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.
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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