76ers

Five things we've learned about Sixers' new starting five

Five things we've learned about Sixers' new starting five

We don’t need to strain for creative nicknames, like “the Phantastic 5.” 

The Sixers’ new starting lineup is, to put it simply, a very good group of five basketball players, albeit one figuring out how to play with each other.

Here are five things we’ve learned about the new starting unit:

Harris fits well into the offense 

In his first four games with the Sixers, Tobias Harris has averaged 17.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game — not a bad start.

He’s fit naturally into the Sixers’ offense. Brett Brown has mostly plugged Harris into actions the Sixers already have installed, and Harris has generally thrived in those settings. The play below is a familiar “screen the screener” action. 

Out of a Horns set — two big men at the elbows, two wings in the corners — Harris sets a ball screen for Ben Simmons, then flares off a screen from Joel Embiid. He gets a mismatch on Nikola Jokic and dips in for a soft floater.

Though Harris is still learning his teammates’ tendencies, he hasn’t seemed too uncomfortable in unstructured situations, either when plays break down or in transition. He ran a nice pick-and-pop with Embiid early in the shot clock vs. the Lakers. 

There is one action the Sixers have recently introduced, a modified “Spain pick-and-roll.”

Jimmy Butler loops up to the top of the key. Off the ball, Joel Embiid sets a back screen for JJ Redick at the foul line, and Redick curls to the rim. Embiid then comes up to give Butler a ball screen, with Redick right behind him. Redick will typically give Embiid a back screen before shooting up to the top of the key — this is the traditional Spain pick-and-roll, that ball screen immediately followed by a back screen.

In the example above, Redick doesn’t make any contact with Embiid’s man, Al Horford, who decides to give a hard hedge on the pick-and-roll between Butler and Embiid. Still, the Celtics’ defense is slightly overbalanced toward Butler and Embiid. Harris, stationed in the weak side corner, takes advantage by driving baseline on Marcus Morris and drawing a foul.

The defense is a work in progress 

The Sixers’ new starting five is a long, versatile, switchable defensive unit. It is, however, still a work in progress.

In their first game together, the Sixers had some miscommunication on a couple of pick-and-rolls, including the one below. Harris and Simmons both take Will Barton, leaving Mason Plumlee open on the roll.

A poor defensive first quarter for the Sixers against the Lakers ended fittingly, with nobody picking up Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Simmons is shifting his approach 

While the first legitimate three-point attempt of his career Sunday understandably got the most attention (see story), Simmons appears more willing overall to take the open jumpers presented to him.

With LeBron James deep in the paint, he stepped into a jumper from the elbow early against the Lakers.

Simmons is now 14 for 70 (20 percent) this season on shots from 10 feet and out. It’ll be interesting to track whether, even as the playoffs approach, he continues to take shots that have been highly inefficient for him. 

The staples still work 

Brown has had a few shootarounds and just a single practice to incorporate new actions, so he’s mainly had to rely on old favorites.

“12,” the multi-layered action that starts with Redick sprinting up from the baseline, often to give Simmons a ball screen, is still very difficult to guard because of Redick’s threat as a shooter. Plumlee and Malik Beasley botch their coverage on this play and, after a clever hesitation, Simmons attacks the open lane.

“Elbow,” the Embiid-Redick two-man game, is never leaving the Sixers’ offense as long as those two are still around.

The Celtics did a good job denying Embiid the ball at the end of the first quarter, but the Sixers adjusted well. With Mike Scott double-teamed, Embiid flashed to the block and found T.J. McConnell on the opposite side for a lay-up.

Late-game execution will take time 

Boston, as has so often been the case, executed better than the Sixers when it mattered Tuesday night.

The Sixers weren’t quite sharp enough on their late, game-tying attempt off a sideline out of bounds play. 

Butler screens at the top of the key for Redick, who sprints toward Harris, the inbounder. The idea is to make an entry pass to Embiid and play a Redick-Embiid two-man game. But Embiid fumbles the pass, which  throws off the timing of the play. Instead of hand it off to Redick, Embiid kicks the ball out to Harris and runs out to set a ball screen, trying to create a sliver of space.

Embiid rebounds Harris' miss and puts it back in, despite the Sixers being out of timeouts and needing a three to tie. Afterwards, he admitted he wasn’t aware the Sixers had no timeouts left and called himself “an idiot” for not kicking the ball out.

These five pieces have only been together for four games — not everything is going to click automatically late in games. Things just need to be more precise come the playoffs. 

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.

