Noah Levick

Brett Brown gives insight into Sixers' post offense with Ben Simmons and with Joel Embiid

Brett Brown gives insight into Sixers' post offense with Ben Simmons and with Joel Embiid

While some of the Sixers’ offense is based around designed, structured actions, Brett Brown prefers to put his players in organic environments conducive to their success.

NBC Sports Philadelphia talked with Brown on Friday about the Sixers’ movement off Ben Simmons in the post and the differences with the team’s post offense around Joel Embiid. We got some insight into his thought process and details about how he wants to develop certain aspects of the Sixers' offense.  

‘Explosion’

According to Brown, “the very large majority” of the Sixers’ cutting when Simmons receives the ball in the post falls under the organic category.

We get the ball to Ben and there’s different actions that can happen behind it. The term that we use is 'Explosion.' There is a randomness to possibilities that has helped us. But the real key is movement. Playing static is not how we want to play with Ben Simmons on a back down.

The improvisation of “Explosion” makes it unpredictable. Below, after Jimmy Butler cuts to the rim, JJ Redick comes from the left corner to the left elbow to free Joel Embiid with a back screen. 

Redick often will raise his arm and move toward a teammate’s defender like he’s going to set a screen before sharply accelerating on a cut. He jogged over from the right wing to the right elbow against Sacramento, in the direction of Willie Cauley-Stein. But instead of screening for Embiid, he continued all the way to the rim.

Embiid slid over from the right elbow to the left elbow in Milwaukee to set a cross screen for Redick. Simmons waited for Redick to arrive for a handoff, and the 13-year veteran was fouled by an off-balance Eric Bledsoe.

The Sixers’ options out of “Explosion” aren’t limited to Simmons distributing the ball to others. 

“It’s still stuff we hope to get better at,” Brown said, “because, apart from his ability to pass out of it and the movement behind it, there’s still the ability or recognition that he can score.”

All the off-ball movement around Simmons is usually effective at drawing away potential help defenders and giving him room to score, as he does below against Corey Brewer. 

Simmons is also savvy at recognizing when defenders are too focused on cutters and not enough on him. Devonte’ Graham and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist both bit hard on Simmons’ fake handoff to Redick.

A different world

The Sixers’ post offense around Embiid has different underlying principles, which Brown says stem from his days as an assistant coach with the Spurs.

A little bit more static, a little bit more set the table, where Joel can be comfortable with his outlets. I’ve just pretty much replicated what we did with [Tim] Duncan for 12 years in San Antonio. We go to floor spots and use that as starting points, and then other things happen from those starting points.

When Embiid gets the ball in the post, the Sixers like to have men stationed on the weakside short corner, weakside corner, weakside wing and top of the key. Besides the player in the short corner — typically Simmons — everyone is well behind the three-point arc, behind the “four-point line.” 

The possession below against the Bucks illustrates the setup the Sixers prefer. James Ennis throws the ball into Embiid and slides over to the top of the key, while Simmons takes his spot in the right short corner, with Redick on the right wing and Mike Scott in the right corner.

You can see D.J. Wilson helps off Simmons late in an attempt to double team Embiid, but the Sixers’ spacing around their big man is designed to make effective double teams a challenge. Wilson doesn’t arrive in time to deter Embiid.

Double teams are more dangerous when the Sixers fail to occupy their proper floor spots and put Embiid in positions where he can be “comfortable with his outlets,” as Brown says.

Simmons hands it off to Embiid on this fast break vs. the Kings and, after he takes a couple of dribbles, it’s evident Embiid is in trouble. He doesn’t know where his outlets are, he’s being harassed by Harry Giles and Brewer, and he ends up trying to force a pass to Ennis.

While not being in the preferred floor spots for Embiid is an issue, being in the right spots doesn’t guarantee success. 

Everyone is where they're supposed to be on the play below, but because there’s zero movement around Embiid, it’s not too difficult for Brewer to double team off Harris at the top of the key and nearly strip away the ball. Embiid gets bailed out with a foul call. 

Brown acknowledged that more movement around Embiid might make double teaming him more difficult, or at least cause teams to be more wary of the idea. 

Maybe. The floor spots with Joel are not intended to be like, you just go there and stand. Those are the floor spots that you’d put Manu [Ginobili] in and Danny Green in — you move behind it. … I think that as the playoffs happen, as this season starts to unfold, one of the areas that we are looking at is what we call slashing. You can take home plate and somebody turns their head, and you’re going against a lot of blind defensive players that don’t know what’s going on behind you. The slashing and Tobias and Jimmy interests me a lot. And I think that we can do better with the movement behind Joel as it relates to the starting points.

Sometimes the defense dictates how the Sixers should cut when Embiid has the ball down low. The Bucks had Tony Snell looming as help on the left baseline on the play below, completely ignoring T.J. McConnell in the right corner. Embiid dribbled to the middle of the floor and McConnell found the gap in the defense.

