Sixers film review

Sixers film review: What we learned from Jimmy Butler's debut

Sixers film review: What we learned from Jimmy Butler's debut

Heading into Jimmy Butler’s Sixers debut, there was plenty of excitement, but also considerable consternation about his fit with his new team.

After the Sixers’ 111-106 loss to the Magic on Wednesday, we finally have some film to break down after what felt like weeks waiting for Butler to play.

Let’s look at the skills Butler showcased, how the Sixers used him in his debut, and the way his role might develop.

Because Butler had just one shootaround with his new team, the Sixers’ playbook for him was understandably limited. Instead of installing a bunch of new actions for Butler, Brett Brown plugged him into a couple plays the Sixers have already installed and used them often.

A 1st taste of the playbook

Brown called the first play of the game for Butler, having him make an "Iverson cut," then use staggered screens from Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, with Embiid popping behind the three-point line and Simmons rolling. Butler passed up an open mid-range opportunity.

The Sixers kept returning to that same play, knowing Butler’s affinity for the pick-and-roll. On the second time they tried it, Butler made a solid read to deny the screens from Simmons and Embiid and drive baseline, but then threw a pass into no man's land.

However, this action did get Embiid two open three-point shots, with the defense collapsing on Butler.


The other play Brown ran over and over again with Butler put the Sixers’ new star in a position JJ Redick typically occupies. The Sixers love this action at the end of games, entering the ball into Embiid at the elbow and having Redick curl up into a dribble handoff from Embiid. 

While it’s a basic play, Redick and Embiid seem to have countless options off it, because the two have a great understanding of each other and make smart, instinctive reads based on how the defense is playing them. 

There are early signs the two-man game between Butler and Embiid also has a fair amount of potential. 

As expected, Butler didn't always make the perfect read. He probably should've either taken a mid-range jumper or thrown a lob to Embiid on this third-quarter play.

Here, the two-man game freed Butler for a wide-open 17-footer. That's a shot you can bank on him hitting more often than not.

Again, the result wasn't positive on this final example of the two-man game between Butler and Embiid, but the play itself was encouraging. Butler notices that his man is overplaying the dribble handoff, so he darts up as if he's going to get the ball from Embiid, then cuts backdoor. 

 


While he gets called for an offensive foul, there's real promise in the Embiid-Butler two-man game, especially as Brown incorporates more actions and spots on the floor where the two can play off each other.

"You can see how you can put [Jimmy] and Joel in different actions and situations that as we practice and they have sort of a greater familiarity than 24 hours, I can see some really good things happening," Brown told reporters. "Especially with those two together.

"You see it and you saw it even in shootaround. Jimmy really was trying to go out of his way to find Jo and vice versa. When you strip it down to simple action, they’re going to be creative enough and skilled enough to find different things that other coaching staffs don’t expect. I feel like although we lost the organization of the tiny few things we put in, he put us in decent positions."

Creating his own offense

When the initial action doesn't create an open look, Butler has the ability to make something productive out of nothing.

On the play below, he attacks Evan Fournier’s closeout and pulls up for a smooth mid-range jumper.


The Sixers were sorely missing Butler’s shot creation ability. Even as he learns the nuances of the Sixers' offensive system, he can make a big immediate impact just by improvising and making intelligent plays.

Here, Butler denies Amir Johnson's ball screen and slithers through the defense for an easy lay-up.

Moving off the ball

Butler was excellent against the Magic at reading the situation and cutting hard into open space, like on the play below.

He was constantly alert for opportunities to cut back door and take advantage of his man falling asleep, as D.J. Augustin did on this play.

He caught Fournier off balance on this play early in the game, and Embiid delivered a nice bounce pass to Butler, who hung in the air for a tough finish.

Defense

We already knew that Butler is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. 

He's a tenacious on-ball defender, as you can see in the sequence below. Butler hounds Fournier, not giving the Magic guard any space to drive, and eventually forcing a shot clock violation.

Wednesday, we saw how Butler now has the luxury of being ultra-aggressive with a rim protector of Embiid’s caliber behind him. On the play below, Butler is a step behind Fournier, but it doesn’t matter — Embiid blocks him at the rim.