More on the Sixers

It sounds like Brett Brown has a long-term plan without Ben Simmons in mind

It sounds like Brett Brown has a long-term plan without Ben Simmons in mind

Updated: Tuesday, 5:09 p.m.

We now have a diagnosis on Ben Simmons' injury. Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back and will be re-evaluated in two weeks, a team source confirmed Tuesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia (see story). Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the news.

Speaking before the Sixers' win Monday night over the Hawks, head coach Brett Brown was unsure how long the injury would sideline Simmons. The 23-year-old sustained the injury at practice Wednesday going up for a rebound, according to Brown, and irritated it in the first quarter of Saturday night’s game against the Bucks.

“I don’t know,” Brown said. “And it really is like how long is a piece of string — who knows? Who knows? … Whatever the time equals on days, games, period of time, we can talk more honestly as this thing shakes out.”

However, it sounded as if Brown was preparing for his two-time All-Star point guard to be out for a while. He framed the situation as one the Sixers can cope with if other players take advantage of the chance to play expanded roles.

There’s 25 games left. … It’s an eternity,” he said. “Just keep going back to the end game. What’s the bottom line? I’ll say it again — if you get their health and their spirit, it’s got a chance to equal form. … And it’s all about landing the plane. And so with 25 games left, we’ve taken a hit with Ben. 

"I do see it this way. I’m not spinning it. It’s an opportunity for us to learn and something will emerge. And we need something to emerge. It’s not like we were all saying, ‘Oh, here it is, it’s anointed.’ It wasn’t that. So, I think we’re going to learn something and find something. If this was six games out, I wouldn’t be telling you this story. When it’s 25 games out, it is, with all my heart, what I think. That’s what I said to the team, that’s what I really think and that’s what I’m going to try to pull off.

Who specifically will take over ball handling duties? Brown said it “will be done by committee” for the time being, and he named a few players who he expects to be in that mix. Monday night, the team started Shake Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. 

“The candidates could be Raul Neto or [Furkan Korkmaz] or Alec Burks or J-Rich, Shake," he said. "So, you have capable people that aren’t traditional point guards but have the ability to get the ball up the floor. Then at that point, you’re probably going to have to be in something that has motion and continuity instead of just giving Chris Paul the ball and saying, ‘Go to work’ out of a pick-and-roll, as an example.”

Regardless of Brown’s attitude, the tangible impact of not having Simmons will clearly be significant. He leads the league in steals, has assisted on the most three-pointers and is a highly athletic, versatile and talented player.

The loss of all those attributes will no doubt be difficult to overcome.

“When there is a vacuum, as there is right now with Ben, something will happen,” Brown said. “Somebody will step up. I’m trying to see the world through those eyes, and I really do — it’s not even creative coach speak. I see it as an opportunity, and I think I need to see it that way.”

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.

More on Sixers

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons suffered nerve impingement in lower back

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons suffered nerve impingement in lower back

Ben Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back and will be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks, a team source confirmed Tuesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia. Simmons will undergo daily treatment. 

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the news. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports “there's little expectation that [Simmons would] be ready to return to lineup that soon,” and says “doctors are hopeful treatment can drive improvement, but Sixers are preparing to play without him." 

According to head coach Brett Brown, Simmons was first injured at the team’s practice last Wednesday. The 23-year-old All-Star missed the team’s first game after the All-Star break, a win Thursday over the Nets. 

“It was a play where he went up for a rebound and I looked over and he left the court, and went and got treatment,” Brown said Thursday. “And it has played out as it has played out. We don’t believe it’s anything too significant.”

Simmons sat out the Sixers’ game vs. the Nets on Thursday and played Saturday in Milwaukee. He appeared to be in discomfort after drawing a foul in the first quarter on the Bucks’ Brook Lopez. The 23-year-old stayed in the game to make 1 of 2 free throws, then exited when Matisse Thybulle committed a foul to create a stoppage of play and ensure Simmons could return to the locker room.

Ahead of the game against the Bucks, Simmons had averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds and a league-best 2.2 steals. He’d played 36.3 minutes per game, most on the Sixers and third-highest in the NBA ahead of Saturday’s games. 

Brown talked before the Sixers’ win Monday over the Hawks as if he was prepared for a long-term absence. He said the team would split up ball handling responsibilities by committee, with Shake Milton, Josh Richardson and Alec Burks among the possible candidates. Milton started on Monday. 

The 36-22 Sixers are fifth in the Eastern Conference and play the Cavaliers on Wednesday night in Cleveland. 

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.

More on the Sixers