How Sixers are changing their ‘organic’ offense without JJ Redick

How Sixers are changing their ‘organic’ offense without JJ Redick

The idea of “organic basketball” might, at first read, sound something like a coach giving his players a pat on the back, a few words of encouragement and freedom to do whatever they please. That’s not what it means for the Sixers and head coach Brett Brown, who drilled home the importance of “concepts and fundamentals” Monday night at the Sixers’ practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, to those in attendance at his fifth annual “Coach the Coaches” clinic. 

Brown was joined by a crew of assistants, including new additions Joseph Blair and Ime Udoka. Along with reviewing basic principles like designating for offensive rebounding purposes “go guys” and “get back” guys and the value of re-screening when an opponent goes under a pick, the Sixers’ coaches mentioned some tweaks to the core of their system. 

Here are a few that stood out which are worth tracking this season: 

New offensive spacing 

The Sixers’ “A to B” offense isn’t going anywhere. This is their base offensive set, which often begins with the point guard (A) dropping it off to the big man (B).

There are two interesting spacing changes this year. Last year, the wings were usually stationed at the elbow extended and the power forward set up at the elbow. This season, the plan is for the wings to be in the corners and the power forward to be a couple steps behind the arc, behind the “four-point line” the Sixers have painted on their practice court.

The play below is an unusual one because it’s from a Jan. 26 game in which the Sixers had to play small without Joel Embiid, but it gives you a sense of what the “A to B” offense looked like. Redick starts near the left elbow, flares around a screen from Jonah Bolden at the right elbow and a free-flowing possession begins.

Redick was effective in that foul line extended spot because of the defensive attention he drew and the options available for him using those screens at the elbows or curling around for dribble handoffs. However, as assistant coach Kevin Young explained, it makes more sense for wings like Zhaire Smith who have greater athleticism than Redick but merit less attention from defenses to be spaced out in the corners.

Putting the power forward behind the four-point line won’t be entirely foreign, and this next play from March 28 showcases how and why it’s sensible for that to be the Sixers’ default mode.

The Nets are concerned with Redick running around Embiid and Ben Simmons’ screens, leading them to overbalance in his direction. Tobias Harris being set on the opposite wing behind the four-point line provides him the space to make an effective cut.

Blair, the head coach of the NBA G League champion Rio Grande Vipers in 2018-19, will be focusing on the Sixers' offense this season. He said he advocated for these new spacing principles. 

“Some of the things we talked about offensively tonight with spacing, I was a big stickler for a lot of those things,” he said. “I’m big on the corner spacing and spacing out our four-man, as well. That’s one of the things I was adamant about trying to implement here. So, I’m happy to see we’re doing a little more with our spacing.”

More "Explosion"

The Sixers had success last year with “Explosion,” their spontaneous, unpredictable cutting around a man in the post, often Ben Simmons.

“We get the ball to Ben and there’s different actions that can happen behind it,” Brown told NBC Sports Philadelphia in March. “There is a randomness to possibilities that has helped us. But the real key is movement. Playing static is not how we want to play with Ben Simmons on a back down.”

You can see Redick feinted a screen for Embiid at the right elbow then made a nice diagonal cut on the play above vs. Sacramento. None of the cutting around Simmons, though, was planned ahead of time.

The post offense around Embiid was “a little more static,” Brown said, to surround him with easy outlets and optimize spacing.

Young said Monday the Sixers intend to “double down” on “Explosion” this year, which is not surprising. It’s an action that’s nearly impossible to game plan for, and they’ve added a stellar post passer in Al Horford who should excel in that setting. 

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Sixers Talk podcast: The Sixers are bound to go on a run

NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: The Sixers are bound to go on a run

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons' relationship, if the Sixers are going to go on a run, stability around the team and more on this edition of Sixers Talk.

• Are you encouraged by the way Jo and Ben acted toward each other during All-Star weekend? (2:00)

• The team's mettle will be tested with six of the next nine games on the road (5:45)

• Are the Sixers finally poised to go on a run? (7:43) 

• Eastern Conference betting odds (14:40)

• Is there enough stability and structure in the organization? (20:54)

• How troubling would it be if Jimmy Butler and the Heat go further than the Sixers? (31:47)

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Brett Brown is more interested in Joel Embiid's head than his hand

Brett Brown is more interested in Joel Embiid's head than his hand

CAMDEN, N.J. — In Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game, Joel Embiid did not appear bothered by his left hand. He sought out contact, didn’t seem to be in pain or discomfort, and posted 22 points and 10 rebounds. He also did not wear a splint on his left hand, as he'd done since returning from a torn ligament in his ring finger.

A team spokesperson said Wednesday that will remain the case with the Sixers, and that Embiid will now use buddy tape on his hand.

After Embiid shot 6 for 26 on Feb. 6 against the Bucks, head coach Brett Brown told reporters in Milwaukee he thought Embiid’s hand was affecting his shooting. 

Embiid had also said his hand was having an adverse impact.

“The Miami game, you’re kind of scared sometimes, you’re just trying to look for a foul or try to be physical,” he said. “Especially on the rebounds — I think that’s where it affects me the most. But, like I said, it’s not an excuse. I’ve gotta just figure it out and keep pushing.”

Still, Brown leaned toward the metaphorical after practice Wednesday when asked a broad question about Embiid’s health. 

I think the place that interests me the most, where I see his conditioning incrementally getting to an elite level, is his head. I think he is in a space that is excellent as it relates to his excitement, seeing this final third home — to grab the team by the throat and lead us in a bunch of different areas. ... I've been with him a long time, and when I look at him and I talk to him and I hear his words ... and we're always sort of, like you would with your children, judging their body language and all that. 

“I just think he's in a really good space. As it relates to the physical conditioning, we just went up and down hard for about 60 minutes — really up and down, up and down, up and down — saw no drop off. If you study the tape from the other night and you watch Joel Embiid run the floor and some of his rim runs … we all would be saying, 'Well, shoot, it can't get any better than that.' And so I think his fitness level is fine, and I think his headspace is even better. 

As for Embiid’s hand, Brown deferred judgement. After missing nine games with the injury, Embiid has played in eight contests, averaging 21 points and 10.4 rebounds. He’s shot 44.1 percent from the floor, 38.2 percent on three-point shots and 69.9 percent at the foul line.

“I believe I'll be able to tell more when when he gets double teamed at what I call the up block … and he's forced to pass more with his left hand, which used to be all bandaged up,” Brown said. “I used to get worried in that environment where people would come hard looking to whack it or double team him from that floor spot. I look forward to seeing him pass from that floor spot.

“It's easier on the other side, the down side, with his right hand, and I think that's where it will stand out probably the most for me, to see the difference of no wrap and the one that used to be wrapped.”

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