For Brown, though, proactive movement is of greater interest. On this play vs. Sacramento, everyone started to jog over to their floor spots as Embiid got the ball. Rather than mindlessly park himself in the right corner, Simmons did well to jump in front of Nemanja Bjelica, earn position at the front of the rim, and draw a foul. 

Brown has tailored the Sixers’ post offense around Embiid in a way that plays to his strengths, just as he has with Simmons. And, though he continues to trust his players to make good things happen in advantageous situations, he knows the Sixers and Embiid might benefit from a little more of the off-ball movement characteristic of “Explosion.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers shatter any notions of the Celtics having some sort of bizarre spell over them with win

Sixers shatter any notions of the Celtics having some sort of bizarre spell over them with win

For the first two quarters and 54 seconds of the Sixers’ game against the Celtics on Wednesday night, logic and reason apparently left the Wells Fargo Center. 

Just about everything Terry Rozier put up went in; Brett Brown got a technical foul in the second quarter for arguing a dubious foul call on Joel Embiid; outside of Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers shot 9 for 36 in the first half. The Sixers, on paper, had the more talented team, but the Celtics were going to sweep the season series.

Then, less than a minute into the third quarter, with Boston leading, 69-58, the bizarre fog broke. Marcus Smart took objection to a screen by Embiid, got up from the floor, and shoved Embiid in the back. He got a Flagrant 2 foul and was ejected. As he exited down the tunnel, Smart asked for louder boos from a crowd incredulous that someone had just taken a cheap shot at their superstar but, more than anything, angry.

It would be a stretch to say everything made sense after Smart’s ejection. But, from that point, the notion of the Celtics being in the Sixers’ heads or having some sort of mystical hold over them dissolved. The Sixers beat the Celtics, 118-115 (see observations), their sixth straight win and the team's first vs. Boston since Game 4 of their second-round series last year against the Celtics, on May 7 — the T.J. McConnell Game. 

Though his teammates generally stayed away from the topic of Smart’s ejection, Embiid — who received a technical foul on the play — said it motivated him.

“For sure,” he said. “Stuff like that, it gets me going, it gets the crowd going and everybody knows that I play better when the crowd is involved. That energy was definitely good for us.”

Tobias Harris could sense, in just his second game as a Sixer vs. the Celtics, how much it meant to overcome Boston.

“You could feel it in the arena from the fans once the game was over,” Harris said. “And throughout the game, you could feel the passion from the fans of how much they wanted the win, how much we wanted to win. Any time you’re faced against another really good team and a team that’s kind of had their number for some time now, it’s always going to be an intense environment and intense game all around.”

There are tangible, basketball reasons the Sixers overcame a deficit as large as 15 points in the second period. Embiid was incredible, scoring 37 points, pulling down a career-high 22 rebounds, and getting to the foul line 21 times, missing only once. Jimmy Butler (22 points) made clutch shots in isolation and pick-and-rolls situations in the fourth quarter. The Sixers’ defensive communication was much improved in the second half.

But beating Boston was always going to be about more than following schemes and executing game plans. 

“I think that the spirit of the group, the tenacity of that team, where they didn’t waver in belief, was as much of an important factor to me as when I look down and say, ‘Oh, by the way, we won,’” Brown said.

But yes, the Sixers did win Wednesday, and Butler admitted the obvious — it was more important than an ordinary victory.

“Hell yeah,” he said. “I haven't beat these guys yet while I've been here. Jo was so excited to be able to compete against these guys tonight saying how much this game meant to him. But like I said earlier, in order to consider yourself a really good team you got to beat those really good teams. I got a really good feeling we'll probably see those guys some time down the road.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Marcus Smart ejected after shoving Joel Embiid as Sixers-Celtics showdown gets heated

Marcus Smart ejected after shoving Joel Embiid as Sixers-Celtics showdown gets heated

Marcus Smart did not endear himself to Sixers fans Wednesday night.

The Celtics’ guard was ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul with 11:06 left in the third quarter. Smart wasn’t a fan of a Joel Embiid screen that caused him to fall to the ground. After rising to his feet, Smart took a cheap shot at Embiid, shoving him to the floor.

Embiid had to be restrained by his teammates. Tobias Harris was first to jump in front of the big man and prevent a potential physical confrontation with Smart. Embiid received a technical foul on the play, which you can watch in the video above.

As he left the floor, Smart egged on the rabid crowd at Wells Fargo Center, encouraging them to increase the volume of boos. Smart, who posted three points and four assists in his 19 minutes, waved goodbye as he went down the tunnel. Semi Ojeleye later stepped into the Celtics’ rotation in Smart’s place.

The Sixers went on an 8-1 run immediately following the ejection, with all eight points scored by Embiid. He scored 15 points in the third quarter.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers