Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have only played for one NBA head coach – Brett Brown.
Brett’s system was unique by modern pro basketball standards, considering the fact that his teams always finished near the very bottom in pick and roll possessions each season. There was very little isolation and he ran a base motion offense predicated on passing the ball, featuring hard hand-offs, off-ball screening, double staggers, and other related concepts. Brett preferred organic basketball and didn’t like calling plays.
Doc Rivers is not the same coach, and you’re going to see more traditional pick and roll sets in his offense. You’ll see less of the DHOs that fans grew to hate, even though the Embiid/JJ Redick hand-off became borderline elite once those guys started to click. You’ll see a more structured game with Rivers inserting himself more from the sidelines, at least early on as he tries to bring along a new team in the middle of a pandemic with a shortened offseason.
I asked him about that on Tuesday, the idea that Ben and Joel have only played for one coach, and if that presents a learning curve for this transition:
Doc Rivers: Yeah, there will be. It’s too bad that we’re (having to do it under these circumstances), with the short amount of time. We’ll be very careful in what we do so that we don’t overthink this. I don’t want them out on the floor thinking right now. We have some time together. But I guarantee we will run more pick and rolls. And I guarantee you’ll see more pick and rolls with Ben and Joel in them. But I like a lot of the stuff they ran in the past, too. They had some pretty good movement stuff. We want to make sure that, because of this shortened preseason, camp, and quick first game, that we don’t try to do too much. We want to make them as comfortable as possible.
Crossing Broad: As a quick follow-up, do you think you can do with Tobias Harris a lot of the stuff you did with him in Los Angeles, but with this roster here?
Doc Rivers: Yeah. I think it’s almost easier in some stretches. Tobias and I have obviously talked a ton since me taking the job. The first thing we have to get him back to being is a quick decision player. I told him that I saw him dribbling way too much. Tobias is so darn skilled going downhill both left and right, and we need to get back to taking advantage of that.
First, it’s good to hear that they will run more pick and roll this year, especially with Harris, who enjoyed his best basketball under Rivers and shot 42% from three prior to his Philadelphia trade.
Playing for Rivers as a combo 4/3 type of guy, Tobias put up these pick and roll ball handler numbers in the 55 games he played for Los Angeles in 2018:
- Points per possession: 0.99
- frequency: 26.6%
- percentile: 86.9
- field goal percentage: 49.3 (better than Lillard and Harden)
That’s what you need to get back to with Harris. Pick and roll as a ball handler, identifying mismatches, and then making the quick and obvious decision.
Second, it’s good to hear that Doc likes some the Sixers movement “stuff” from the past, because that’s what Ben and Joel are most familiar with. The question is more or less about what concepts are worth keeping, and what concepts should be left on the shelf.
A few examples:
I’ve always liked Brett’s “12” play, which really is less of a pick and roll is more like a brush cut with secondary rifle action built in:
You saw that play about a million times over the last few years. The screener can slip, shoot, or play the corner as a second option. If the defense blows the initial screen, the ball handler, typically Simmons, gets a free run at the rim.
Brett also used double staggers in a variety of ways as well, and not always with JJ Redick flying around the corner like a madman.
In this play here, they set up a stagger, but push Josh Richardson through the “elevator doors” instead for a cut to the basket:
Wrap your shooting guard around a couple of big bodies and the defender gets lost in traffic.
Even going back to the T.J. McConnell days, you’d sometimes see these pistol looks where they’d get into the motion early and set these high screens as sort of a wrinkle on their base “A to B” motion offense:
There’s a lot film for Doc Rivers to dig through. Ben and Joel have played in Brett’s motion offense for the entirety of their NBA careers, and only recently did they play in a slightly different style, which was predicated on the fact that the Sixers roster just didn’t match Brett’s philosophies. They were slow, lumbering, and not built to play the base offense that was successful with guys like Redick, Dario Saric, and Robert Covington (aka shooters).
We’ll explore this throughout the season as Rivers grabs the reigns and tries to mold this team into a title contender.