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When the Sixers Lose, There’s Blame to go Around

Kevin Kinkead - March 7, 2019

Alright.

Let’s talk about Brett Brown and everything else that went wrong last night.

I’ll frame the article with this disclaimer:

One of the things that bugs me about Philadelphia sports fandom is that we tend to narrow our focus when looking to assign blame. For whatever reason, we insist on pinpointing one specific thing or one specific person when seeking accountability or trying to explain what went wrong over the course of a 60 or 48 minute game. We do it in football, when we say “the offense deserves the blame!” or “the defense deserves the blame!” or “the refs deserve the blame!” While identifiable mistakes might tip the scales towards one or more of those phases of the game, you know as well as I do that there is typically blame to go around when you suffer a bad loss in any sport. It’s very rarely ever on just one person or boiled down to one play.

To that point, there was a lot that went wrong in Chicago last night.

I watched the final five minutes of the game three times this morning and wrote down these bullet point problems:

  1. Robin Lopez was getting offensive rebounds against Mike Scott, who was playing center in the Sixers’ small ball look.
  2. The field goal drought went from 7:10 on the clock to the 3:29 mark. The only points they scored in that time frame were two Ben Simmons free throws.
  3. JJ Redick bad pass turnover looking for Scott
  4. some easy pick and roll switches put Zach LaVine in mismatches against Scott (the bigger, macro-level issue here is that the Sixers still really struggle against good guards)
  5. Redick misses wide-open three after Harris offensive rebound
  6. There was a defensive sequence where Redick got switched onto Lauri Markkanen, Tobias Harris got lost, and Otto Porter was wide-open for a game-tying three-pointer.
  7. Ben Simmons offensive foul while trying to set a screen (kind of a weird call)
  8. Butler offensive foul (I don’t know if this was an over the back, I thought he actually made a good play on the ball)
  9. Simmons lost the ball while driving 1v3 for some reason after a brilliant steal on the defensive end
  10. Scott’s foul on Lopez, which I’m not sure was a foul. He did get some forearm on him before the shot was taken.
  11. Blown switch on LaVine’s game-winning basket
  12. I didn’t like the final play call (the first one). Not sure if Ben was supposed to go to Harris there, but Butler was the target, he was closest to the rim, and his momentum was taking him away from the basket. On the second one, they didn’t run anybody at the rim at all and tried to get Jimmy on a heave.

Thoughts on those bullets after the jump:

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Rambo Jimmy Butler – Observations from Sixers 114, Magic 106

Kevin Kinkead - March 6, 2019

Things got a little hairy last night when the Sixers suffered a five-minute scoring drought smack in the middle of the fourth quarter.

Then Jimmy Butler, looking like Rambo and/or Jrue Holiday with an extra long headband, hit a fadeaway jumper and a James Harden step back while adding a steal on the other end and stripping Nik Vucevic on the following defensive possession.

It was a “what the hell?” type of moment, at least for me. Here was Butler, who had only attempted eight field goals to that point, hitting a couple of incredibly difficult mid-range jump shots while clamping down on the defensive end, as if somebody just flicked a light switch or turned their front burner from “low” to “high.”

When Mike Scott’s three-pointer went in with 49 seconds on the clock, the game was essentially over:

Butler gave one of his classic quirky press conferences after the game, coming out to the table alongside Amir Johnson for what he claimed was “moral support.” He didn’t want to answer our questions, not in an asshole-type of way, but in more of a “I just don’t have much to say” type of way.

But we asked anyway, and got this exchange out of him:

Crossing Broad: Jimmy this late game role –

Butler: Pffff, I just said I wasn’t answering questions.

Crossing Broad: Nah, hey, it’s two ways here. You had a big game, you gotta answer questions.

Butler: I didn’t do nothing.

Crossing Broad: You didn’t hit two jumpers and you didn’t have two big defensive plays at the end of the game?

Butler: I can’t remember (laughs).

