Brett Brown: Coaching up the Coaches (Plus a Few Minutes with Monty Williams)

Sixers camp begins this week, if you can believe it. We’ll spend a few hours with Brett Brown today at his annual media lunch, but Monday night was set aside for teaching, as the head ball coach held his annual “coach the coaches” clinic at the Camden practice facility.

There were not a lot of open seats in the building. Not sure what the final head count was, but a few hundred folks came from places like South Jersey and Jenkintown to learn about the Sixers’ offensive and defensive philosophies and receive some free instruction from an NBA staff coming off a 52-win season.

This was our first look at the newly assembled group of assistants, which includes Monty Williams, Billy Lange, and Kevin Young. All three assistants spent about 20 minutes going through a specific demonstration for the assembled coaches, will I’ll elaborate on further down.

First, here are some notes from Brett’s introduction, which explained the way the Sixers mark their practice court.  We missed about 50% of his presentation because we were speaking with Williams behind the bleachers at the time:

  • Brett talked about the Sixers’ four-point line, which is painted a few feet behind the actual three-point line and has been written about on several occasions. The reason they use this line because Brown likes his three-pointer shooters to start further off the arc and step into their shot, rather than hugging the line in a catch and shoot situation. Brown describes this as the difference between deep shooters who are “huggers” and “steppers.”
  • Defensively, they use the four-point line to mark their pick-up points, as in that’s where they want to step up to the opponent’s ball-handlers when coming down the floor.
  • Billy Lange is going to be taking over defensive responsibilities this year with Lloyd Pierce becoming the head coach in Atlanta. Pierce was heavily involved with the defensive side of the ball last season and is seen as the architect of the Sixers’ top-five defense.
  • Monty Williams is going to focus on the offensive side of the ball, plus set plays and special situations, which was Kevin Young’s role last season.

More after the jump:

Kevin Young

Young did a 20 minute presentation on the Sixers’ basic motion offense, which is called “A to B.”

It’s derived from Brown’s time in San Antonio and features some Mike D’Antoni-styled wrinkles. You’re familiar with the base sequence, which is the point guard dumping to the trailing big and hitting the corner for a pin down and/or dribble-hand off.

“A to B” basically just means that the primary ball handler is “A” and the second player at the top of the set is “B.” That’s usually Joel Embiid, who will start high and then run DHO with JJ Redick in that 2/5 action.

Here’s a frame of that with Markelle Fultz and Amir Johnson assuming the roles of Ben Simmons and Embiid:

Fultz is “A.” He dishes it to the trailing big, Amir Johnson, who is “B.” Fultz screens for Redick, who is positioned at the foul line extended for the curl and three-pointer.

Easy, right? That’s their basic motion offense and you see them do this multiple times per game.

Young also mentioned that the Sixers run the second-fewest pick and rolls in the NBA behind Golden State, which makes a lot of sense. Both clubs play a similar up-tempo style and prefer to space and shoot rather than slowing the game down.

Another thing he mentioned was that the staff has been in constant conversation about where to start the strong side wing player – extended with the foul line? Or in the corner? In the still above, Redick is in the first position. The main issue here is that it’s quicker to run the A to B action and screen if the wing player is higher in their starting point. The motion takes longer if Fultz has to run all the way into the corner to set a pin down screen for Redick.

Monty Williams

Williams went over a horns set play called “ear tug point,” which you also saw last year. Horns is the 2 up/2 down look where you’ve got two players in the corner, two on the elbows, and a ball handler at the top of the shape. This was one of the more common sets the Sixers used last year when Brown would dial up plays.

Here’s what the set looks like, with Dario Saric clearing out to get into position in the far corner:

The Sixers got an easy dunk on that play with Redick back-screening for Simmons, which was key moment in their playoff series against Miami.

Williams says he wants to help Brown with the “details” part of the offense, which is finding new wrinkles for certain sets and drawing up some after timeout and out of bounds stuff for this season, which Young focused on last year. For example, he talked specifically about adding an ‘up’ option to the horns look to free up Joel Embiid for a lob. “Ear tug 25 flare” was another wrinkle, just a horns set with JJ Redick on the elbow and involved in the three-man action that starts the play, which you can see in the still frame above.

