76ers

Rockets 107, Sixers 91: Sixers turn in worst three-point shooting performance of season

Rockets 107, Sixers 91: Sixers turn in worst three-point shooting performance of season

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers’ chances were never going to be great Friday night against one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Their worst three-point shooting performance of the season didn’t improve their odds.

In a 107-91 loss to the Rockets at Toyota Center, the Sixers (41-25) shot 3 for 26 from three-point range (11.5 percent).

James Harden had 31 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in 32 minutes for the Rockets, who led by as many as 24 points. 

• Just about every Sixer got a shot to guard Harden in the first quarter. None fared very well, with Harden posting 16 points in the opening period as Houston established a comfortable lead. 

James Ennis got a chance against his old teammate and, predictably, fouled the league’s leading scorer on their first encounter.

Jonah Bolden faced up vs. Harden on a switch and saw a three-pointer drained in his face.

Harden actually didn’t have his best offensive night — he shot 3 for 11 from long range — but he's a near-impossible matchup for any opponent.

• Tobias Harris rebounded from an off night Wednesday in Chicago with 22 points on 10 for 15 shooting, meaning he’s scored over 20 points in 10 of his 12 games as a Sixer. Jimmy Butler was the other bright spot for the Sixers’ offense, scoring 19 points.

But outside of Harris and Butler, the Sixers struggled to score — to put it mildly. JJ Redick was a season-worst 1 for 11 from the floor. 

Realistically, the Sixers needed outstanding offensive performances from at least two of their stars, to go along with solid support. They didn’t come close to matching Harden or the Rockets’ firepower.

• P.J. Tucker drew two charges on Amir Johnson within the first 80 seconds, the second of which was a borderline call Brett Brown did not appear too thrilled about. It was an inauspicious start for the Sixers as those fouls led to an earlier appearance than originally planned for Bolden. 

The Sixers used a combination of Johnson, Bolden and Justin Patton at center. That trio combined to score seven points in 44 minutes.  

As a point of comparison, Embiid scored 32 points by himself in the Sixers’ 121-93 win over Houston on Jan. 21. 

Though the team has managed a 4-4 mark since the All-Star break without Embiid, you can feel his absence in so many different ways every night. Even if he’s rusty and not in top condition, the Sixers could sure use his low-post scoring and defensive presence Sunday vs. the Pacers, who still hold the third seed in the Eastern Conference and are a game on top of the Sixers. 

• Despite an emphasis on getting Ben Simmons the ball in the post against Houston’s smaller guards, Simmons was ineffective offensively, settling for a few right-handed push shots and missing a couple of open looks around the rim. He had 15 points on 6 for 15 shooting, 10 assists, nine rebounds and seven turnovers.

When Simmons received the ball in the post, the Sixers’ offense was pretty stationary, which was a little disappointing. For most of this season, the Sixers have done an excellent job making split cuts off Simmons, giving him passing options and clearing the lane for him to go to work — it’s one factor behind Simmons’ massive leap in post-up efficiency this season. But on Friday, the typical sharp cuts off the ball were lacking. 

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Ben Simmons film review: Making the most of Sixers point guard's game in half-court offense

Ben Simmons film review: Making the most of Sixers point guard's game in half-court offense

It is the third healthy season of Ben Simmons’ NBA career and he has made two three-point shots in the regular season. That fact is difficult to ignore and unfortunately tends to distort any evaluation of Simmons.

The 23-year-old is also, of course, a gifted player who leads the league in steals, is fifth in assists and, to put it simply, is very good at many parts of basketball besides shooting.

Instead of fixating on his shot or praising all his skills, let’s evaluate Simmons in half-court offense and examine, outside of the obvious, where he can get better. 

Making the most of all that room 

Normal NBA actions, like this 1-5 pick-and-roll at the end of the first half on Dec. 27, are sometimes less normal when Simmons is involved.

Going under a ball screen is a common scheme, but the way Aaron Gordon slid under Joel Embiid at the foul line before Simmons had even gone inside the arc is not. This defensive approach against Simmons can make it difficult to run conventional offense.

Since he hasn’t yet done it, we don’t know whether Simmons taking these near-omnipresent opportunities to shoot would change how teams defend him. The similar way opponents guard Giannis Antetokounmpo, now a very willing outside shooter (32.4 percent from three on 5.1 attempts per game), indicates it might not. 

One action the Sixers like as a means of exploiting the open space teams give Simmons is called “12,” and it begins with a wing rising up from the baseline to set a ball screen for Simmons, accept a handoff or slide out behind the arc, as Furkan Korkmaz did early in the fourth quarter Wednesday night.

