Sixers film review: How Joel Embiid can beat double-teams

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Sixers film review: How Joel Embiid can beat double-teams

For many opponents, one defender isn’t enough to handle Joel Embiid.

It’s no surprise that Embiid has seen a fair number of double-teams, given his dominance in the low post.

Let’s look at the film to analyze how Embiid is dealing with the double-teams he encounters and how he can improve. 

Quick, good decisions 

There actually haven’t been too many opponents who have consistently double-teamed Embiid as soon as he catches the ball. The Hawks, on Oct. 29, were an exception — Embiid had a season-low 10 points in that game. The Cavs also doubled him rather aggressively on Nov. 23.

But for the most part, Embiid has been faced with sporadic double-teams and lurking help defenders. On the play below against the Pacers, Bogdan Bogdanovic drops well off his man at the three-point line, Furkan Korkmaz. If Embiid goes to the middle on Myles Turner, Bogdanovic is there for a double-team. Embiid is aware of Bogdanovic and makes a strong move baseline.

The key in these situations is Embiid recognizing where the help defense is looming and knowing where his teammates are on the floor. It’s easier said than done.

Embiid does an excellent job on the play below noticing the Spurs’ Davis Bertans start to lean in his direction. Ben Simmons makes a sharp cut to the rim, and Embiid hits him for a dunk. 

Before the Sixers’ win over the Knicks on Wednesday night, head coach Brett Brown acknowledged the difficulty of reading help defenders waiting to pounce for a double-team. 

I think that the game is clear, when you see it, and we’ve got the power as coaches to look at stuff in slow motion. When you’re playing it and you’re thinking in his mind vs. a coach with a clicker. He needs to play and react to what the sport tells him to do… If there is a crowd, he’s gotta pass the ball. It’s really that simple. I think that his decision on how quickly he goes maybe at times could beat double-teams coming. I think that there’s the delicate sort of ecosystem of can he score quick, disregarding if there’s a double-team coming or not, vs. it’s clearly a crowd — pass.

Embiid started 5 for 5 against New York, which led the Knicks to experiment with doubling more frequently, and led to a few of those “clearly a crowd” situations.

At the end of the first quarter, Embiid drew a double at the elbow when he spun back to the middle of the floor. He did well to maintain his composure and find Furkan Korkmaz for a four-point play. 

Quick, questionable decisions

A quick decision against a double-team is not automatically a good decision.

When Embiid recognizes a double early, he often defaults to taking a contested mid-range jumper.

Those shots are better than Embiid turning the ball over, but they’re not high-percentage looks for the Sixers. While there are occasions where a contested Embiid 15-footer is the best option, throwing the ball back out to the open man on the perimeter and then re-posting is typically preferable.

Late recognition

When Embiid’s decision-making out of a double-team is slow, he usually pays for it. 

He just can’t afford to catch the ball, look in one direction, then turn back the other, as he does on the play below vs. the Pacers.

And when he makes the wrong read of the help defender, it’s probably going to result in a turnover. Matthew Dellavedova is waiting in the middle to help on an Embiid drive on the play below, and Embiid dribbles right into him.

Embiid also doesn’t have the luxury to start a drive to the basket, then abort it. Below, he drives to the right block against Rudy Gay, then takes two dribbles away from the rim. His indecision allows LaMarcus Aldridge to arrive with the double, and Embiid is too slow to notice.

Spacing issues

If you include Markelle Fultz, the Sixers’ point guards have made 10 three-pointers this season. The team’s point guards aren’t a threat from the outside, meaning they tend to linger around the short corner (also known as the “dunker’s spot”) when Embiid catches the ball in the post. This tends to make Embiid’s job more difficult.

They also like to cut to the rim, which can sometimes help Embiid out. More often, though, it forces Embiid’s hand. As opposed to conventionally stationing himself in the right corner, T.J. McConnell cuts to the basket on the play below. Doug McDermott rotates over to McConnell as Tyreke Evans doubles Embiid, and Embiid has to toss the ball back out to Wilson Chandler. 

If McConnell was more capable from three-point range and set up in the corner like a typical guard, it’s possible Embiid has two viable options to pass to on that play, not just one.

