We’re 28 days away from the Sixers’ season opener, if you can believe it.
Training camp begins next Tuesday, following by the Blue X White scrimmage on Saturday and a preseason game against China’s Guangzhou Loong Lions the following week.
Before the madness of another long campaign begins, Brett Brown invites the media to a Philadelphia luncheon where the rules are pretty simple. You sit down, eat, and ask the head coach whatever you want for the next ninety minutes. As a result , there’s a TON of information to parse and upward of two dozen lengthy quotes to sift through, but after going through most of the audio again, here are my biggest takeaways from the chunky availability:
Ben Simmons and the jump shot
We asked four questions about Ben’s jumper.
The first one was from Jon Johnson, a generic starting point wondering if Ben needs to start incorporating the jump shot this season.
“Completely. (It’s) the willingness to shoot. The time that he has invested over the course of this summer is the best by a long shot that he ever has. His awareness of this thing in the marketplace (people talking about his shot) – he’s prideful, he gets it. His confidence that I saw when he came back to Philadelphia and played in our gym over the last few weeks just stood out, it shone as if he had invested time and he was looking forward to showing us, showing his teammates, me, proving it to himself. I feel like he’s gonna have a tremendous season. He’s a 23 year old All Star. He’s invested the time. Technique, fundamentally, you talk about hands and feet, his preparation with his feet, his preparation with his hands, his release point, and I can go coach speak if you want, but my judgment is going to be the willingness to shoot.”
Brown went on to say that he might just ask a defender to sag off of and invite Simmons to shoot in training camp to see what happens, which brings me to my follow-up question.
What do the Sixers actually look like with a perimeter shooting Ben Simmons?
“I think the most obvious answer I’d give is simple, that once somebody has to be guarded, the rules change. The holy grail in our sport is to avoid rotations. It’s where the 2v2 and pick and roll was born and it’s gone on for a decade. If Ben Simmons is coming off a pick-and-roll and he actually needs to be hedged out on and rollers can get behind, or they’re not back just showing a crowd (of defenders) all the time on Joel in an off-ball thing, it’s not Ben in live ball – all the stuff you know I would say. What I think doesn’t get talked about enough, and I think should, is he has the ability to chew up space both on and off the ball in a way that could be harmful (to opposing teams). He’s coming out of a cannon.
Say I’m Josh at the top of the key. There’s the basket. Ben’s over at what I call the down wing and his man is just sitting in the paint showing a crowd on Josh. You make him bite a little bit and throw it, and he’s just going straight downhill. That in itself is hard to guard. Whether he just catches and rises up, maybe, but the space he has been used to, we can help him manipulate and exploit better than we have.”
It’s a good point. Imagine Ben Simmons receiving the ball, a defender closing him out because he can actually shoot the ball from range, then Ben attacks that close out and just rumbles right to the net. It’s scary to think about.
I also asked about putting Simmons in the dunker spot in the past, which is on the weakside under the rim (since he’s not a shooter), and Brown said this:
“You’re not going to see me put him down there at the start of the year. I want to give him a chance to be spaced. You’re probably going to see him in one of the corners, but I’m going to start there. We’re going to encourage him to shoot threes, and we’re going to encourage him – and this is his nature – if he sees a straight-line drive, take off and eat it up. I think I can help him use the space that you’re talking about in both of those ways.”
Here’s a diagram to help. If Ben is in the corner, will his defender stand in the slot and block off the ball handler? Or will he command enough respect to pull that defender off the block, open the lane for his teammate, and create a situation where he can attack a close out?
Another question from another reporter:
How often do you want him to shoot threes? How much of his game will involve shooting?
“With Ben, we’re not going to hunt threes. When they are available, I want him to shoot them. The reckless use of threes doesn’t tie into my initial statement of our team being huge. I do think we can play a style of play that is just smashmouth defense and bully ball offense, I think this team has the ability to do that. And so it leans more toward that than, let’s come down and crank out threes.”
Makes sense. I don’t think anybody should expect to see Ben Simmons come out firing at 37% from downtown, but the willingness to shoot and how that helps the Sixers space the floor is the starting point here.
