76ers

Scouting D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and the Nets

Scouting D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and the Nets

Brett Brown hasn’t shied away from discussing how and why the Nets are a difficult matchup for the Sixers.

Ahead of Game 1 of the Sixers’ series today against Brooklyn (2:30 p.m./NBCSP), let’s look at the film to scout what specifically the Nets do well and where the Sixers should have advantages.

Russell, Dinwiddie and the pick-and-roll

D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie do an excellent job of identifying favorable matchups and attacking them. 

Russell was far too quick for JJ Redick on this play from Dec. 12, and he floated it perfectly over Joel Embiid.

After Jarrett Allen’s screen, the Sixers switched Mike Muscala on to Dinwiddie on the play below from Nov. 25. Dinwiddie is too explosive to be contained by big men, and he knows it.

Many of the Sixers’ pick-and-roll issues against the Nets stemmed simply from Russell or Dinwiddie beating their defender on the initial move and placing the Sixers in poor positions.

Russell uses his body well to shield off his man once he slides past him. 

After T.J. McConnell again gets caught on top of the screen, Embiid half-commits to Dinwiddie here, seemingly unsure whether to switch, hedge or drop back, and Dinwiddie capitalizes on the indecision with a lob to Allen. 

Given how McConnell has struggled to handle Dinwiddie, who has averaged 23.8 points and 5.5 assists against the Sixers this season, a more agile perimeter defender who doesn’t frequently fall behind on the first step and can fight over screens would be a better option. It’s worth giving rookie Zhaire Smith a chance on Dinwiddie. 

The Sixers also can’t afford to neglect all the things the Nets do surrounding the basic pick-and-roll. Furkan Korkmaz was fixated on the pick-and-roll between Russell and Ed Davis on the play below, which caused Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s down screen on the opposite wing to catch him off guard. Harris, the NBA’s leader in three-point percentage (47.4), can’t be left open. 

And Harris’ offensive skill set isn’t limited to catch and shoot. Here, he makes an “Iverson cut” from the right wing to the left wing over screens from Hollis-Jefferson and Allen, then accelerates on a drive baseline past Simmons. 

The unguardable Embiid 

The Nets are not alone in this respect, but they don't have any defenders capable of guarding Embiid one-on-one.

Allen is a good rim protector with some high-profile blocks on his résumé this season, but Embiid has the skills to dominate him in the post. 

Davis, though a prolific rebounder, doesn’t have the strength to handle Embiid.

Embiid scored 32 or more points in three of four regular-season games against the Nets. He’ll likely face a good amount of double teams in this series, meaning he’ll need to curb his occasional instinct to dribble in one direction and then spin back into the help defender. 

Another way the Nets might look to avoid defending Embiid one-on-one is through playing a 2-3 zone, which they did for stretches in the second and third quarters of the Sixers’ 123-110 win on March 28.

The Sixers countered the zone with a basic, effective approach, placing two men on the wings, one man sliding from elbow to elbow, and one sliding from short corner to short corner. 

They got plenty of good shots when they found the “soft spot” in the zone. Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll have a moment of hesitation on the play below when Boban Marjanovic receives the ball at the foul line, uncertain who should pick up Marjanovic and who should take Simmons on the right block. Marjanovic realizes Redick is open because of their brief confusion.



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Is Sixers' Tobias Harris an All-Star? He's making a compelling case

Is Sixers' Tobias Harris an All-Star? He's making a compelling case

Around this time last year, Tobias Harris was leading the surprising Clippers to a strong start. Harris was averaging over 20 points a game while flirting with the 50-40-90 shooting line. He was a borderline All-Star.

Fast forward a year later and the 27-year-old resembles that player more now than he ever has during his tenure as a Sixer.

Harris added another impressive performance to his recent stretch of strong play in the Sixers’ 116-109 win over the Pelicans Friday night (see observations).

It wasn’t the cleanest performance for the Sixers, but Harris’ team-high 31 points helped the Sixers stay a perfect 14-0 at the Wells Fargo Center and become the only undefeated team at home in the NBA.

Every night is an opportunity for me to go out there and do the best I can to help our team win,” Harris said. "I’d love to be an All-Star — it’s a goal of mine as a player. I felt last year I was an All-Star in the beginning of the season. It didn’t happen that way. But I think each and every night, especially with our team, we have a nice amount of talent and I want to play at my best every single night to help us win games.

It hadn’t been the smoothest transition for Harris since he arrived in a blockbuster trade from Los Angeles.

The Sixers had just traded for Jimmy Butler a couple months prior and they were still trying to figure out how to use the mercurial star alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. With Harris, it was another mouth to feed and another piece to fit into the puzzle.

On paper, it looked like a master stroke by GM Elton Brand. Harris had become an elite three-point shooter and a go-to scorer for the Clippers. But the chemistry didn’t develop as quickly as they would’ve liked as Embiid missed a significant amount of time down the stretch with tendinitis in his left knee.

Over the last 16 games — and with Butler in Miami — Harris seems to have found his niche with the Sixers.

“Yeah, there’s definitely a comfort level, just being able to get familiar with guys on this team on and off the floor,” Harris said. “I think as a team, the comfort level from each and every one of the guys that’s on the floor is continuing to increase. I’m able to find ways to play with Ben in different pockets of the game, and Joel, also. There’s been a lot of things that I’ve liked. I’m going into games understanding more of what we need to do, where I’m at, where I’m going to get this play, that play, things like that.”

