Last night most of the post-game press conference questions touched on macro-level topics and didn’t get too specific into game five.
Thankfully we had Brett Brown on a Wednesday afternoon phone call to get in another round of queries.
I wanted to look a little bit more into the early stagnation of the Sixers offense, where you saw Jimmy Butler start to do his thing, get to the foul line, and work in isolation and pick and roll sets. That’s fine. It’s effective. He has been good in those situations in the playoffs and he is always capable of creating his own shots and giving the Sixers a needed shot in the arm.
That’s the positive.
The negative is that you’re not always involving other players, players like Ben Simmons and JJ Redick and Joel Embiid, guys who in the second quarter last night were out of rhythm offensively. Of course you can use any of those three as a roller for Butler, but unless the ball is moving and the defense is rotating, you can rack up chunks of 2, 3, 4 possessions in a row where guys aren’t seeing much of the ball at all.
I wrote this morning that I felt like the Sixers were getting some decent enough looks when they committed to their base offense, which is running Redick off screens, using dribble hand-off, spacing the floor, and then playing the second side. If you commit to that and establish your five starters, you can sprinkle in Jimmy pick and rolls whenever you’d like. That’s always going to be there for you, especially in tight, 4th quarter situations.
So we asked Brett about that on the conference call, first with the Inquirer’s Marc Narducci wondering if the ball is being taken out of Ben Simmons’ hands too frequently:
I think it’s overrated. I think when you look at it, there’s a portion of it, Marc, that is true. But when you sort of judge, let’s just go to “miss” offense – it’s a third of our sport. When you go back and look at the game, a third, generally, of possessions will come out of miss offense or early offense. I think in that environment he’s brilliant. He really to me is at his best in that world. Then you go to the other third of the world, which is made baskets. What do you do after made baskets? It’s true at times that we give Jimmy the ball during a portion of that where Jimmy is the point guard anyway. So I hope to help Ben continue that aggressive, open court mentality. But to connect the dots too much would be a mistake. I think coming back to Philadelphia, we’re gonna see an aggressive Ben Simmons in the environment I just said.
And my follow up was about trying to get everybody involved in the offense despite Jimmy seeing the warning signs and asserting himself in his own way to help the team, after the jump:
I think when you cut to the chase and look at what is our most efficient offense, one of the areas is clearly Jimmy Butler in middle pick and roll. You’re mindful that in this series, that’s been an excellent look for us. In that world it’s true that you have people that are more spaced than moved. Ultimately it gets down to, how do you create movement? It isn’t always making five passes, sometimes it’s how do you generate scrambles and close outs and two-on-one situations where the ripple effect is that you’re attacking close outs. So somewhere in the middle of all of that, you hope to play both sides where you do have multiple passers and everybody is moving, but you’re not stubborn enough to realize that Jimmy Butler in middle pick and roll has been a good look for us.
That’s a reasonable answer, and now I’ve got two clips for you, in addition to the five I used this morning.
As far as attacking close outs, I thought Tobias Harris did a real nice job of it here:
That’s just a loose and improvised Simmons/Embiid pick and roll or brush cut, but Ben’s movement is able to draw Pascal Siakam. Harris gets the kick out pass and attacks the ensuing Siakam close out, earning himself an easy jumper. Three guys were involved in that play while Butler and Redick both sat on the third point line and spaced the floor.
Then on a play like this one, they add a third body to the Butler middle pick and roll, which essentially just amounts to a horns flare to spring Harris for a clean shot:
Another assertive Tobias moment there on the jumper.
Brett mentioned “creating movement” and “generating scrambles” in that quote, and I think the Sixers did it well in both of those clips, first as a sort of improvisation, and second in a dialed-up play call.
As for the pick and roll and Butler, here are a few stats via NBA.com:
- the Sixers, as a team, are scoring 0.86 points per possession on 17.4 ball handler looks each game. That’s 8th out of 16 playoff teams, so right in the middle of the pack.
- They are dead last in points per possession via PNR/roll man, which is very infrequent. A vast majority of the Sixers’ PNR offense comes from the ball handler and not the roller.
- Butler is getting about 6.2 ball handler PNR possessions per playoff game and scoring 0.87 points per.
- The team is +7.9 when Jimmy Butler is on the floor and -5.2 when he is off. That’s the second most significant swing behind Joel Embiid.
- The Sixers are shooting 47.1% on passes from Jimmy Butler. That’s also the second best number on the team, and it means he’s assisting guys in good positions on the floor.
It’s mostly positive stuff with Jimmy in the pick and roll. I just think they’ve got to try to commit to the base offense and establish something in transition in game six, because they function well when they’re contesting shots, grabbing rebounds, and moving up and down the floor with pace. It’s great for Jimmy to be on his game and contributing early, but they need four other starters to get involved if they’re gonna send this series back to Toronto for game seven.