Speaking, by the way, of the “initial statement” involving smash mouth basketball, this is what Brett said earlier in the sitdown:
“I feel like when we all leave the room, you should write this with a thick crayon, and hear me loudly – we will end up playing smash mouth offense and bully ball defense. We have a team that can do that. So are we going to be casting a bunch of threes? That’s not our identity. Do we have the ability when people pack the paint and recognize, ‘oh they’re huge, how do we guard this?‘, or somebody sits in a zone, I think we’ve got the capability of shooting the ball. And I know we’ve got the capability of rebounding on both sides of the ball.”
I mean, it’s true. The Sixers are monolithic in size. They should finish as a top three defensive and rebounding team, and while “smash mouth” basketball is not the NBA in 2019, Brown’s teams have played more like the Warriors than anybody else over the years, so I wouldn’t expect the 1983 New York Knicks here. Should be interesting to see how this personnel fits his offensive schemes, and how he tweaks it along the way.
Ain’t talkin’ bout medical
Brett Brown hates taking medical questions. Stuff like this:
What’s up with Markelle’s shoulder?
Is Joel Embiid receiving load management tonight?
He hates those questions so much that he flat out told us that he’s not going to answer them:
“One of the things that I am not doing anymore, and it will not help you as much, maybe as I helped in the past, is I’m not talking about medical anymore. I’m not doing it. I’m not the person that should do it. It’s not my place anymore. Even the other night I’m sharing with the group that Matisse (Thybulle) rolled his ankle. I could have told you that Ime Udoka jammed his thumb at the coaching clinic. You’re all trying to do your jobs and I understand that completely. I understand that, but it’s just not going to be my place this year.”
Instead, head communications honcho Dave Sholler was promoted to the role of “Senior Vice President of Communications and Team Spokesman.” I believe he’ll be the point man for medical and injury concerns this season, which takes the burden off the head coach and allows us to ask him more basketball questions. That’s fine with me.
Hunting corners and driving slots
Tuesday, I wrote a bit about how the Sixers “A to B” motion offense will change this season, just a couple of minor tweaks to accommodate their personnel changes.
In simple terms, the ballside wing will start in the corner this year. JJ Redick used to like to begin at the ‘foul line extended,’ because it was easier for him to wriggle free and come off screens there, but that’s different with Josh Richardson and the Sixers’ wing players this year.
I asked Brett if he could elaborate on what assistant Kevin Young explained Monday night at the coaching clinic:
“Say we’re in flow and Ben’s not screaming up the floor – when you can get organized we’re hunting corners. We’re just going to corners. We lifted JJ above foul line extended because Ben could get to him on one dribble as a hand off. When Marco Belinelli came in, because people were used to running to corners, he took it down there, and we got some decent stuff out of it, but JJ’s route was more precise and quicker. If we swung the ball, Joel could go and screen for JJ in two steps and not six, down to the corner. As we started studying our roster and the success of it and the continuity and symmetry of why we do things, we deemed that hunting corners ruled the day. Make or miss, fast or slow, get to the red spots that I tape on the floor (at the practice facility).”
We think spatially, it’s going to give Ben an immediate slot driving lane. We get the third most valued spot on the floor as it relates to NBA offense, and so we changed it for that reason.
Does that make sense to you? In simple terms it’s just about spacing the floor differently to accommodate the personnel. And when Brown is talking about “slot lanes” for Simmons, those are the two areas on either side of the foul line, which I’ve marked below:
We’ll see how this plays out beginning with the scrimmage in Wilmington next week.
I’ll put everything else into bulletpoints, since the story is already 1,700 words and the Eagles are playing tonight:
- Brett thinks “health” is the #1 thing that could derail this season. On paper, he thinks he’s got a championship caliber squad.
- Al Horford is a “priceless gift” who can really help Joel Embiid. Brown looks forward to coaching him.
- He wants the number one seed in the east.
- Josh Richardson is going to guard opposing point guards.
- Wing rotation mix this year includes Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, and James Ennis. Look for a camp competition here.
- When asked about a late game “go-to” guy, Brown responded by saying that Joel Embiid is the team’s “crown jewel”
- Elton Brand is a “quiet killer”
There’s more in there. He did talk a bit about Joel Embiid shooting three pointers and talked about his job status as well. Maybe we’ll use those in a different story.