Though Butler allowed penetration from Augustin on this third-quarter play, Embiid's presence deterred Augustin from attempting a shot.

With Embiid roaming the paint, Butler should be free to gamble for steals and play tight, physical defense. The worst-case scenario of him getting beat off the dribble results in his man encountering Embiid in the paint. That's not such a bad result for the Sixers.

As Brown continues to integrate Butler, we should see some more creative options that capitalize on his strengths as a shot creator and ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. Butler already gave a sense of the different dimensions he can add to the Sixers' offense in his debut just by playing within himself and reading the game off a couple basic sets.

There's every reason to think Butler can grow into a more diverse, effective role that incorporates his outside shooting (he attempted just one three-pointer in his debut) and playmaking abilities. He's a legitimate two-way star capable of fitting well into just about any offense. Wednesday gave us an early sense of what he brings to the table and how he fits alongside Simmons and Embiid.

We'll learn much more once he has the chance to play a few games with his new team, as Brown and Butler himself develop a greater understanding of how to maximize Butler's talents.

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Sixers film review: Landry Shamet really is like a 'mini JJ' Redick

Sixers film review: Landry Shamet really is like a 'mini JJ' Redick

Since Day 1 of training camp, Landry Shamet has been learning from JJ Redick — working with him on his game after practice; closely observing the way the veteran moves off the ball; talking on plane rides about life in the NBA. 

On the court, Shamet has been employed in a similar manner to Redick, and he's impressed through the first 12 games of his rookie season.

Brett Brown had high praise for Shamet after the Sixers' win Saturday vs. the Pistons.

“He’s just quietly jumping into this league,” Brown said. “There is a consistency that he has shown. Sometimes, he’ll miss a play call and I’ll bark at him, and he lets me coach him. And he’s prideful. I feel like in the capacity that we’re using him as a mini JJ [Redick] — I’m running stuff for a rookie and putting him in situations, and he’s responded and he’s delivered. I’m extremely happy with Landry Shamet.”

One area where Shamet already looks like a mini JJ is his cutting off the ball. Like Redick, defenders tail him tightly because of his shooting ability. And like Redick, Shamet has excellent instincts for when to capitalize on defenders’ excessive aggressiveness and cut to the rim, as you can see below.

The Sixers really have often used Shamet like a Redick clone, plugging him into the identical spots in their actions. 

For instance, on the play shown below, the Sixers have Ben Simmons hand the ball off to a wing, who swings it to a big man at the top of the key. Off the ball, the other wing sets a cross screen for Simmons. 

One of Redick’s most overlooked qualities is how strong he is at setting screens. He knows how to use the fact that defenders are wary of his own movement off the ball and usually finds the right angle to free up his teammate. Against the Clippers, he helped Simmons get a deep touch in the post. 

While Shamet isn’t at Redick’s level as a screen-setter, he did well on this play in Brooklyn to make himself big and draw attention to the foul by his defender.

As Sixers fans know, Redick’s two-man game with Joel Embiid is deadly. The pair just has a great feel for each other. Redick knows exactly how to play off Embiid, for when to use Embiid’s body to screen off his man on dribble handoffs and for when to cut in the opposite direction if his man is overplaying in expectation of the dribble handoff.

You can see that chemistry in the play below, a Sixers’ late-game staple in which Redick screens for Simmons, then flares out to the three-point line. The Sixers have countless options off this action. On this occasion, Ish Smith denies Redick the ball, so Simmons hits Embiid on the wing, and Redick takes the perfect path into Embiid’s dribble handoff, finding space for the three-pointer.

Shamet and Embiid obviously don’t have that same understanding yet, though they’ve had some nice moments together. With Embiid’s help, Shamet runs circles around Shabazz Napier in the play shown below. Shamet’s experience at both guard spots in college definitely gives him a leg up with making reads on dribble handoffs and ball screens.

One of the next steps in Shamet’s development in playing an effective two-man game with a big man will be immediately transitioning from running around off-ball screens into using one of those screeners to create offense when an open jumper isn’t available. That’s a skill Redick demonstrates well in the following play with Amir Johnson.