Crossing Broad: You only took eight shots up until that point. When your number is called, is it difficult to be the closer when you really haven’t taken that many shots throughout the game?

Butler: Nah, I think I know when my number is gonna get called. I’m cool with it. I understand my role. Just gotta make shots late in the game. That’s why I’m here. Just happy that we can win.

Serena Winters: When you say that you understand your role and when your number is being called, what is that role?

Butler: For sure late in the game I think my teammates and coaches have a lot of confidence in me to take and make shots late. That’s all I’m worried about. I hope we never get into that situation anyways, but if we do, I feel like a lot of the times I’m gonna be called upon to make some shots.

Of course you’re probably wondering where Butler was for the previous 45 minutes, and I think that’s been a question over the last few games. He’s been oddly deferential, has he not? It’s one thing for Jimmy to be a good teammate and share the ball and play defense and glue everything together, but the other side of the coin is that he’s totally capable of putting up 30 points on any given night, when he’s really dialed in and assertive.

Brett Brown had more to say about Butler flipping that switch late in the fourth quarter, after the jump:

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“I Will Coach Aggressively” – Brett Brown Explains Thought Process Behind Intentionally Missed Free Throw

Kevin Kinkead - March 4, 2019

Brett Brown sounded like Doug Pederson on Monday.

That’s not a bad thing, right?

We’re talking about different sports though, and while basketball situations certainly are not perfectly congruent to football situations, the macro-level ideas are typically the same. In channeling Pederson, Brett Brown said he wanted to be aggressive Saturday night when asking Ben Simmons to intentionally miss his second free-throw attempt while down by two points with 10 seconds remaining on the clock.

It seemed like a head-scratcher at the time, since the most common practice in that situation would be to attempt to make the second free throw, cut the lead to one, and then foul Golden State as soon as possible. You would then have 6-8 seconds to come down the court and get off a shot, being unable to advance the ball without a timeout.

What’s the higher percentage play?

Is it missing the free throw and going for the rebound and put back? Or is it traveling the length of the floor to try to spring a decent look?

I asked Brett on Monday about the data supporting his decision, and whether the analytics steered him in any specific direction the other night:

“I’m glad you brought that up and I thought you would. This is what you should all hear – I will coach aggressively. I will coach aggressively. Is it reckless or is it just a calculated risk at times? It’s gonna be a calculated risk. When I look on the floor and I have a 57% free throw shooter, with no timeouts, we don’t have Joel Embiid, it’s a stage of the game that I think we can steal something. They didn’t have DeMarcus (Cousins) on the floor. We subbed and brought Jonah Bolden on the floor. So at that point, it’s like an onside kick, you start the second half with an onside kick and maybe that works or maybe that doesn’t and you’re either a hero or a goat.

My point is, when we study it, and I have a gut feel on something, you judge the situation and you’re playing the NBA champs at home – with all those types of things, and they wouldn’t have expected it – then I’m gonna do it. We’ll live with the consequences. Normally if you’ve got a timeout, or JJ Redick at the line, you know, you’re not going to do it. So under those circumstances I did it. I’ll do it again. In relation to what the numbers say, it’s too vague, it’s mist to the question you’re asking because there’s too many events surrounding what I just said. Without getting into all those iterations again, that’s why I did it.”

There’s your explanation, which is fair to me. I think the consideration of Ben Simmons as a below-average foul shooter certainly plays into the decision to miss intentionally instead of relying on him to make two in a row.

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How Does Bryce Harper Fare at the Other NL East Ballparks?

Kevin Kinkead - March 4, 2019

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how well Bryce Harper hits at Citizens Bank Park.

In 179 career at bats, he has a .930 on-base plus slugging percentage to go along with 48 hits, 14 home runs and 32 RBI. Those are great numbers in a ballpark which now serves as his home stadium.

One of the quirks of staying in the National League East is that Harper has familiarity with the other parks he’ll be frequenting over the next 13 years, should he play out the entirety of his $330 million contract.

