Joel Embiid

Sixers film review: Evolution in some areas, but nagging problems persist

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Sixers film review: Evolution in some areas, but nagging problems persist

It’s been an unusual week for the Sixers since our last film review. Joel Embiid rested for the first time this season, Jimmy Butler missed Wednesday night’s loss to the Nets with a strained groin, and the Sixers beat the Pistons twice.

At this point in the year, it’s rare to see any earth-shattering shifts from a team. We have, however, seen some interesting evolution from the Sixers over the past week, though familiar issues have persisted. 

Pick-and-roll defense continues to struggle

The Sixers were torched again Wednesday night by Spencer Dinwiddie and the Nets. As we covered in an earlier film review, the Sixers’ pick-and-roll defense has been an issue for a variety of reasons, including Joel Embiid’s tendency to drop back too far into the paint in “drop” coverage, the team’s dearth of quality individual defenders and new teammates still learning how to play with each other.

The play below illustrates how none of those problems have disappeared. Dinwiddie beats T.J. McConnell with a quick first step and Embiid is put in a bad position where he has to try to deter Dinwiddie’s drive and Jarrett Allen’s roll to the rim at the same time. He does neither, and Allen gets an easy dunk.

As they did last time out against Brooklyn, the Sixers “blitzed” the pick-and-roll more in the second half, but it wasn’t an effective or sustainable option vs. a Nets team that shot 14 of 28 from three-point range. On the fourth-quarter play below, blitzing was likely the right option — the shot clock was expiring, and sending a hard double at Dinwiddie ensured he had to give the ball up.

But one basic pass by Dinwiddie after Wilson Chandler and Ben Simmons’ blitz led to an open Jared Dudley three-pointer. Though Dudley missed the shot, you can see why blitzing isn’t a long-term solution for the Sixers’ issues defending the pick-and-roll.

Simmons' lack of a jumper

Ben Simmons still isn’t regularly shooting jumpers, which isn’t exactly news. 

The good piece of news for the Sixers is that Simmons is making a lot of shots within his comfort zone — he’s shooting 70.1 percent from the floor over his past seven games. He’s also developing other areas of his game (see film review). 

But his absence of a jumper does severely limit the Sixers’ offense. On the play below, it’s impossible for the Sixers to execute a conventional Simmons-Embiid pick-and-roll because Rondae Hollis-Jefferson sags under Embid’s screen, even though Embiid sets it about 10 feet from the rim. Simmons has to shoot this shot, not throw up a half-hearted floater.

Until he does, there’s just no other good option from this play for the Sixers, since it’s not hard for teams to stay attached to the other four players on the floor when they have this level of disrespect for Simmons’ jumper.

On two straight possessions down the stretch Wednesday night, the Sixers ran the same play to post up Simmons, and on two straight trips, Furkan Korkmaz turned it over. Besides Korkmaz’s poor entry passes, the biggest problem with these plays is the fact that Joel Embiid is lingering around the perimeter instead of in the post.

Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot clogs the floor, meaning Embiid needs to spend much of his time away from the basket for spacing purposes. This sequence vs. Brooklyn was an unpleasant reminder of that fundamental problem for the Sixers. 

New wrinkles for Butler

The Sixers’ favorite play to run for Butler has him make an “Iverson cut” to an unoccupied side of the floor, brushing across two screens to get the ball in isolation. 

He scored off that play at the start of Friday’s game in Detroit.

Butler often rejects one or both of the screens to capitalize on the defense anticipating the play.

Brett Brown ran a clever after-timeout variation of this play against Detroit. With Reggie Jackson denying Butler the ball, Simmons finds Mike Muscala at the top of the key. Butler pauses as if he’s going to post up, then beats Jackson back door for the lob. 

Korkmaz's defense

Furkan Korkmaz scored a career-high 18 points Monday vs. the Pistons, then matched it Wednesday in his first career start.

His offense hasn’t come out of nowhere; he’s shown in the past he has scoring ability, from his 40-point night in summer league to his impressive play this summer for Turkey in FIBA European qualifying.

His defense, though, was always an obvious weakness. But over the past three games he’s flashed deceptive athleticism and instincts on that end of the floor.

Korkmaz recovered well on the play below after turning the ball over to track down Langston Galloway and strip the ball at the right moment.

He’s also jumped the passing lanes well on a few plays, like on this steal vs. Brooklyn where Ed Davis tried to find D’Angelo Russell.

No, a couple nice steals don’t erase the concerns about Korkmaz’s defense, but his play on that end of the floor hasn’t been a liability for the Sixers recently. As a matter of fact, it’s actually been an occasional bright spot.

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Spencer Dinwiddie scorches Sixers, gives them glimpse of what they need

Spencer Dinwiddie scorches Sixers, gives them glimpse of what they need

The shorthanded Sixers fought but lost to the Nets, 127-124, Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

But that’s not what this story is about.

This story is partly about Spencer Dinwiddie, the Brooklyn guard who scorched the Sixers for a career-high 39 points Wednesday (see observations). That mark topped his previous career-high of 31 scored against, you guessed it, the Sixers.