While the All-Star game doesn’t generally account for defense, that is likely where Harris has seen his most improvement.

In Friday night’s game, he was tasked with guarding former Sixer JJ Redick. As we saw during Redick’s time in Philly, that’s not an easy ask. Redick runs a marathon every game, navigating around screens and running dribble handoffs. Harris did a decent enough job, as Redick went 6 of 15 on the night.

Improving on the defensive end was Harris’ biggest point of emphasis this offseason. He went to Brett Brown before the season began and let him know that he wouldn’t be the weak link amongst a starting five that had elite-level defenders.

The notion of putting Harris on someone like Redick wouldn’t even have crossed his head coach’s mind last season.

“Could Tobias have done something like that last year? I didn't see him like that,” Brown said. “Maybe he could have, but I never saw him or played him like that and this year I do. And I think that it's part of your question about, 'Oh, he's having a great year,' and you go right to offense. I think he's having a hell of a year defensively.”

Harris is 13th in the conference in scoring and fourth among forwards. His 2.6 win shares are second-most among any forward in the East.

Throw in the last 16 games, where Harris has averaged 22.1 points and shot over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from three, and the case is making itself.

You don't need much more ammunition," Brown said. "I mean, he's been so steady and just responsible, reliable, go-to guy. I put him kind of in a bunch of different spots — middle pick-and-roll, iso, three balls, making his free throws, plays that back down pound, pound game and can jump over people, smaller people. He's having a hell of a year.

A good enough year to be in Chicago on Feb. 16 for the All-Star game?

There’s a strong case to be made.

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After unusual path, showman Norvel Pelle doesn't 'mess up' his moment

After unusual path, showman Norvel Pelle doesn't 'mess up' his moment

Norvel Pelle is not the typical NBA player.

A native of Antigua and Barbuda, Pelle was a top recruit out of high school — that part was normal. Then his path went sideways.

The wiry center never played college basketball because of eligibility issues. He traveled to Delaware, Italy, Taiwan and Lebanon before signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Sixers this summer and reaching Friday night, where Brett Brown turned to Pelle, in his third NBA regular-season game, as Joel Embiid’s main backup. 

“It’s just knowing that this opportunity is once in a lifetime,” Pelle told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I worked hard to get here and I can’t mess up. So, just getting the jitters out — obviously there are going to be jitters regardless, but just meditating and staying positive throughout the whole thing.”

In 12 minutes, Pelle was exceptionally active. He had six points, five rebounds, three blocks and a handful of altered shots. Every time Pelle has stepped on an NBA floor, it seems he has been immediately challenged by players on a mission to embarrass him. It hasn’t always gone his way. Julius Randle slammed one in over Pelle in his NBA debut in New York and Kevin Porter Jr. dunked on Pelle last Saturday and then flexed in his face despite the Cavs trailing by more than 40 points. 

A member of the G League’s All-Defensive First Team last season, Pelle sees no shame in taking the occasional ferocious dunk to the face. He’s a showman who enjoys playing to the crowd and feeds off its energy, and he never likes to show any fear. 

“Next play,” he said of his mentality. “Next play, next play, next play. At the end of the day, I’m a shot blocker, so if I get dunked on, I get dunked on — that’s my mentality. Next play.” 

After picking up two early fouls, Pelle waited out a series of pump fakes from former Sixer Jahlil Okafor to record his first block of the night, leading to a Ben Simmons dunk. He then denied a slam attempt by Brandon Ingram, creating a fast break that concluded with a James Ennis three. 

“You know every game he's going to bring you energy,” Simmons said following the Sixers' 116-109 win over the Pelicans (see observations). “He loves blocking shots, just risking his body for those blocks and protecting the rim. I love having him as a part of this team.”

Both Simmons and Brown said Pelle reminded them of Nerlens Noel. Like Noel, Pelle’s offensive game is not too extensive — it’s mostly screening and rolling, lob catching and energy. The defensive package, though, is intriguing.

“Just wanted to see what we have in him,” Brown said. “We had a little taste in New York. I wanted to see more. And I thought he was really good. I thought he was really good. He is sort of Nerlens like to me — rim protector, shot blocker, quick off the floor. I thought he was good.”

It’s uncertain whether Pelle could eventually have a consistent role with the Sixers. The man whose job he temporarily took Friday, Kyle O’Quinn, was signed this offseason to be insurance for Embiid. Al Horford should assume the primary backup center position once he returns from the left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness that’s sidelined him the past two games. 

Pelle’s two-way contract also means he can’t be with the Sixers for more than 45 days between the start of Blue Coats training camp and the end of the G League regular season, and he’s not eligible for the NBA playoffs.

Brown didn’t attribute Pelle’s five fouls vs. the Pelicans to being “undisciplined,” but the big man would likely need to refine his game a bit if he was tasked with a regular role.

Embiid wasn’t worried about any of that. 

“I told him if he got the minutes, he would probably lead the league in blocks,” he said. “He has a chance to become a fan favorite, so he should just keep doing whatever he’s doing.”

After all the empathic dunks and dramatic poses and swatted shots in foreign gyms, Pelle had time to reflect Friday night. 

“This was more than what I expected,” he said. “I’m appreciative of everything and everybody. I’m taking it day by day, moment by moment, opportunity by opportunity and just go out there and do what I have to do.”

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