76ers

Sixers return home with win over Hornets

Sixers return home with win over Hornets

BOX SCORE

Well, it wasn’t always pretty, but the Sixers broke their three-game losing streak in their return home.

They took care of business, beating the Hornets, 114-106, at the Wells Fargo Center Sunday night.

If you take away a horrendous second quarter, the Sixers outplayed Charlotte just about the entire night to improve their record to 6-3 on the young season.

They did so without All-Star point guard Ben Simmons (AC joint sprain), who missed his second straight game.

Here are observations from the win.

• The Sixers started this one off like they were going to roll. They had assists on 11 of their first 13 baskets. They were making threes. They were using their size to disrupt Charlotte’s offense.

Then in the second quarter, they fell apart. They were outscored 34-20 in large part because of turnovers and undisciplined defense. It elicited boos from the crowd. After being up by as many as 14, they trailed 58-53 going into the half. When the Hornets went to a zone late in the second, the Sixers didn’t have an answer.

The Sixers restored order in the third thanks in large part to the play of Al Horford and a much better defensive effort.

Embiid looks like Embiid ...

After two rough outings in Utah and Denver, Joel Embiid was much more active Sunday. Brown said pregame that Embiid didn’t look like himself during the road trip and that one of his biggest disappointments was Embiid not rolling hard to the basket. There was a noticeable difference in the way he was rolling against the Hornets.

Charlotte likely switched to a zone because Embiid was having his way on the block. He had 15 points (5 of 7 shooting) in 15 first-half minutes.

He handled double teams better than he had in the last two contests. He committed just two turnovers and had three assists — including a beauty of a cross-court pass for a Josh Richardson corner three to start the second half. Embiid finished with 18 points (6 of 10), nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 25 minutes.

... and Horford looks like Horford

Lost in Embiid struggling out West was Horford looking a little tired as well. The 33-year-old looked rejuvenated back on his home floor. 

He was much more active on both ends and took advantage of rookie first-rounder P.J. Washington, repeatedly playing bully ball in the post.

He looked awfully spry on this beautiful spin move and reverse layup for an and-one.

He had 15 points (7 of 9), seven rebounds and five assists.

A viable bench?

Both point guards continue to play well in the absence of Simmons. Raul Neto’s pick-and-roll defense has been a pleasant surprise — though he had a few tough moments in the second quarter — and he continues to shoot the basketball at a high rate.

While the Sixers do lose something defensively with him in the game, Trey Burke has also acquitted himself pretty darn well. Known more as an isolation player, Burke has done well running the offense and has hit his open looks for the most part. 

Furkan Korkmaz continues to shoot the ball with confidence. In addition to hitting threes (3 of 8, 17 points), he also made a pair of really nice floaters. This doesn’t even look like the same guy that we saw last season — or even early in this season, for that matter.

Brown admitted that he wished he’d given Kyle O’Quinn second-half minutes against the Nuggets after he was so effective in the first half. With Embiid and Horford healthy, O’Quinn still got time Sunday. It didn’t look like that would be the case to start the season, but O’Quinn has played well and Brown has expanded his rotation to get the veteran big minutes.

Don’t look now, but the Sixers actually appear to have some depth.

Looking like the real J-Rich

Richardson was quietly solid Sunday night. He hit his most threes on the season (3 of 6) and stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds, six assists and and a steal. He continues to be the Sixers’ most consistent defender. Perhaps not having to handle backup point guard duties has lightened the load for Richardson a bit. This is more of the player we saw in Miami.

Tobias Harris also a solid night with 14 points (6 of 9), seven rebounds and five assists.

 

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Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson out for Saturday's game vs. Cavs

Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson out for Saturday's game vs. Cavs

The Sixers will be down two starters Saturday night when they return to Wells Fargo Center to play the Cavs.

Josh Richardson will miss his fifth consecutive game with right hamstring tightness, while Joel Embiid is out with a left hip contusion.

A team source told NBC Sports Philadelphia that Embiid reported discomfort after the Sixers' 119-113 loss to the Wizards on Thursday night and is being treated for the injury.

Embiid had 26 points, 21 rebounds and eight turnovers Thursday.

Richardson and the Sixers have been cautious with his hamstring. He told reporters in Washington, D.C., that this is the first hamstring injury he's dealt with and admitted that it's been a frustrating process.

“A hamstring is one of those things where you can think that you’re fine and then you take a wrong step and it’s a week or two-week setback," he said. "I don’t really want to get into that whole cycle. ... It’s just one of those things where I just don’t really know where I’m at most of the time. It always feels like I’m tiptoeing, trying not to do too much.”

The Sixers' preferred starting five of Embiid, Richardson, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Al Horford have played just 102 minutes together this season, posting a plus-21.3 net rating. 

