Both player and coach disputed the notion that the exchange was “disrespectful” or “confrontational.” But neither Jimmy Butler nor Brett Brown disagreed with the report that Butler had “challenged” Brown about his role in the Sixers’ offense, just the characterization of that challenge during a film session in Portland.
Brown admitted Saturday the offense was still evolving to better suit Butler’s strengths in pick-and-roll and isolation. However, it didn’t sound as if he had any radical changes in mind.
So that we don’t get too twisted about this pick-and-roll thing, there is truth to that, but not to the point that, ‘Oh, now we gotta run 20.’ It’s not going to happen. We have other things going on in our offense.
Since then, Butler and the Sixers have played a home-and-home set with the Wizards, trouncing Washington Tuesday night and falling Wednesday.
On the very first possession of Tuesday’s win, Butler came off a pin down screen from Joel Embiid before running a side pick-and-roll with Embiid.
For a coach who had said he wasn’t going to run 20 pick-and-rolls per game, it was an interesting opening play call.
One of the Sixers’ favorite actions for Butler, as we’ve noted before, sees him make an “Iverson cut” and receive the ball on an unoccupied side of the floor.
Outside of this basic, original action, the Sixers have various other looks — for instance, Butler can reject one or both screens if the defense takes away the first read. And Brown has a creative version of the play in which Butler exploits the aggressiveness of a defender denying him the ball and goes back door for a lob.
One option we’re starting to see more is the second screener (Mike Muscala in the example below) giving Butler a side ball screen after he’s received the ball.
In the third quarter Tuesday night, we saw Embiid have a key role in this action. Embiid, the first screener for Butler, gets a cross screen from the man on the opposite block, Furkan Korkmaz. When Thomas Bryant fronts Embiid, Wilson Chandler flashes to the top of the key. Butler hits him, and the Sixers execute a perfect high-low to Embiid.
There’s no problem with the initial, isolation option for Butler on occasion, but the Sixers seem to now be incorporating more complex looks with greater frequency.
The flow of the offense
As he said he would, Brown does appear to be calling a few more pick-and-rolls for Butler. Outside of the structure of the offense, Butler’s teammates also seem to be giving him more ball screens.
Muscala, in particular, is a fan of the “throw-and-chase" — in order words, he often passes Butler the ball and then follows his pass to give Butler a screen.
On the play below, Butler drives baseline off a throw-and-chase from Muscala and finds Ben Simmons inside.
The on-court understanding between Butler and his teammates is obviously still developing — it certainly didn’t look great Wednesday night in Washington, although you could say the same of the Sixers’ performance in general. Butler and Simmons, though, already play off each other very well.
Simmons has a decent feel for when, where and how to get Butler the ball. This play below from Tuesday night is simple enough, but it’s the kind of thing that’s easier said than done.
With the Sixers in the midst of a sluggish start, Simmons brings the ball down the floor quickly and Butler establishes position in the mid-post. Simmons makes a solid pass fake, gets the ball to Butler, and lets him go to work.
2 plays to keep an eye on
Even though he’s not going to do anything drastic, expect Brown to continue adding layers to actions already in the Sixers’ playbook.
He showed one new look off a play he’s been running frequently after timeouts called “Elbow rub,” per Mike O’Connor of The Athletic.
Here’s an example of that play, with Embiid curling around Jonah Bolden’s screen for the lob.
In this variation, Butler takes Bolden’s spot and immediately flashes to the top of the key, while Embiid seals deep.
The play didn’t work against Washington, but it’s something the Sixers might continue to explore. Another option could be Butler coming to the top of the key and Embiid giving him a ball screen.
Finally, the play below from Wednesday is notable because of the personnel, not because there’s anything remotely new about it.
The Sixers typically run “Elbow” with Embiid and JJ Redick. It’s the dynamic two-man game with infinite permutations that are seemingly impossible to stop.
We saw that play a lot in Butler’s debut, just with Butler in Redick’s spot. Wednesday night, it popped up again.
Though Embiid and Butler running “Elbow” might simply have been a byproduct of Redick being sidelined by lower-back tightness, perhaps Brown will start calling it with that pair again more often as an easy, already installed method to get two of his best players working in tandem.
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