Sixers film review

Josh Richardson film review: What Sixers' shifty shooting guard brings to the table

Josh Richardson film review: What Sixers' shifty shooting guard brings to the table

At 6-foot-6, Josh Richardson will be the smallest player in the Sixers’ starting lineup.

Before he begins his first season in Philadelphia, let’s look at what he brings to the table:

Defense: A fluid athlete 

Richardson is excellent at tailing shooters like JJ Redick, moving fluidly and staying attached well on screens and dribble handoffs. 

The 26-year-old made an impressive transition from a quick, controlled close out on the play below to sliding with Redick on his drive to the rim and swatting the veteran’s shot. It’s a nice combination of defensive fundamentals and high-level athleticism. 

Defense is clearly a part of the game Richardson values. You have to love the hustle here to chase down Joel Embiid, gobbling up ground to force the steal.

There are, however, odd occasions when Richardson has lapses in effort or allows himself to fade from the picture. The sequence below was a poor one as the Tennessee product’s careless pass bled into him getting beat back door by Furkan Korkmaz.

Just about every player has moments like this, but the Sixers will hope Richardson is just a touch more consistently engaged and active now that he’s on a contender. 

Offense: A shifty shooter 

Richardson’s instincts for how and when to find space off the ball are strong. He made a savvy shift from slow jog to sharp sprint toward the ball on this play from Feb. 21. 

That shiftiness is one of his standout skills. Tobias Harris and Redick botched the Sixers’ defensive coverage on the play below, but note Richardson’s quick curl around Derrick Jones Jr.’s screen, and his burst to the basket before Redick is ready.  

Richardson could, in some ways, fill Redick’s offensive role as a constant mover and outside shooter. His three-point shooting is not at Redick’s level (35.7 percent from long range on 6.3 attempts per game last year) but, after snaking around screens, he has more options than Redick, who’s not much of a threat to do anything besides shoot from long distance.

If he was in Richardson’s spot, Redick would typically curl up from the baseline and around Kelly Olynyk at the left elbow extended on that play. For all his strengths, Redick is not a player who, like the Sixers’ new shooting guard, can dart into the middle of the paint and hit a fadeaway jumper.

Though capable of beating his man and penetrating, Richardson isn’t great at creating separation against bigger players or making plays through contact. Ben Simmons swallowed him up on this play.

It’s fortunate for Richardson and the Sixers that he’ll be the team’s smallest starter. Surrounded by bigger (and better) players than when he was with the Heat, Richardson should see more favorable matchups as opposing defenses have to dedicate size to his gargantuan teammates. 

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Al Horford film review: Breaking down the big man's many strengths and a fair concern

Al Horford film review: Breaking down the big man's many strengths and a fair concern

Two-time national champion, five-time All-Star, playoff regular and ultimate professional — you likely are familiar with the outline of Al Horford’s long resume. He’s a Sixer now, which remains an odd sentence to write.

Before his first season with his new team, let’s look at the ways in which Horford can help the Sixers and how he can be best used.

Offense: A man of many strengths 

Watching Horford’s four matchups vs. the Sixers last season again, the skill that jumped out most was his passing. He has both the ability to anticipate defensive rotations and adapt to the play unfolding in front of him.

The sequence below illustrates those skills. Horford gains position in the post against T.J. McConnell, which prompts Jimmy Butler to sprint across the floor to double team Horford. The simple, solid read would be to sense Butler’s double team and fire it to the man he was guarding in the left corner, Gordon Hayward. Horford, though, sees Mike Scott rotate over to pick up Hayward, keeps his composure and finds the unguarded Marcus Morris.

Last season, Horford had a 24.7 assist ratio, second among centers who averaged at least 25 minutes a game, per — Nikola Jokic was first.

Horford’s pick-and-pop prowess also stands out on film. He has a good sense of timing on his screens and has a veteran’s knack for getting away with a decent amount of upper-body contact.

If an open jumper isn’t available off the pick-and-pop, Horford becomes a threat as a playmaker. 

On this play from last Christmas, Horford effectively screens JJ Redick and Kyrie Irving drives right. Joel Embiid makes the late call to have Redick switch on to Horford, which leaves the Sixers' defense slightly off balance. Horford drives hard to the left and draws help from Wilson Chandler, then hits Morris in the corner with an excellent pass.

Though he won’t wow you with advanced dribble moves or lightning speed, Horford can spark the offense in a variety of ways.

He can guard a center and grab a defensive rebound, bring it up the floor, initiate the offense and finish it all off by swishing a jumper.

Horford is not going to slow the Sixers’ offense down, even at 33 years old. If anything, he seems well suited to running with Ben Simmons and executing quick dribble handoffs like the one in the play above, both as the ball handler and as the man receiving the handoff. 

There are a lot of other things Horford does well offensively, including his outside shooting. He shot 38.2 percent from three-point range on 3.2 attempts per game over his three seasons in Boston. Horford won’t single-handedly replace JJ Redick’s shooting, but he’s someone who can take and make important three-point shots late in games.

Playing at power forward next to Embiid, Horford should thrive at times in the post. Though Brett Brown might be wise to isolate Horford down low against certain matchups and spread the floor with outlets that Horford can find in case of a double team, Horford often won’t need a set play. 

He identifies his advantage, takes his time and scores on Tobias Harris on this play from Feb. 12. The Sixers will aim to find a balance between feeding Embiid in the post and giving Horford the freedom to capitalize on these type of opportunities.

When Embiid sits and Horford takes over at center, Horford will typically have a quickness edge on his matchup. His skill as a shooter forces centers to stretch behind the arc to defend him. For big men like Amir Johnson, that tends to be a problem. 

Defense: Inside ability, a perimeter concern

Sixers fans know all about Horford’s interior defense. The concepts of anticipating favored moves and holding your ground without fouling sound easy enough, but few players could do both against Embiid.

