Sixers Thoughts on the Brooklyn Win, Free-Throw Shooting, and Pick and Roll Defense
Gotta admit, I didn’t have much in the tank after snoozing my way through that Eagles win, so I was zoning in and out of the Sixers game while trying to do some stuff around the house. I planned to post this in the morning but the Ron Hextall firing threw things out of whack.
Jimmy Butler won another game at the buzzer. That’s the kind of stuff you brought him here to do. We can sit here and say it was poor play and a low-percentage shot and whatnot, but that’s the modern-day NBA. Sometimes you just hand the ball to a superstar, go iso, and ask him to do his thing. Butler has done it twice this season, and that’s the difference between 14-8 and 12-10.
If I went negative and sardonic on the Eagles today, I’ll go glass half full for the Sixers.
Why? Because it’s November. There’s a lot of season left to play. They could have crapped their way to a bad loss in Brooklyn, but they went on a huge run to rip off a win instead. It doesn’t solve all of the problems on this team, but a lot of squads would have just folded in that situation and chalked it up as a loss.
A couple of things that stood out to me from Sunday’s win:
Ben’s free throw shooting
Ben Simmons went 3-6 from the line last night and he’s now 60.6% on the season. That’s fourth-worst on the team, ahead of only Markelle Fultz, Wilson Chandler, and Jonah Bolden, and only one of those guys remains in the rotation. Ben is hitting 3.1 of 5.2 free throw attempts per game.
I ran a filter over at NBA.com – free throw percentage among players who have been to the line at least 50 times this season.
Here’s what I got:
- #124 – Alex Len, 62.3%
- #125 – Russell Westbrook, 62.2%
- #126 – Ben Simmons, 60.6%
- #127 – Rudy Gobert, 60.2%
- #128 – Clint Capela, 59.7%
Bigs should not be anywhere close to Ben in free-throw percentage, but that’s where we are.
He took 13 shots last night and made five, going 0-3 in stuff outside of the restricted area. This is what his shot chart looked like:
He’s just not hitting anything from outside of a few feet.
The solution I think has to start with his free-throw shooting, because if he can find some confidence from the stripe, maybe that links him to field goal attempts from similar range during live play. Maybe hitting more foul shots gives him enough confidence to try a few more 8 to 12 footers. I’m just not sure. His FT% is up slightly this year, from 56 to 60, but if he can get up to the 70% range and hit 1-2 elbow jumpers per game, that’s a good start in bringing him forward in the shooting department.
Ben at center and defensive concepts
Little wrinkle yesterday:
Instead of going with Amir Johnson as backup center, Brett Brown used Simmons as a five. It was not amazing defensively, and Brooklyn scored 58 points in the paint, but theoretically you’re trying to prevent the Nets from spreading you out and attacking in different spots. They have a couple of guys who can handle the ball on the floor at the same time, and if somebody is going to be dragged out or forced to shuffle, I think you’d rather have that be Simmons than Johnson.
That said, I think I’d like to see the Sixers find a power forward in the trade or buyout market and let Mike Muscala play more five. He’s a guy who can stretch the floor but also grab some offensive rebounds and get to the line, where he’s an 84.3% career shooter. Either way, I don’t think Amir is long for this world.
The other thing to think about is the fact that the Sixers are allowing a lot of points to point guards this season. D’Angelo Russell had 38 last night. Collin Sexton had 23 on Friday night and Jrue Holiday put up 30 in the previous game. I think you’re better off having Ben Simmons guarding the opposing point guard while letting Jimmy Butler match up against a wing player, which is more of what he’s done over the course of his career.
On a play like this, they start with Simmons on Spencer Dinwiddie, Butler on Russell, and JJ Redick on Joe Harris. You allow an incredibly easy switch and this happens:
They’ve got to come up with a better way to defend those plays. When you have a couple of guys who can create off the dribble in Dinwiddie and Russell, that automatic switch puts you at an immediate disadvantage. Simmons could have easily fought through that screen and made Brooklyn think about the play.
Billy Lange will have to figure that out, since he’s in charge of the defense this season following Lloyd Pierce’s departure to Atlanta.
Pick and roll defense
I was reading Neubeck’s write-up over at Philly Voice this morning, and he put in a section about the Sixers’ pick and roll defense.
I don’t know what the Sixers think they’re accomplishing with their pick-and-roll coverage this year, but it has flat-out sucked for long stretches of the season. They have their bigs (in many cases, Embiid) dropping so far on the screen that they’re not gaining any benefit from doing it.
It’s one thing to drop back and concede long two-point jumpers. What the Sixers are doing is basically allowing guards to get to the paint, and then forcing Embiid to commit or concede an open shot from close range. When he’s committing, the guards are often just looking for quick hits to the vacated big man, and when he doesn’t, most NBA guards can make lightly-contested shots from the free-throw line and in.
Embiid often will “zone” these pick and rolls by sitting on the elbow, but it does feel like he’s sagging a bit too far at times this season.
Case in point, super early possession for Brooklyn, and Joel isn’t even close to the elbow here:
And by the time Russell reaches the paint, Embiid has moved a whopping 1.5 feet, if that.
Look at his positioning when the point guard just pulls up for an elbow jumper:
Embiid is athletic enough to zone these screens at the elbow and prevent that shot while still being able to slide with Jarrett Allen if necessary. It’s one thing to let teams settle for 20 footers off a pick and roll, but they shouldn’t be able to walk right into the paint and take a 15 footer.
Here’s another example, this time with Brooklyn running a Spain pick and roll:
Allen rolls off the second screen but you see Embiid already sagging all the way back to the restricted area.
He gets a hand on the ball, but Russell picks it up and knocks down a pretty easy shot in the paint.
It does feel like Jo is doing a lot of sagging on PNR defense, or at least that was the case last night.
We’ll see how they adjust moving forward.