Here’s how he’s done at other NL East parks over the years, with dimensions and park factors courtesy of Swish Analytics:

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Failing to Execute When It Matters – Observations from Warriors 120, Sixers 117

Kevin Kinkead - March 3, 2019

What the hell just happened?” I thought to myself after the final buzzer sounded on Saturday night.

The Sixers had inexplicably fouled Kevin Durant before trying and failing to execute an intentionally missed free throw with 10+ seconds on the clock. Then Tobias Harris caught the ball out of play on a last minute inbound attempt and the game was over. The whole thing felt like a blur after both teams spent most of the fourth quarter trading baskets.

More than any of those specific situations down the stretch, I thought the bigger disappointment, and the real reason for the loss, was the fact that the Sixers missed five straight shots from 2:43 in the fourth quarter until 0:38, when Harris knocked down a three-pointer to cut the Warriors’ six-point lead in half.  JJ Redick had previously missed a floater and a wide-open three-pointer as the Sixers stumbled to the finish line.

At 117-114, Mike Scott, who played a hell of a game last night, bizarrely fouled Durant to put the Warriors on the line with 35 seconds remaining.

Brett Brown confirmed post game that Scott was not told to foul, and Scott took ownership of the play while not exactly explaining why he did what he did:

I have no excuse. I’m not one for excuses. Just gotta be better. Easier said than done.

Just wasn’t good. Better execution, and that’s on me. I don’t have nothing for you, just gotta be better.

The Sixers were able to cut the lead the three, then won the ball back on a brilliant defensive play by T.J. McConnell, gaining possession under their own basket with 19 seconds left.

At that point, Ben Simmons walked the ball up the floor, the Sixers looked to get into a play with Harris and Redick but could not spring either player, then Golden State ultimately fouled at the 10 second mark to send Simmons to the line. After making the first free throw, Simmons was instructed to miss the second, which he certainly did, but committed a violation by failing to hit the rim.

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Some Hairy Moments, But a Really Nice Win – Observations from Sixers 108, Thunder 104

Kevin Kinkead - March 1, 2019

In a battle of teams missing their best players, the 76ers’ “supporting cast” got the job done.

I put “supporting cast” in quotation marks because that group is comprised of All-Star Ben Simmons, four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, and a future All-Star in Tobias Harris.

Nice win in Oklahoma City, and only deserving of a half-asterisk, in my mind. Sure, Paul George wasn’t available, but the Sixers played on the road without Joel Embiid and Boban Marjanovic and found a way to beat the Thunder for the first time since November of 2008. Furthermore, it was their first road win against OKC since they were actually the Seattle Supersonics. Philly had never won a game in Oklahoma City, ever.

You can thank Harris for that, because he was phenomenal on the night, his best performance in a Sixers uniform. Tobias finished with 32 points on 11-19 shooting while dropping in 5 of 7 three point attempts and going 5-5 from the foul line. He added 5 rebounds and 3 assists, plus a steal and a block while turning the ball over just once and committing only two personal fouls.

His biggest contribution was a borderline insane 4th quarter sequence where he made four consecutive clutch plays, and that’s where I’d like to pick it up, with 5:06 on the clock and OKC having clawed back to tie the game at 93. I want to start here because as we near the playoffs, the most important topic is going to be the end of the fourth quarter and how Brett Brown and his players execute in tight half-court offense situations.

Four Harris sequences more or less won the Sixers the game:

  1. a spot up corner three (Sixers 96/OKC 93)
  2. a brilliant rotation and block on Steven Adams, resulting in offensive basket interference (Sixers 96/OKC 93)
  3. a difficult bully ball floater over Dennis Schroder (Sixers 98/OKC 93)
  4. a pull-up three pointer (Sixers 101/OKC 93)

It was incredibly fun to watch in real time, an 8-0 Tobias Harris run that took us from 5:06 on the clock to 2:56 and gave the Sixers an eight point lead.

Take your pick of clips from those four plays. I’ll go with this one:

Hell of a feed from Ben right there.