For the time being, there are going to be occasional misunderstandings between Shamet and Embiid or Johnson, as you can see below. But Shamet’s combo guard background and intelligence as a player should serve him well.

Though Shamet still has room to get better, he doesn’t play like a rookie. In the play below, he recognizes D’Angelo Russell is too close to his body and after working off a dribble handoff from Simmons, he kicks out his leg on the shot attempt to draw three free throws. If you look closely, Redick raises his arm in the background to acknowledge a smart play from his mentee.

Shamet and Redick haven’t shared the floor a ton, but there’s been a fair share of off-ball action when they have. On this final play, Shamet works around a dribble handoff from Embiid, while Redick circles around a cross screen from Mike Muscala and Embiid’s down screen. Mini JJ hits JJ for the three.

In the early stages of this season, it's looked like the Sixers got a steal at the No. 26 pick with Shamet.

The rookie takes pride in his defense, has a pure shooting stroke and plays with intelligence and poise that belie his years. Like Redick, he has the tools to fashion a long NBA career for himself.

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Sixers film review: How Markelle Fultz can improve off the ball

Sixers film review: How Markelle Fultz can improve off the ball

When Markelle Fultz has the ball in his hands and is in attack mode, “the world makes sense,” as Brett Brown would say

You can’t yet say the same for when Fultz doesn’t have the ball. It’s one of the main reasons lineups with Fultz and Ben Simmons are struggling to score.

In the 80 minutes Fultz and Simmons have played together, the Sixers have an 85.5 net offensive rating. That’s the worst of any two-main pairing on the team with at least 32 minutes.

Let’s look at the film to see where Fultz currently has some issues off the ball and how he can improve.

On a number of occasions, Fultz just hasn’t demonstrated very good spatial awareness. Take this play on Saturday vs. the Hornets as an example.

Or this play from Monday vs. the Hawks.

Fultz needs to have a better understanding of where his teammates are on the floor, and to make quicker adjustments when he recognizes he’s causing unbalanced spacing.

A unique challenge Fultz faces is the amount of room defenders are giving him. Against Atlanta especially, Fultz’s man served like a free safety, playing well off him because of the continued lack of respect for his jumper, and doubling Joel Embiid at every opportunity. 

The Hawks used this defensive strategy in a more “blatant way” then most teams will, as Brett Brown said, but it’s an approach Fultz will likely keep seeing until he proves teams need to take away his jumper.

For Fultz, there were plenty of opportunities to take advantage against Atlanta and cut into open space. However, his recognition was often not sharp enough.

On this next play, Fultz did make a more decisive cut. The problem is, he didn’t realize JJ Redick was on the same wavelength and find a new spot on the floor.

The silver lining is Fultz does identify the open space and look for the ball, but he needs to recognize his teammate is in that same space and shift to a different location.

Those kind of reads will take time for Fultz to make. With more reps, Fultz will notice where Redick is and not have to think about where he should relocate once he doesn’t receive the ball on the initial cut.

One thing Fultz can control right now is his mindset off the ball. He should always be aware of where his teammates are, how he fits in the larger scheme on the court, and when a chance for him to exploit open space could arise.

On a positive note, when Fultz has applied an aggressive mentality to his off-ball movement, the results have been encouraging.

He showed no hesitation cutting to the front of the rim on this play vs. Atlanta.

And he used a clever change of speed to create a good shot for himself on Tuesday night in Toronto.

 

Still, Fultz has done a lot of standing in the corner, especially on Tuesday. To counter that issue and make Fultz more of a threat, the Sixers can design plays that get him the ball in attacking positions.

With the space teams give Fultz, this type of action will be available often for Brown and the Sixers. It's an effective way to play to Fultz's strengths when he's not at the point.

But if Brown is truly committed to playing Fultz together with Simmons, Fultz needs to continue learning the nuances of spacing and cutting.

If Fultz focuses on using all the room he's getting off the ball to his advantage, that part of his world will start to make more sense.

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