Block Party – Observations from Sixers 106, Pistons 86

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

No Ben Simmons, so no jump shot storyline last night in the Sixers’ 20-point win against the Detroit Pistons.

Al Horford did not play either, so we got a starting lineup that looked like this:

  1. Josh Richardson
  2. Matisse Thybulle
  3. Furkan Korkmaz
  4. Tobias Harris
  5. Joel Embiid

That gave us a bit of an extended look at Richardson in a ball handling role, Harris bumped down to power forward, and Korkmaz in a starting role, playing alongside more talented guys.

Since the game didn’t feature one specific takeaway or theme, outside of the 15 blocks the Sixers posted, I decided to do it differently this morning, and we’ll go player by player with some notes on each guy:

Tobias Harris

It’s going to be really interesting watching Harris at the rim this year. A lot of times he does a great job of backing down smaller players and going right over them, while other times he does get his shot blocked. That happened twice in the first quarter last night.

Keep in mind, last year he had power forwards typically guarding him, while this year he’s going to get smaller defenders at the three, so I think there will be more mismatch opportunities for him to get to the rack instead of being the sometimes static perimeter shooter he was in 2019.

Opportunities like this:

Easy switch leaves Harris with 6’5″ Luke Kennard instead of 6’7″ Tony Snell, so he just drives to the rack on his left hand and pulls up over the smaller guy. That’s bread and butter Tobias right there.

We’ll see how much “bully ball” the Sixers end up playing this season, but I can see sequences like this one happening frequently.

Joel Embiid

Went to work early and often against Thon Maker, since Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin did not play for the Pistons. 12 points and 4 rebounds in the first quarter and 22 minutes overall, ramping up his workload ahead of next week’s season opener.

Matisse Thybulle

Four steals and two blocks for Thybulle, who looked good in a starting role.

Not much else to say at this point, since I feel like we’ve written about him ad nauseam. Again last night he was pestering defenders, poking the ball loose and deflecting it. He’s just got really active hands and maybe the best part about his performance was that he didn’t pick up a personal foul.

Josh Richardson

Naturally he’s going to draw close outs as a guy who can shoot the three ball, so that was interesting to watch. Richardson did a lot of ball handling in Miami last year and you could theoretically replicate what you did in the 2019 playoffs, having Richardson be the backup point guard ala Jimmy Butler when Ben Simmons gets his rest.

Brett Brown on Richardson as a ball handler:

I think it’s been pretty good. In general, I’m excited to continue to look at him as a backup point guard. Specifically, to his ball-handling, I think it’s good. He’s lanky and long enough to keep defensive people and other point guards from harassing him, away from him. As he gets more comfortable with the verbiage, my words and playcalls, that it’s going to get better.

Would like to see more of J Rich as a point guard, but I really do think he’s going to be a good off-ball mover in this offense.

Furkan Korkmaz

You see the moments of offensive swagger in his game. You really do. He had a nice ball fake and half Euro step that drew some ooohs and ahhs from the crowd in the first quarter.

Defensively, you aren’t gonna learn anything about him in the preseason, and that happens to be the weakest part of his game. We’ll see if that’s improved this year, because he’s going to have to beat out James Ennis and Zhaire Smith and other more athletic wings for minutes.

Kyle O’Quinn

Did what he does. Grabbed some boards, played some defense, backed up Embiid with Horford out. He’ll play more minutes this year than most people realize.

Shake Milton

Couple of slashing type of moments for him at the rim. If he cracks the rotation this year, it will be as a two-guard.

Trey Burke

Seemed like he did less dribbling last night, tried to slow it down and run the offense, at least in the first half. When he did get downhill and attack the basket, he just seemed to pick his spots a little bit better.

Mike Scott

Quiet game for Scott, but you know what he is at this point.

Zhaire Smith, Jonah Bolden, Marial Shayok, Norvel Pelle, Raul Neto

Came off the bench to begin the fourth quarter, the first four guys, then Neto replaced Burke about halfway through.

It’s clear that Smith is out of favor right now, and I wonder how much of that is on him and how much of it is the fact that Thybulle has been really good so far. I love Pelle’s athleticism and I still think Neto is more of what the Sixers are looking for in a backup PG, a guy who facilitates and plays in a different style than Burke.

Pelle had one of the best garbage time performances of all time last night, ripping off a sequence in which he blocked a shot, flushed an alley oop, and then blocked another shot, which got the entire bench on its feet for the remainder of the game:

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It was cool to see, for real. It shows me that these guys really like each other, that they’ve really embraced the team mentality and that they’ve got a good thing going on behind the scenes.

Said Pelle:

It’s like a family base; a brotherhood. If one person does good, then everyone is happy. We feed off of that energy.

That’s just a little taste. It felt good though, the energy was good and I loved it.

Brown echoed that sentiment:

It’s a group that enjoys each other’s company and soon, there will be cuts that must have to be made and the team will be shrunk. While we have been together, it hasn’t been a long time, but it has been a good time. There is a growing respect that they have for one another. I really can’t say that we have had a bad day. I think we have had good days, whether it’s been a shoot around here or on the road. Shoot around or practice, I think we’re doing a good job of knocking out good days and I genuinely believe that they add up. The group genuinely respects one another ad it was shown in the way that they showed it with Norvel.

Just look at the bench reaction on these blocks:

One more note –

Brett Brown challenged a foul call last night and won. Here it is:

Brown on this:

Question: Do you feel good where you are with the coach’s challenge? You had a chance to do that again today.

Brown: We’re all learning. Right now we’re 2 for 2. I liked the one in Orlando better where we got a 2 for 1. You can call and challenge something, then there was 38 seconds on the clock, so the byproduct of being successful helped us. It was clear to me.

We were successful on this one and I lose a timeout and it’s a jump ball. Like, it doesn’t seem like ‘oh that’s a great challenge.’ So we’re learning about the leverage plays. Where do you get the most leverage? You don’t want to die with them at the end of the game, so I’m not all hung up on having one at the end of the game, like a timeout. But it’s about leverage plays. Maybe the leverage play is in the first period. I think the league, everybody’s learning. This is in test drive right now.

But I’m on the fence now with it, to be truthful. We’re all learning with it.

Brown went on to say that it’s hard to trust player input (since they always act like they never committed a foul). There’s a guy who sits behind the Sixers bench and helps with technology and gives notice when to challenge and when not to. Brett also pointed out that wifi is not the same in every arena, which is something they continue to test out and study. It’s about having an “equal advantage and equal resources,” which Brown says is still under review from their perspective.

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