But it got sloppy after that, really sloppy, and we’ll talk about it after the jump:

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David Montgomery Would Look Really Good in Eagle Green

Kevin Kinkead - February 28, 2019

Let’s take a break from the Bryce Harper madness. Let’s get it back to the Eagles.

Yesterday, NJ.Com’s Mike Kaye reported that the Birds met with Iowa State running back David Montgomery, which got me excited. It got me excited because I watched Montgomery annihilate my West Virginia Mountaineers on more than one occasion.

As such, you need to be wary when judging a player on a small or specific sample size. Likewise, the Celtics own the Sixers but can’t seem to beat anybody else worth a damn as they slump to 37-25 and a disappointing 5th place in the Eastern Conference.

What I like about Montgomery is that he’s a downhill runner and phenomenal tackle breaker, a no-nonsense type of player. I hate to say it, but he really strikes me as a “Philly guy.”

But before getting into specifics, let me back it up a minute and with a couple of contextual notes:

  1. The Eagles pick 25th overall. I think we’re all in agreement that a defensive lineman would be the right choice with this selection. It’s a very deep draft at DT and DE, so you’re gonna have starting-quality talent fall to the late 1st round in both positions.
  2. The Eagles definitely need a running back. Right now you’ve got Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, and Boston Scott on the roster, plus Corey Clement returning from injury. Darren Sproles is a free agent and his status remains up in the air.
  3. Beyond the 25th pick, the Birds have a pair of late second rounders and a fourth. For our purposes, let’s assume they’d make a RB pick with one of those three selections, which means Josh Jacobs (Bama) and Damien Harris (Bama) are both off the board. Devin Singletary (FAU) and Benny Snell (Kentucky) are considered the other top five ball carrying prospects in this draft.

Montgomery, then, pre-combine, is projected to go anywhere from late second round to somewhere in the fourth. Most mock drafts I see have Jacobs coming off the board in the late 1st, then Harris as an early 2nd rounder, followed by various arrangements of Singletary, Snell, and Montgomery. All of that will likely change as we go through testing in Indianapolis.

The 21-year-old junior is listed at 5’10”, 222 pounds and comes off of consecutive 1,000 yard rushing seasons at Iowa State, as you can see after the jump:

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Catching Up With Travis Konecny Ahead of Tonight’s Game

Russ Joy - February 26, 2019

It’s been a whirlwind 72 hours since the Flyers’ 4-3 OT win over the Penguins at the Linc. The uncertainty surrounding Wayne Simmonds’ status with the organization ahead of Monday’s trade deadline was palpable. Ultimately, Simmonds was traded in a last-minute deal that reunites him with former head coach Peter Laviolette in Nashville. With the team poised for a stretch run of 20 games – 7 points behind both Carolina and Pittsburgh, and one behind Buffalo – I wanted to get some insight from one of the team’s young stars: Travis Konecny.

Travis Konecny said of the recently-departed Wayne Simmonds:

“First of all, losing Simmie… it’s tough to see a guy like that go. He’s been a great teammate to everyone here and a big part of the organization and our leadership group.”

I asked if the void left by Simmonds’ departure could be an opportunity for him to step up as a leader on the team:

“I’m not saying I’m gonna step in and be a leader in that way, ya know, I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team… Not necessarily lead, but kinda play my role that way. If it’s my night to get the guys going, and use my speed and my abilities to lead, then I’ll do that, but I’m not looking at it like it’s an opportunity for me. It’s upsetting to lose Simmie, but coming back for us, Hartsy’s a good addition to our team.”

On whether the team is approaching the next few games with an increased sense of urgency because of where they are in the standings:

“It’s another game. There’s definitely more at stake in these games at this time of year, cause you can’t afford to lose the points, but I don’t think anyone’s coming into this game like it’s any different from any other game. It’s hard to explain, but I haven’t overthought this game one bit. I just know I gotta do my job and that’s all I can control.”