76ers

How Sixers are trying to get best out of Jimmy Butler on offense

How Sixers are trying to get best out of Jimmy Butler on offense

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. 

Two wrinkles 

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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Kobe Bryant's 7 best NBA moments in Philly

Kobe Bryant's 7 best NBA moments in Philly

We are paying tribute to a legend. 

NBC Sports Philadelphia will re-broadcast three of Kobe Bryant's landmark games Monday night — the 2008 Olympic gold medal game at 6 p.m., followed by Bryant's final game in Philadelphia at 8 p.m. and the 2012 Olympic gold medal game at 10:30 p.m. 

Bryant honed his Hall of Fame talents at Lower Merion High School and sharpened his skills and competitiveness in the Sonny Hill League and on playgrounds across the Delaware Valley. 

Bryant had his share of highs and lows as a professional in his hometown. 

He played 17 regular-season games in Philadelphia, finishing with a 7-10 record and a 22.8 scoring average. More importantly, he had a perfect 3-0 record in postseason games in Philadelphia, with all three wins coming in the Lakers' 4-1 series victory over the 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals. Bryant averaged 25.7 points in those three games and captured the second of his five career NBA championships. 

Here's a look back at some of Bryant's most memorable moments in Philly. 

First NBA game in Philadelphia — Nov. 26, 1996
Bryant played his first professional game in his hometown as an 18-year old reserve, scoring 12 points in 21 minutes in a 100-88 Lakers win. He shot 4 of 10 from the field, 2 of 5 from three-point range and made both of his free throw attempts.  

Bryant's rookie counterpart Allen Iverson finished with 16 points on 6 of 27 shooting and 10 assists. Former Temple star Eddie Jones and Shaquille O'Neal each had a game-high 23 points for the Lakers. 

Bryant came off the bench in 65 of the 71 games he played as a rookie, averaging 7.6 points in 15.5 minutes per game. 

NBA Finals — June 2001
The Lakers and Sixers arrived in Philadelphia for Games 3, 4, 5 of the 2001 NBA Finals with the series even at one game apiece. The 22-year old Bryant famously proclaimed that he was coming to Philly to "cut their hearts out."

The Lakers went on to win the next three games in Philadelphia to secure their second straight NBA championship. 

Game 3 was the closest of the three games — the Lakers won 96-91 behind Bryant's 32 points. He had 19 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in a 14-point win in Game 4 before closing out the series with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in a 12-point win in Game 5. 

2002 All-Star Game MVP — Feb. 10, 2002
Bryant's "cut their hearts out" comment was still fresh in the minds of Sixers fans eight months later when the 2002 All-Star game was played in Philadelphia. Bryant was booed throughout the night, but he fed off the negative energy to score a game-high 31 points and win the first of his four career All-Star Game MVP awards. 

He was subsequently booed during the All-Star MVP presentation and admitted that his feelings were hurt by the frosty reception from his hometown crowd.  

Bryant averaged 25.2 points during that 2001-2002 season and led the Lakers to a third straight NBA championship. 

44-point outburst — Dec. 20, 2002 
Bryant's best game in Philadelphia came 10 months after that 2002 All-Star Game, when he posted 44 points and 10 assists in a 107-104 loss to the Sixers. He shot 16 of 35 from the field, 2 of 5 from three-point range and made all 10 of his free throw attempts. 

Iverson led the Sixers to victory with 32 points, nine steals and five assists. Keith Van Horn had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds. 

The 2003 Lakers came up short in their quest for a fourth straight NBA title, losing to the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals.

Snapping the streak — Dec. 21, 2007
Bryant and the Lakers got their first regular-season win in Philadelphia in nearly eight years, beating the Sixers 106-101 to snap a six-game losing streak at the formerly named Wachovia Center.

Bryant had 19 points in the win, but Andrew Bynum stole the show with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Andre Miller led the Sixers with 21 points and eight assists. 

The 2007-2008 season marked the first of three straight trips to the NBA Finals for Bryant and the Lakers. They would lose the 2008 Finals to the Celtics before beating the Magic in 2009 and winning a rematch with Boston in 2010. 

Last great performance in Philadelphia — Dec. 16, 2012
This was Bryant's last vintage performance in his hometown. The 34-year old Bryant had 34 points and six assists in a 111-98 win over the Sixers. Nick Young led the Sixers with 30 points, while Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes each scored 16 points. 

Bryant's 2012-2013 campaign ended with a torn Achilles tendon late in the 80th game of the regular season. The Kobe-less Lakers were swept by the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. 

This turned out to be Bryant's last great season. He averaged 27.3 points, 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds to earn First Team All-NBA honors in his 17th NBA season. 

Final game in Philadelphia — Dec. 1, 2015
Bryant's last game in Philadelphia came nearly 14 years after he was booed during the 2002 All-Star Game. That proved to be plenty of time for old wounds to heal. He was showered with applause and tributes in his Philly farewell, and for a while it looked like he would deliver one final great performance in his hometown. 

Bryant opened the game by hitting 3 of his first 4 three-point attempts, whipping the Wells Fargo Center into a frenzy. But at 37 years old, Bryant eventually ran out of gas and finished 7 of 26 from the field in a 103-91 loss to a Sixers team that entered the game with an 0-18 record. 

Bryant scored 20 points and finished his 20th and final NBA season with a 17.6 scoring average.

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Sixers Talk podcast: Will Sixers have a chip on their shoulder if playoffs happen?

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Sixers Talk podcast: Will Sixers have a chip on their shoulder if playoffs happen?

On this edition, Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss:

(2:12) — Questioning Joel Embiid's fitness is like beating a dead horse; will the Sixers have a chip on their shoulder?
(13:22) — Charles Barkley calls Moses Malone trade a disaster to his career.
(20:20) — Would the season being cancelled be worse than watching our most hated rival winning the Finals?

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