Furkan Korkmaz has started the past four games in place of Richardson. Without Embiid, the Sixers will need to plug in another spot starter and perhaps search for further big man depth. Kyle O'Quinn hasn't played since Nov. 23, but he might be called upon vs. Cleveland.

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How Joel Embiid can improve with the subtleties of screening and rolling

How Joel Embiid can improve with the subtleties of screening and rolling

The Sixers, through 22 games, have run the fewest pick-and-rolls in the NBA, and at the worst efficiency

Joel Embiid is in the bottom top 10 percent of the league in efficiency as a roll man. 

None of those stats are encouraging at first glance.

That said, are there any positive signs for Embiid’s progress as a screener and a roller? And how can he get better?

Rolling isn’t always the right option

While Brett Brown said after practice Wednesday that he wants Embiid “screening and rolling more than popping,” rolling isn’t always the right option for the All-Star center.

Because Ben Simmons frequently stations himself in the “dunker spot,” Embiid often needs to float out behind the three-point line for the Sixers to maintain proper spacing.

When opposing big men drop on the pick-and-roll, there’s typically not much to be gained by Embiid rolling.

Embiid pops on the play below against the Raptors, and it’s a reasonable move with Marc Gasol dropping into the paint on Josh Richardson’s drive. Ultimately, the bigger issue is he settles for a mid-range jumper instead of either taking an open three or putting pressure on Gasol to guard a drive to the rim. 

A game-winning variation  

Before Richardson’s hamstring injury, the Sixers were incorporating the action above more into their offense. It’s a basic look — Richardson rubs off a screen to the top of the key, then Embiid steps up to give him a ball screen. 

Embiid’s game-winning dunk on Nov. 12 vs. the Cavs came from a smart variation. After Embiid’s roll to the rim, he set a strong down screen for Tobias Harris, flowing into a perfectly executed high-low.

On most of the occasions Embiid rolls to the rim and doesn’t receive the ball initially, a deep post-up is the next best option. Instead of finding Embiid on the high-low Nov. 15 in Oklahoma City, Al Horford swung the ball to Harris and created a good angle for a post catch. Embiid will score or get fouled in these positions more often than not. 

Getting snug

The “snug pick-and-roll” is, in theory, a way to allow Embiid and Simmons to both be near the rim at the same time without the only result being claustrophobic spacing. 

Embiid set a hard screen on RJ Barrett, forced the desired switch and got an and-one Nov. 29 against the Knicks. 

“We've been trying to do that bit by bit over the years,” Brown told reporters. “I think that you have a deep pick-and-roll with those two, a lot of times they do switch. I thought Ben did a good job of finding that and if they don't switch you got Ben going downhill, and we're trying to just continue to work on his finishing. And it is a look that I think, especially in crunch-time environments, interests me a lot.” 

The obvious problem with the snug pick-and-roll is there’s minimal space for anything to develop. Simmons has little margin for error with his first read. 

Though Embiid eventually had the switch the Sixers wanted against the 6-foot-5 Malcolm Brogdon on the play above, Simmons had already committed to a righty jump hook on Myles Turner and didn’t have room to change his mind. 

Developing the tricks of the trade 

Embiid’s value as a roller increases against teams that aggressively hedge the pick-and-roll.

He didn’t even roll very far on this play from Nov. 8 in Denver — just a couple of feet after screening for Richardson — but the scheme the Nuggets were using meant Will Barton had to tag Embiid before flying out to Furkan Korkmaz. Barton couldn’t recover in time.

Embiid’s chemistry with his new teammates is predictably not yet at an advanced stage. Richardson has a tendency to snake back in the opposite direction of his initial drive, and Embiid still seems to be figuring that out. 

They were on different wavelengths here. 

Since Embiid draws so much respect from opposing defenses, many pick-and-roll actions involving him are going to be inelegant. Especially late in games, teams often know what’s coming and load up to stop it.

He can still be helpful in those situations by focusing on doing the simple things. The technique isn’t textbook on this play, but his screen on Donovan Mitchell gets the job done. 

One of the next steps in Embiid’s evolution as a screener and roller will be applying a few of the dark arts that are prevalent across the NBA, whether it’s stealthily using his upper body like Horford or giving the ball handler space to drive by sealing his man in the lane.

He did the latter well vs. Larry Nance Jr. and the Cavs. 

As a 7-foot, 280-pound player with diverse offensive skills, Embiid is a threat as a roller, at least on paper.

It often won’t be as easy for him as just rolling with purpose to the rim and being rewarded with dunks, but he’s shown he has the ability to help himself and his teammates get good looks. 

For Embiid, it’s clearly important to work on dealing with double teams, refining his post game, limiting turnovers and hitting open three-point shots at a decent rate. 

But the 25-year-old big man also has plenty of room to improve as a screener and roller. 



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