Note how Horford sticks his chest in Embiid’s air space while keeping his hands away from trouble when Embiid searches for contact on the two plays below.

Whether Horford can guard certain power forwards on the perimeter is a fair concern, and you’d figure it’s a matchup many teams will target against the Sixers’ gargantuan starting lineup

Harris gets the better of Horford on the play below, clearing out a side of the floor and driving by him to the rim.

Horford should often have Embiid behind him protecting the rim in such situations, giving him some formidable insurance. 

In the pick-and-roll, Horford will be a major upgrade over any backup center option the Sixers had in 2018-19.

With Jaylen Brown caught on top of Boban Marjanovic’s screen here, Horford drops back to corral Harris without sagging too far. He funnels Harris into the type of long, contested two-point shot that the Sixers’ defense wants opponents to take. 

The Sixers will have some interesting scheme decisions to make regarding their pick-and-roll defense when Horford is at power forward. Switching automatically one through three, dropping Embiid on pick-and-rolls that involve the five and allowing Horford to call out his own coverage is one option that could be sensible against many teams. 

Horford will, of course, need to learn the Sixers’ defensive principles and terminology, but having a very intelligent player helping to dictate the team’s pick-and-roll defense is an idea that makes sense on its face. 

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Breaking down the film to see how Sixers can best defend Kawhi Leonard

Breaking down the film to see how Sixers can best defend Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard is averaging 40 points per game on 61.7 percent shooting through the first two games of the Sixers’ series against the Raptors.

He is, despite the Sixers’ Game 2 win in Toronto, an unavoidable, extremely talented problem.

Let’s look at how the Sixers have defended Leonard and whether there's anything they can do better.

Making other guys beat you 

Leonard’s patience is one of his best qualities. He faced up against Tobias Harris on this play from Game 1, drove baseline and spun back toward the middle, where Boban Marjanovic had shuffled over, apparently to double team him. But Leonard, rather than kicking the ball out to Marc Gasol behind the arc, kept his dribble alive, waited for Marjanovic to abort the double team and knocked down a jumper over Harris.

The Sixers took time away from Leonard by doubling him when he got post position in Game 2. Greg Monroe’s double team forced Leonard to kick the ball out to Gasol on the play below and Ben Simmons rotated over brilliantly to get a piece of Danny Green’s jumper.

Simmons ... and friends

Without a doubt, the Sixers’ best individual defender against Leonard has been Simmons. Leonard has shot 12 for 25 when guarded by Simmons and 17 for 22 when guarded by other Sixers, per

Simmons’ length and lateral quickness occasionally seem to perturb Leonard, something that doesn’t happen very often.

The solution for the Sixers, however, isn’t as simple as sticking Simmons on Leonard, the rare player who can grab a rebound, attack Simmons, and score through the 6-foot-10, 230-pound obstacle in front of him. 

Brett Brown told reporters after Game 1 he wanted the Sixers to show "crowds" to Leonard. Though Simmons does an excellent job staying on Leonard’s hip on the play below, James Ennis ensures he’s not alone in trying to slow down Leonard on the fast break. 

Varied pick-and-roll coverages

The Sixers have aimed to tailor their pick-and-roll coverages against Leonard to best suit their personnel. When JJ Redick is involved, he’s hedged the screen hard and then recovered. It’s a smart approach because it causes Leonard to temporarily encounter an extra defender, and because Green isn’t a threat as a roller.

Here, Redick hedges, Harris drops down to pick up the rolling Green, and Simmons stays with Leonard. Gasol is open on the left elbow because of Harris’ help on Green, but Leonard settles for a contested three-pointer.

Below is another example of the Sixers’ pick-and-roll coverage with Redick. Embiid takes the rolling Green on this play, and the Raptors’ guard finds Pascal Siakam for a corner three. 

If you’re nitpicking, you could say Harris should have stayed attached to Siakam for the entire play and not initially shaded over toward Green. Still, that’s not bad execution by the Sixers — they’d prefer a contested three from Siakam over Leonard having the ball in his hands. 

Embiid plays drop coverage on pick-and-rolls with Leonard, taking a couple steps back into the paint and giving Leonard’s defender time to recover if he falls behind. And if, after the screen, Leonard drives in the direction of a defender on the wing, the Sixers would generally be wise to send additional help, as Simmons does on the play below. Leonard has no choice but to pass it out to Gasol, a win for the Sixers.

Leonard’s defender has the freedom to guard him aggressively on pick-and-rolls involving Embiid, with the knowledge that he has an excellent rim protector as insurance. Because Embiid is looming and has the ability to alter Leonard’s shot, it doesn’t matter that Butler fails to navigate over the top of Gasol's screen. 

The same principles shouldn't apply when Embiid is occupied on the perimeter (or on the bench). Butler's failure to get over Serge Ibaka's screen is more damaging when Jonah Bolden is the other defender involved in the pick-and-roll and when Embiid is, at least initially, concerned with the action behind the arc on the left side of the floor. 

The Sixers need Leonard’s man to play the pick-and-roll more conservatively in that situation, with the understanding that Bolden — or any big man besides Embiid, for that matter — is a vulnerable target if required to switch on to Leonard. 

Brown’s tweaks to the Sixers’ defense on Leonard in Game 2 were sharp, and yet the Raptors’ star scored 35 points. But by working to take time and space away from Leonard, further honing their pick-and-roll coverage to best suit the players on the floor, and using Simmons as his primary defender, the Sixers have a shot to neutralize Leonard. 

If anything, they could lean even further into the principles of showing him a crowd and helping off his teammates whenever it’s remotely feasible. While the Sixers know Leonard can beat them, they can’t yet say the same for the other members of the Raptors. 

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