76ers

Why ball screens should become a bigger part of Sixers’ offense

Why ball screens should become a bigger part of Sixers’ offense

Updated: 7:36 p.m. 

Brett Brown has never been a big fan of pick-and-rolls. Since taking charge of the Sixers, he’s preferred a motion-heavy, free-flowing offense. 

Yet since the arrivals of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, the Sixers have used ball screens more frequently and had success using them in a variety of ways. As their recent struggles with late-game execution indicate, it might be smart to turn to them even more often down the stretch of games.

In this film review, we’ll look at the role ball screens play in the Sixers’ offense.

Credit to Jackson Frank for touching on some of these same concepts and plays in this piece for Liberty Ballers. 

Switches 

As opposed to a traditional pick-and-roll, the Sixers like to set ball screens for the purpose of forcing a desirable switch.

Notice how T.J. McConnell catches Russell Westbrook off guard on the play below, securing a favorable matchup for Jimmy Butler against Raymond Felton. 

Drawing attention 

The threat of a ball screen tends to attract attention from the defense, as illustrated by Mike Scott’s dagger three-pointer vs. Orlando.

Scott comes up to set a screen for Butler at the top of the key, but Butler calls him off and waves him over to the left wing. Ben Simmons instead moves in Butler’s direction as if he’s going to give him a screen, which distracts Aaron Gordon and leaves Scott open. 

Spain pick-and-rolls 

We mentioned “Spain pick-and-rolls” as a new element of Brown’s offense a few weeks ago

It’s a popular action across the NBA involving three men — a ball handler, an initial screener, and a third guy, typically a shooter, who sets a back screen and then darts up. 

Here’s what it looks like, with Butler the ball handler, Joel Embiid the first screener and JJ Redick the second screener. 

And here’s an effective example from Saturday involving Simmons, Tobias Harris and Scott. Unlike the version above with Embiid, Harris doesn't roll to the rim — he pops behind the arc on the right wing instead. Kevin Durant has to respect Harris, while Jordan Bell stays attached to Simmons on his drive. When DeMarcus Cousins moves over to help on Simmons, Scott is free for a three. 

The Sixers set up like they were going to run a Spain pick-and-roll against the Thunder but simply eliminated the initial screen. 

With Oklahoma City anticipating a Butler screen for Simmons first, Redick’s hard back screen for Butler arrived earlier than expected — and it would have gotten the Sixers a basket if Butler had converted an easy one at the rim.

Redick DHOs

Despite Embiid being sidelined, the Sixers haven’t abandoned a central piece of their offense — dribble handoffs with Redick.

Simmons and Redick have thrived when Simmons is able to push the ball up the court, hand it to Redick and shield off his man.

Since defenses load up for that action, the Sixers have several counters. Redick is excellent at screening for Simmons instead, which often creates confusion among the defense.

On the play below vs. the Magic, Butler sneaks up to set a back screen for Redick on the wing, prior to when a Simmons handoff would usually occur. Redick is actually open off Butler's initial screen, but Simmons gives it to Amir Johnson at the foul line. Redick keeps running, all the way to the unoccupied right corner for a wide-open three.

Given Simmons' size and how difficult he is to guard when he builds up a head of steam, you’d like him to be used more as a roller in the offense, either after setting screens or handing it off to Redick. 

Here, as the Sixers swing the ball to Butler in the post following Simmons’ DHO with Redick, Simmons seals off the smaller Westbrook and gets deep position in the post. 

The Sixers have the players now to incorporate ball screens in both simple ways, like forcing the defense to switch, and nuanced ways, like variations of Spain pick-and-rolls. As he learns more about this new version of his team and studies their success in these situations, Brown should continue to make ball screens a more prominent part of his offense.

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

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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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