New Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey insists he doesn’t want to make the Sixers a clone of the Rockets.
“The goal is not to shoot three-pointers, the goal is to win,” he said at his introductory press conference. “You can score on offense in a bunch of different ways. Joel (Embiid) happens to be one of the most efficient post-up players in the league. I used to get the question in Houston of, ‘What would you do if you had (Shaquille O’Neal)?’ And my answer was, ‘I would give Shaq the ball about a hundred times a game.’ Joel is a talent on both ends.
“And again, we played the way we played in Houston because that was the best way to utilize the talents we had in Houston. (Head coach Doc Rivers) knows how to win more than me — he’s at least one ring ahead of me — and so he’s going to figure out how best to use it. It doesn’t have to be a three. It can be transition, all these things.”
If Morey isn’t going to transform the Sixers into the Rockets, how can he help them to become a better offensive team?
First, let’s review what Houston, the NBA’s sixth-rated offense last season, did well. The Rockets led the NBA in three-point frequency (50.1 percent), isolation possessions (22.6 per game) and isolation efficiency (1.04 points per possession), thanks in no small part to James Harden. The Sixers, in contrast, were a bottom-10 team in three-point frequency and didn’t have many isolation possessions. As Morey said, though, they posted up plenty with Embiid.
Sixers in 2019-20
- 21st in 3PT FREQ (36.0%)
- 20th in isolation poss. (5.8 per game)
- 19th in isolation efficiency (0.88 PPP)
- 1st in post-up poss. (12.8 per game)
- 2nd in post-up efficiency (0.99 PPP)
*PPP=Points per possession
One interesting similarity between the Sixers and Houston is that neither team ran much pick-and-roll. For the Sixers, this makes sense when considering the team’s lack of capable pick-and-roll playmakers, Embiid not being a great roll man and Brett Brown’s system being sparse in pick-and-rolls. For the Rockets, Morey’s decision to trade away Clint Capela in February and play without a traditional center obviously played a key role.
Pick-and-roll ball handler possessions in 2019-20
- Rockets: 11.3 poss. per game (30th), 0.95 PPP (4th)
- Sixers: 14.7 poss. per game (29th), 0.85 PPP (20th)
Rivers’ Clippers were within the NBA’s top five in pick-and-roll ball handler possessions the past three seasons. If Morey can make the Sixers better suited to run more pick-and-rolls, there’s a good chance it’ll be synergistic with Rivers. Regardless, Tobias Harris seems likely to be used more as a pick-and-roll ball handler.
Even if the Sixers stick to their general post-up-heavy identity because of Embiid, they could look to improve offensively by increasing their transition possessions. Rivers wants the Sixers playing faster, and Morey might be able to help this offseason by adding players who thrive with a quick tempo.
As the NBA’s No. 2 team in post-up efficiency, the Sixers scored 0.99 points per post-up possession. The NBA’s least efficient transition team, the Knicks, managed 1.03 points per transition possession. It’s an extremely fruitful form of offense, and even if Morey can’t make the Sixers’ half-court offense a thing of beauty in one offseason, more transition could be a way to mitigate that, especially with the luxury of a speedy, creative and powerful player like Ben Simmons.
The Sixers were ninth in transition possessions last season (17.7 per game) and 23rd in points per possession (1.08). Again, we’ll emphasize that their below-average transition offense produced more points per possession than their well above-average post-up offense.
Post-ups are still worthwhile as long as Embiid is a Sixer, but so is an effort to form a team that likes to run and avoid some of the half-court woes that led the Sixers to be a middling offense last season.