Though much of the buzz over the early days of the Sixers’ stay in Disney World has been around Ben Simmons shifting to power forward, it’s not as if the two-time All-Star will no longer handle the ball.
“With a Tobias (Harris)-Al Horford-Furkan (Korkmaz)-Matisse (Thybulle) group that will be part of my rotation, (Simmons) had the ball again (in practice),” Brett Brown said Thursday. “And so you’re just using him in a bunch of ways and you’re seeing all the different ways that he can score.”
That group Brown mentioned has played in 33 games together and shared the floor for 156 minutes. Only the team’s original starters have played more among Sixers five-man lineups this season.
Why does Brown like the idea of the Sixers turning to that unit when Joel Embiid sits?
Obviously without Joel Embiid, who in my opinion is the most dominant interior defensive player in the NBA, you start figuring out how can you take a big team with Tobias and Ben and Al at 6-10, and then you come in with Matisse … and Furk is really growing defensively," he said Friday. "We put him, I hope, in favorable environments where he’s not just getting picked on all the time.
"But defensively, I think there’s a versatility and sort of a switchability that that team can play with. I think that there is a disruptive sort of mentality that can turn people over, and use that as a launching pad to take off and play fast.
Brown on Friday praised the rookie Thybulle for being “incredibly disruptive defensively” in practices. He has 80 steals and 143 deflections in his first 57 NBA games, while Simmons has an NBA-best 115 steals and 216 deflections. They’re two exceptional defenders who tend to make life easier for their teammates and spark transition opportunities.
Korkmaz, Harris and Horford are all multiple tiers below, but they’re at least generally in ideal positions in the lineup Brown discussed. Horford isn’t straining to guard opposing power forwards, as he often has in the lineup the team used on opening night, and Harris isn’t pressed to slide his feet with a wing.
Offensively, Brown sees this group as being defined by speed. It has played at a 101.30 pace, about a point higher than league average.
You get Ben with the ball, you play downhill and you space everybody else out,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of great things that happen from that, as simple as that sounds. So the hybrid of things I’m doing with the team and Ben Simmons particularly, you can see there are times he’s going to be playing with that group we’re trying out, we’re test driving — I guess people are calling it a starting group, which is fair — and we’re leaning a lot about that. Don’t be stamped off on really anything yet.
“And then you talk about that group you’re speaking of, it’s a whole different sort of mindset in relation to defensive things that we’ve gotta cover because we don’t have Jo, and an acknowledgement that those guys can play in a track meet. It is a fast group, and fast we will play.
Korkmaz and Harris have made the most and second most threes on the team this season, respectively. Horford can grab a rebound and start a fast break, and his passing is one skill that hasn’t deteriorated. He’s also gelled well with Korkmaz and has been most effective next to the Turkish wing. Thybulle is highly athletic and capable of converting an open three.
It’s not a perfect group, of course. The Sixers have a 101.8 offensive rating and minus-0.9 net rating with Simmons, Thybulle, Korkmaz, Harris and Horford on the floor. In 108 minutes together, though, a lineup that swapped Thybulle for James Ennis had a plus-19.6 net rating. The sample sizes aren’t huge with any five-man lineup for the Sixers — largely because of how many injuries the team has sustained — meaning the numbers aren’t necessarily something to read into excessively or be overly deterred by. Ensuring Simmons spends significant time with the ball in his hands and has shooting and athleticism around him is intuitively a good idea.
Judging by his cautious phrasing about “test driving,” Brown is taking a somewhat experimental approach. But this lineup is at least one that he knows. There’s no need to rapidly develop chemistry or teach new pieces how to play together. And, if Embiid indeed plays about 38 minutes per game in the playoffs, as Brown hopes, this unit won’t be relied on for extended stretches.
Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks are the team’s newest players currently in Disney World, acquired from the Warriors back in February. Brown certainly hasn't removed them from consideration in his playoff rotation, which he’s said will comprise nine players.
“… You start getting into Matisse and Glenn Robinson and Alec Burks and Furkan Korkmaz and Mike Scott,” he said Thursday. “I think a lot of it is going to be driven out of matchups and the opponent that we’re playing.”
Thybulle is having a good time at the moment practicing with players he understands well, even though he said Friday this experience feels “like a second season.”
“For one, it’s fun because I think one of our strengths is just the speed,” he said. “We’re a tall group, but it’s not like we’re tall and slow. We’ve got Ben Simmons pushing the ball, Tobias and Al are both huge and can also run. And I think we have a lot of fun out of that, just getting up and down the court.
“Even though we’re early into this, we’re in good enough shape to really get up and down and take advantage of that. (Thursday) was our first day experimenting with it and it went pretty well.”
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.