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Brett Brown finally goes small, with mixed results

The Philadelphia 76ers, for the first time all season, unleashed small-ball in their win over the Indiana Pacers.

Entering Wednesday night 0-5 on the road, the Philadelphia 76ers finally ended their losing streak away from the Wells Fargo Center. It was a good win too, defeating a tough Indiana Pacers team despite 36 points from Victor Oladipo.

Joel Embiid was the best player, per usual, tallying 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks on the night. Domantas Sabonis gave him some issues (and dropped a nice poster), but Embiid was still impactful on both ends.

When Embiid sat, however, the Sixers unleashed something new — small-ball. There have been calls for Brett Brown to use smaller lineups for some time now, but Brown finally made the move in the second and third quarters.

Brown used a couple variations in brief spurts, with the most successful unit (Dario Saric, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Landry Shamet, Markelle Fultz) posting a +4 in three minutes of action. Wilson Chandler was also involved in some variations, with less success.

Given the small sample size, the +/- doesn’t reveal much. There are matchups where small ball will be successful  and matchups were small ball will cause issues. That’s the case for every team around the league (except the Warriors).

The Sixers have the personnel to go small with regularity, though. That personnel, for the most part, should find success in doing so.

With Ben Simmons boasting the ability to defend both fours and fives, the Sixers have enough size to compete with stronger centers. Dario Saric was also deployed in every small ball lineup, and Mike Muscala will probably get thrown into future variations. The Sixers can go small without going ‘small’.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Sixers’ small-ball endeavors was that Brown deployed both Simmons and Fultz, utilizing two ball handlers and three shooters. Fultz and Simmons haven’t shared the floor much outside the first quarter in recent games, so it’s nice to see Brown experimenting with new ways to involve both No. 1 picks.

In J.J. Redick andr Landry Shamet, Brown has multiple high-level shooters at his disposal. He also has a floor-spacing big in Saric, as well as two multi-positional defenders in Robert Covington and Wilson Chandler.

The Sixers have options moving forward, and these are lineups Brown should go to more often. Both Fultz and Simmons are dynamic transition players, while using creative sets involving multiple shooters opens up more options with non-shooting guards.

Both Redick and Shamet have value as screen-setters, opening up driving lanes for Simmons (or Fultz) and putting defenses in a scramble. Saric, when he’s at his best, is a reliable spot-up shooter who draws the opposing center out of the paint.

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The Sixers need shooters around Simmons and Fultz, and perhaps the best way to maximize that duo is to give them minutes sans Embiid. Deploying more versatile groups will also be important later on, especially in the postseason. Amir Johnson is rapidly losing his luster.

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