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.”
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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