This story isn’t all about Dinwiddie — though he is a pending free agent who has yet to get an extension —  but about what he brings to the table. He’s a guard that can create and make shots.

Do the Sixers have anyone outside of Jimmy Butler you can say that about? 

Sure, Joel Embiid is playing at an MVP level, but as we saw in the second half against the Nets, it’s not always easy to run the offense through the post. Ben Simmons can create shots, but he’s not necessarily willing to take them unless they’re at the rim. JJ Redick is as elite a shooter as there is, but his expert movement away from the ball is what gets him shots. They certainly don’t boast that type of player off the bench.

When you look up and down the roster, Butler is really the only the guy that can “get buckets.”

We seem to make every guard look like a freaking Hall of Famer” Embiid said. “All of their guards look like Hall of Famers against us. But they’re pretty good. I got to give them a lot of credit. Every time they play against us they always seem to take advantage of (us). They run a lot of pick-and-rolls, they shoot a lot of threes and they always seem to take advantage of that and make them, so you got to give them a lot of credit.

While it’s true that Dinwiddie and/or his teammate D’Angelo Russell always seem to go off against the Sixers, they can actually play. Dinwiddie was averaging 19.3 points over his last four coming in. 

The Sixers don’t have that type of player, and the other concern is that they can’t stop that type of player. When you look at teams like the Raptors and Celtics, the elite teams in the East, they have multiple players that can score in isolation.

That has to be a concern as the Sixers get closer to the playoffs. 

“I think that they’re a good team, to begin with,” Brett Brown said of Brooklyn. “I do not feel like their record reflects how good they are and I especially know that no matter what their record says, we struggle with that type of team, and we did tonight. Albeit undermanned. It doesn’t discount for me the fact that we do struggle with that style of a team.”

So what’s the solution?

As mentioned, Dinwiddie will be an unrestricted free agent when the season ends. The anniversary of his contract was Dec. 8, meaning he’s been eligible to sign an extension since that date. The Nets may not want to have those conversations with Dinwiddie, according to reports.

Maybe if you can't beat ‘em, get ‘em to join you.

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Nets 127, Sixers 124: Shorthanded Sixers scorched yet again by Nets' guards

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Nets 127, Sixers 124: Shorthanded Sixers scorched yet again by Nets' guards

BOX SCORE

No Jimmy Butler. No Mike Muscala. JJ Redick ice cold. The Nets’ guards continuing to kill them.

It just didn’t look like the Sixers' night Wednesday from the beginning in a 127-124 loss to Brooklyn at the Wells Fargo Center.

The loss was just the Sixers’ second defeat at home this season and drops them to 19-10 overall. 

Here are observations from the loss:

• Joel Embiid looked more like the player we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. There was definitely an effort to get him the ball early and often. He was 10 of 15 for 23 points in the first half.

He was a force on both ends, posting 33 points, 17 rebounds and six assists.

The footwork here is gorgeous.

The issue was when Embiid wasn’t on the court. He was a plus-7 while backup center Amir Johnson was a minus-10.

• Ben Simmons continues to be aggressive early and looking to score. He took nine shots in the first half. He shot just 4 of 9 but was getting into the paint at will. He wasn’t quite as aggressive in the second half when the Sixers could’ve used it.

The two-man game between Embiid and Simmons showed flashes to get the Sixers a brief lead. It’s not something the Sixers do a ton of, but with Butler out of the lineup and Redick struggling (5 of 15), it was an effective way to get both players going.

Simmons was also on the receiving end of this insane alley-oop from T.J. McConnell.

From courtside, it looked like Simmons was going to touch the ceiling.

He finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

• Have to give credit where it’s due: Furkan Korkmaz played a solid game Wednesday night. In his first NBA start, Korkmaz provided his typical shooting from his first touch.

What was more impressive was the pair of runners he hit off of overaggressive closeouts and his engagement on the defensive end. Defense has always been the question for Korkmaz and tonight he answered the bell, showing off some of his athleticism and instincts.

Both of those attributes were on display on this pick-and-roll by Brooklyn.

He also showed a little chemistry with Embiid on a couple offensive possessions.

Is he turning into a legitimate bench option? It’s still too early to tell, but the Sixers needed him tonight and he played well, matching the career high he set Monday night with 18 points.

• The Sixers' pick-and-roll defense continues to be an issue — as do guards D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie. The duo combined for 51 points on 16 of 28 from the field after killing the Sixers in the previous two matchups in Brooklyn this season. 

Dinwiddie was really cooking in the third quarter, at one point hitting five straight shots on his way to a career-high 39-point night. He’s a guard that can create his own shot and score in bunches. He’ll also be a free agent at season’s end. 

The Nets have yet to talk an extension with Dinwiddie, according to reports. If Brooklyn decides to get value for him while it can at the deadline, Elton Brand should place a call.

• Shake Milton got his first meaningful action in the first half with the Sixers being down so many men. The rookie out of SMU had a tough go and didn’t get back into the game until the outcome was decided late in the fourth quarter.

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