Noah Levick

Exploring Sixers' 'Ear tug world,' a fundamental part of team's offense

Exploring Sixers' 'Ear tug world,' a fundamental part of team's offense

If you’ve ever noticed Brett Brown tugging on his ear on the sideline, chances are he’s calling an action out of the Sixers’ “Ear tug world.” 

It’s a series that begins with what many teams call a “Horns” alignment — two men at the elbows and two in the corners. The Sixers’ Ear tug world is one of the fundamental parts of the team’s offense, and assistant coach Monty Williams has played a key role in shaping it (see story). 

With the Sixers taking a break from competitive basketball for the past week, we decided to explore the team’s Ear tug world in more detail.

The lob 

The lob is the most basic Ear tug action. When the primary option is the lob — often after timeouts — the Sixers sometimes call this play “Elbow rub,” per Mike O’Connor of The Athletic.

The man at one elbow curls around a screen from the man at the other elbow at “the nail” (middle of the foul line). He’s open a surprising amount of the time. 

Some of the Sixers’ Ear tug actions start with a flare around the first screen instead of a curl directly to the rim. After flaring off Boban Marjanovic’s screen, Jimmy Butler read Jamal Murray’s overplay well and made a sharp back cut. An alley-oop was again the end result.

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Spicing it up 

On the play below, Joel Embiid sets a screen at the nail for Wilson Chandler. However, you can tell the play isn’t designed for a lob to Chandler by his rather casual trot in the direction of the hoop. Instead, Ben Simmons gives the ball to Embiid, who dribbles into an inverted pick-and-roll with JJ Redick. 

You’ll notice this a lot with Redick and Embiid — because Redick is guarded so closely, as a screener he’s often able to basically wedge his man into Embiid’s defender.

The Sixers also sometimes have Redick run around screens in their Ear tug world.

As usual, this play starts off with a screen at the nail. And again, you can tell the Sixers aren’t looking for a lob initially — Murray plays physical defense on Tobias Harris, who doesn’t seem too concerned with getting all the way to the rim.

The Sixers instead have Simmons dish it to Embiid at the top of the key, and the big man hands it to Jimmy Butler. Off the ball, Redick brushes around down screens from Harris and Embiid and dips in for a jumper. 

Embiid post-ups are a frequent Ear tug objective. The goal isn’t for Embiid to curl around a screen for a lob, but for him to establish position on the block. 

Below is a simple example, with Landry Shamet and Embiid the two men at the elbows. Shamet flashes across Embid to the wing, Embiid goes down low, and the Sixers clear out the left side of the floor to give him maximum space to work.

Brown introduced a clever action to get Simmons a post-up on Jan. 19 vs. the Thunder. The play started with Redick darting across Chandler’s screen at the elbow. Redick is essentially in Shamet’s spot on the play above, with Chandler in Embiid’s place. But instead of Chandler stationing himself in the post once Redick receives the pass from Simmons at the wing, he stays at the elbow.

There, he sets a back screen for Simmons, and the point guard makes a UCLA cut to the left block. When Simmons drives baseline, Jonah Bolden frees up Jimmy Butler with a back screen on the weak side of the floor.

A similar action got Simmons an easy dunk on Jan. 8 against Washington, though it wasn’t technically part of the Sixers’ Ear tug world.

Simmons tosses the ball to Embiid at the top of the key, then accelerates to the hoop off Chandler’s back screen at the elbow. 

These sort of basic actions are a lot more effective than you might think they’d be, looking at them on paper. And because the Sixers get so many successful lobs out of their Ear tug world, teams now have to be wary of that option. 

That makes the creative layers Brown and Williams have added to the Sixers’ Ear tug world a greater threat. 

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Joel Embiid out at least a week

Joel Embiid out at least a week

Updated: 3:24 p.m.

The Sixers’ new, much-hyped starting five will be down a key member coming out of the All-Star break. 

Joel Embiid will be out at least a week with left knee soreness, the team announced Wednesday.

He had an MRI that revealed no structural damage and will undergo treatment involving load management and physical therapy before being re-evaluated. Brett Brown described the injury as tendonitis to reporters after practice and said Embiid has been dealing with the injury for a couple weeks.

Embiid, who started his second straight All-Star game, is averaging 27.3 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Head coach Brett Brown still considers him the Sixers' "crown jewel."

With the playoffs in mind, you can understand the team's caution with Embiid.

The Sixers’ first game after the All-Star break is Thursday vs. the Heat, with four games scheduled over the next eight days.

There were two other notable inclusions on the Sixers’ medical report:

Furkan Korkmaz suffered a tear of the meniscus in his right knee during the Sixers’ game against the Celtics on Feb. 12. He is currently being assessed and there is no timetable for his return yet.

Rookie Zhaire Smith was a partial participant in the Sixers’ practice Wednesday. He’ll return Thursday to practice with the Blue Coats as he continues to rehab following a Jones fracture in his left foot in August and subsequent medical complications stemming from an allergic reaction. General manager Elton Brand has said he expects Smith to return to play this season. 

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Sixers' new starting 5 is on Sports Illustrated cover

Sixers' new starting 5 is on Sports Illustrated cover

If you're a Sixers fan, you better hope the Sports Illustrated cover jinx is not a real thing.

The Sixers' new, formidable starting five is on this week's cover of SI, posing around the words "Process This." You'd imagine Sam Hinkie is reading with pride. 

Interesting to note how all five guys have a hint of a smile besides Joel Embiid. His competitive side sometimes gets overshadowed, but Embiid definitely looks like he means business on the cover with that cold stare into the camera.

Tobias Harris wishes his teammates had gone all-in on the smile.

In the issue, The Crossover staff at SI re-previews the highly competitive Eastern Conference, taking stock of where the Sixers, Celtics, Bucks and Raptors stand after an eventful trade deadline.

So did Philly just build the most talented team in the East — or a very expensive runner-up? Whatever the answer, the experiment seems an appropriate extension of the Process," Andrew Sharp writes. "You don’t have to love every move, but you can’t help but admire the ambition.

Fair enough. 

Eleven years ago, Elton Brand was on the cover.

The question then was, "How far can Elton Brand take the Sixers?" It's still a relevant question, although at this point, the Sixers' fate falls largely on the team Brand has helped assemble. But there's no doubt Brand is again a big part of the Sixers' return to the national spotlight.

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