He also explained how Gregg Popovich would run plays in 10-game blocks to keep opponents off balance. “Everybody knows your stuff by December,” Williams said, when asked if it matters how much other teams know your plays and your sets. It’s a matter of mixing, matching, executing, and calling the right plays at the right time.

Billy Lange

Lange started with a defensive footwork drill that focused on sliding and rotation with an emphasis on each player not opening their body angle in a way that allows downhill and straight-line drives. “Weight back, chest out,” per advice from strength coach Todd Wright. The emphasis of Lange’s presentation was leveling off drives and trying to move dribblers laterally so that they don’t have any easy path to the rim.

Again, this is a new role for Lange, who takes over defensive duties from Pierce.

Sometime in the middle of the all of this, we were given a few minutes with Monty Williams, who answered questions about his Sixers’ responsibilities and why he decided to come back to Philly.


  • It was “the right time” for Williams to get back into coaching. His family lives a few hours away from Philadelphia and he had a great opportunity to reconnect with Brett Brown, whom he knew going back to his days in San Antonio (late 90s).
  • On having a specific role, or whether he’s going to be helping out across the board: “(Brett’s) always empowered all of us coaches, whether it’s offense, defense, special teams – in his vernacular. For me, my main focus will be on the offensive end and called plays and situations. But he’s always telling me to coach, to help on defense or transition or talking to Kevin (Young) about our motion offense. Brett doesn’t put a limit on what you do. That’s why a number of the guys who have been here have grown so much in a short period of time.”
  • Williams’ agent called him to talk about the Philly job, but he wasn’t sure where Brown was going with the position. There wasn’t a ton of talk about taking on a new role. “It just happened. I know it’s not a great answer for you, but it just happened.”
  • The front office situation with Bryan Colangelo did not give him any pause about joining the franchise. He thinks Brown handled the burner account scandal with professionalism and class.
  • Williams missed being in a basketball environment, missed being around meetings, the locker room, watching film, everything that goes with it
  • The game has changed since he last coached, more emphasis on the three pointer. Williams points out that he had some older players and some younger players during his time as head coach in New Orleans and he always tried to adapt to what his roster looked like.
  • No issue with the Sixers’ turnover problem. He pointed out that the Warriors won the title last season while turning the ball over 15 times per game. “There’s a balance, players have more creativity. To allow that creativity to grow, there has to be a give and take. But being in the top five of not turning the ball over, that doesn’t guarantee success.”
  • Ben Simmons has been in the gym every morning at 8 a.m. on days when he’s in the city. The entire team has impressed Williams with how competitive they are.

2 Responses

  1. Can’t wait until the sixers win another championship to go with the one they got last year.

  2. Going to be honest. I am mildly negative on the Sixers this year. I don’t see disaster but I also don’t see a 52 win team. People forget that the team was on a 46 win pace until they acquired 2 guys who could shoot with one of them being the best at taking charges in the NBA. Both are gone and the Sixers have a glaring weakness that is even worse now than when the Celtics exposed them in the playoffs. We desperately needed a wing who could hit contested 3’s. By luck, that player landed in our laps on draft night. Then Bret Brown outsmarted himself and traded our biggest need for a project and a prayer.

    That was a pivotal moment. It was the move of a team who had won only 20 games and was a few years away from being considered a contender. Not a team who had just won 52 games and made it to the 2nd round of the playoffs. The Sixers gave away their biggest need and literally acquired a too small forward who has issues shooting the ball. Naturally, he is now injured and miss the entire camp. Year 1 progress is history. Then the pick. 3 years out and Bret really thought he could parlay that into something? The rest of the GM’s are smarter than that.

    Bret is a very good coach but a horrible GM. He should never have been allowed to make that trade. It set this team back and now the clock begins to tick on Simmons. By the time he becomes a very good shooter, he might be wearing a Lakers uniform. There is no championship in the Sixers future.

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