff emerging as a vital piece for the Sixers don’t appear high, which Brown said he emphasized in an honest conversation. 

To mislead him about, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of opportunity here,’ that’s not true,” Brown said. “I told him that. You’ve got, what, six people? We all could look at each other and say, ‘What about Matisse (Thybulle)? And Glenn Robinson, and Furkan (Korkmaz) and Alec Burks?’ You could go on and on and on. 

“This isn’t an opportunity where it’s clear there’s a runway and a pathway at all. And that was the flavor of my talk. I downplayed it more than anything. He’s out of contract, I don’t want to mislead him. And I believed when I hung up the phone, he was either going to go to Europe or maybe somebody else could recruit him a little bit better than I did.

The large handful of wings on the Sixers didn’t deter Broekhoff. He said he had an identical offer from one additional NBA team, along with interest from several others. His goal is to find a “steady” spot in the NBA, though, and he thought the fit with the Sixers made sense. 

“They’ve been able to utilize shooters and guys that play off the ball to complement their stars,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m in JJ Redick’s category, because he’s been an unbelievable player and unbelievable shooter for so long, but it’s just being able to prototype myself around that style of play. He had great success here and hopefully I can find the opportunity to be able to deliver similar sort of performances.”

It's a somewhat generous assessment to classify the Sixers' system as conducive to outside shooting, given that the team this season is 14th in three-point percentage and 22nd in three-point attempts. In contrast, Dallas is eighth and second in those categories, respectively.  

Basketball wasn’t the only factor Broekhoff had to weigh.

“It hasn’t been an easy decision, by any means, to come back,” he said. “I have a wife and a one-year-old son, and my wife has an autoimmune disease, so she’s at higher risk for COVID. It’s taken a lot for us to be able to get to this point where we signed.

"We spoke to Elton Brand and we spoke to Coach, just wanted to get some more information about how the bubble is going to be down in Orlando. If anything happens, what are my options to get back and take care of my family? That was important to me.”

For the time being, Broekhoff wants to be sharp for the Sixers’ training camp in Orlando, which Brown described as “huge” in determining competitions for minutes and roles. Mandatory workouts at the Sixers' facility in Camden, New Jersey, started Wednesday, while the team is set to arrive in Disney World on July 9 and resume play on Aug. 1 against the Pacers (see schedule).

By knocking down some jumpers and playing with the "Australian toughness" Brown praised, Broekhoff could remind his head coach why he made that hopeful recruiting pitch.

“Anything can happen during camp and I’m going to try to put my best foot forward,” Broekhoff said, “and not just rely on shooting, but just show everything — try to defend and rebound and be an energy sort of leader, a veteran kind of guy.

"Even though I’ve been in the league only a short amount of time, I feel like I have a lot of experience, both internationally and overseas in Europe. Just being able to help the team in any way is my goal at the moment.” 

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