Again, the right corner is the optimal spot as far as spacing purposes for McConnell on the play below. And again, he cuts to the rim and then slows to a near-stop at the left block.

The turnover is on Embiid for trying to make an impossible pass, but you can understand why he occasionally has these kinds of mistakes. The only way he can create offense for Simmons and McConnell out of a double-team is by threading passes through to them on cuts to the rim. He has less space to operate when double-teamed and fewer viable passing options than the average big man.

That’s not to say Embiid is helpless against double-teams because of his point guards’ limitations.

He still has plenty of room to improve at identifying help defenders early and making sharp, smart decisions. Given how effective he’s been in one-on-one situations, you’d expect he’ll get a lot more practice refining his game against double-teams.

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How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

They say that shooters shoot.

Tobias Harris has been shooting plenty — they just haven’t been going down.

After going 0 for 11 from three on Tuesday night against the Cavs, Harris went 0 for 3 and 3 of 13 overall in the Sixers’ loss to the Magic in Orlando Wednesday (see observations).

The last three Harris hit was in the first quarter of the Sixers’ loss in Phoenix on Nov. 4. He’s missed his last 23 attempts since.

When Harris was acquired from the Clippers last season, he was shooting 43.4 percent from downtown in a healthy sample size.

So what the heck is going on?

“I'm not making shots, I'm not in a rhythm,” Harris said to reporters postgame. “That's it. Obviously, it's easier said than done but I'm going to find my rhythm and once I do those shots are going to be there and they're going to be able to be made. Until then, I'll watch film and see the looks I can get, see the easy ones I can get to, but when they're not going for me, get to the free throw line. 

“In the fourth quarter I thought that was two questionable whistles, a travel and offensive [foul]. So those are two turnovers that kind of affected our fourth quarter. But I just gotta find a rhythm. That's it.”

On top of missing, Harris just looks indecisive. During early parts of the season, he appeared to be passing up open shots. In his pregame availability before Tuesday’s win, Brett Brown made a point to talk about needing Harris to have a scorer’s mentality.

Over the last two games, Harris seems like he doesn’t know when to shoot the basketball. After shooting so poorly from the outside against Cleveland, in Orlando he appeared to just get caught in between while trying to drive to the basket more.

It just seems like Harris is in his own head.

“I think it's just human nature,” Brown said. “He wants to please, he wants to shoot the ball, he wants to score, we need him to score.”

Harris is an easy target for fan ire. GM Elton Brand gave up an awful lot to get him before last year’s trade deadline. During the summer, the Sixers gave Harris a five-year, $180 million deal — the richest in franchise history.

But to his credit, Harris hasn’t made any excuses. He faced the music Wednesday night after not playing well and not feeling well.

Brown mentioned Tuesday that Harris had been dealing with an illness. Harris didn’t want to take the easy way out and attribute that to anything.

“When I get out there and play, I'm playing,” Harris said. “I'm under the weather, yeah, but if I get out there and play, I believe I can go.”

Forget the big contract and disappointing start for a second — Harris is a worker. He’s worked on his game tirelessly to rise to the level he did last season in L.A. During the offseason, he stepped up as a leader that all of his teammates are eager and willing to follow. He’s been depended upon by the young players and veterans alike.

Now, it may be Harris who needs their support.

“Tobias has had great looks and he's a great player, great shooter,” Ben Simmons said. “I mean, at times, everybody gets down when they're not playing their best game. They know that they can do better. But he's one of those guys. He's always positive. And we all believe in him.”

The Sixers’ road trip continues Friday with a date with the Thunder. Oklahoma City is the site of Harris’ finest game as a Sixer. On Feb. 28 of last year, Harris poured in 32 points and led a tough road win without Joel Embiid.

Maybe the memory of that game will spark something in Harris.

If that doesn't work, what else can you really say?

“Keep shooting,” Brown said. “Don't listen to any of you guys. Don't read anything. Keep shooting.”

After all, shooters shoot.

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Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

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Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Tobias Harris' struggles continuing, Ben Simmons' unwillingness to shoot the ball, and why Matisse Thybulle isn't seeing more playing time.

• Another rough night for Harris. What the heck is going on?

• Simmons was strong, but still refuses to shoot the basketball outside the paint.

• Should Thybulle be getting more minutes?

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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