It got Josh Richardson a good look in the second quarter on Christmas. This is an odd way to produce a three in the modern NBA, but the Sixers managed an open one for Richardson because Donte DiVincenzo got caught under the sagging Antetokounmpo.

Simmons can chew up space well, and not just by sprinting at top speed. He countered the defense’s expectations and changed pace effectively on the play below, acting as if he was going to hand it off to James Ennis before accelerating.

A focus on spacing 

For the current version of Simmons, off-ball spacing is vital. When Al Horford posts up, Tobias Harris drives or two teammates run a pick-and-roll, it’s important that Simmons is in the proper floor spot.

Brett Brown said on Dec. 17 it’s something he often reviews with Simmons.

I spend so much time with Ben talking about spacing. … He uses the space to play downhill and so somewhere, the bottom line is we need to grow his perimeter game. And it starts with space. Out of a post, where is he? Out of a pick-and-roll, where is he? Not when he's in the post, not when he's in the pick-and-roll — when he's out of the action. Those are the areas that we've been talking a little bit about.

“He's been great. He sees it and he shares things with me, too, that I give him credit for. And so this is a partnership. I'm here to help him, help us, help himself. And that I'll continue to try to do. 

The Sixers are working to deprogram Simmons’ default mode of wanting to be as close to the basket as possible. On the play below, he stood in a no man’s land between the left block and left elbow instead of relocating behind the arc, didn’t look at the rim when Harris dropped the ball off to him and ultimately helped derail the trip. 

A positive possession for Simmons in terms of spacing is usually quite basic. Here, he recognized Embiid was in the “dunker spot,” walked back to the three-point line and stayed there as Harris drove.

The team just needs Simmons to be attentive, aware of both where his teammates are and where he should be once he gives up the ball. It didn’t have an impact on this particular play, but notice how Harris had to motion to Simmons as he stared at Horford posting up — “Move over to the corner.”

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Pick-and-roll progress 

The pick-and-roll pairing of Richardson and Simmons has picked up steam over the past few weeks.

As Brown noted on Jan. 5, Simmons has many qualities that should make him a good screener and roller.

“I think Ben is a really good screen setter,” he said. “He’s physical — he embraces that side of it. And he’s a dynamic roller — he’s a lob guy, he’s a catch-go guy and he can facilitate picking off corners as a passer.”

The lob part of that equation is unique for a "point guard."

Richardson obviously made the right read to throw it up to Simmons when he noticed James Harden hadn’t fully recovered, but Simmons’ size and athleticism are why that pass was an option.

When Brown talks about “quarterbacking” a gym, he usually is referring to Embiid picking out passes from the low block. Simmons, though, can do something similar from the top of the key, like on this after-timeout play from Dec. 28. 

That’s an easy pass for Simmons to throw once he sees Kelly Olynyk front the post like the Sixers hoped he would.

Simmons can often gain that position against smaller players. The Sixers got Simmons a switch against the 6-foot Chris Paul on Jan. 6, essentially leaving him free to throw any pass he wanted. He picked out an excellent one, rifling it to Horford in the corner when he saw Danilo Gallinari briefly fall asleep. 

This season, Simmons is 7 of 30 from 10 feet and out (23.3 percent). He was 25 for 105 last season (23.8 percent).

His major weakness is unavoidable and an obstacle the Sixers must continue to confront in their half-court offense. Simmons has strengths in the half court, too — his downhill driving ability, the attention he draws, his passing, his screening and rolling. 

One aspect of the current formula for success is maximizing those positives. The others are being fastidious about spacing, and intelligent in countering opponents knowing Simmons’ jump shot is not a threat and playing him as such. 



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NBA All-Star voting 2020: Where Sixers' Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons stand as fan voting nears end

NBA All-Star voting 2020: Where Sixers' Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons stand as fan voting nears end

With fan voting set to end on Monday for the 2020 NBA All-Star Game, the Sixers' Joel Embiid sits third among Eastern Conference frontcourt players and Ben Simmons is eight among guards.

Below are returns from the Western Conference.

Pascal Siakam passed Embiid over the last week. Of course, Embiid suffered a torn ligament in his left ring finger on Jan. 6. He had surgery Friday and did non-contact drills following practice on Thursday.

If Embiid is selected for the All-Star Game and not able to play, Commissioner Adam Silver will name an injury replacement.

Embiid is a two-time All-Star starter, while Simmons is hoping for a second straight selection.

Fan voting has a 50 percent weight in deciding All-Star starters, with the votes of a panel of media members and players each accounting for 25 percent. All-Star reserves are decided by coaches' voting.

Starters will be named next Thursday, and reserves will be named a week later. The All-Star Game will be on Feb. 16 in Chicago.



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