Portland tonight. Without Joel Embiid. Remember the last time the Sixers played in Portland without Joel?? It was the infamous Jimmy Butler yelled at Brett Brown and the Sixers went on to get blown out and embarrassed. But! But, this year is different. And I am going to try my best to explain why.
First off, the Blazers are hurt. Nurkic, Whiteside, Collins, and Gasol are all out. That’s 4 bigs. And we all know the addition of Horford and KOQ were exactly for this reason. But the main difference in my opinion is the defensive ability the Sixers have to guard guards. Jrich, Matisse, and Ben have proven that they can no defend guards, although DRose dropped 30 or something but other than that night they have done a really good job at limiting guard play.
Another interesting point to me is how the offense is ran without Joel. And the addition of the Ben Simmons and Al Horford pick and pop. Late in the Detroit game we saw them go to this a few times. Something that in previous years Brett Brown has been criticized for not using. But this year, and what I saw in the Pistons game seems much different.
So this is a pretty simple PnP, something basketball fans have seen a lot. And as a Sixers fan we have seen Al hit this shot numerous times. In big situations, and I always hated it. Made me so mad because you knew he was going to make it. But now I love it haha.
First off, Al is such a good screener, it really is one of the most underrated skills in the NBA. Since he is so good at it, the defense really has to pick their poison. You can switch and have a big guard Ben off the dribble or double Ben and make Al hit that shot. Either or its pretty devastating to a defense. The defense can also bring help from whatever side Ben drives too. Which see here is his left, but you have Mike Scott in the corner and Tobias creeping up for a catch and shoot 3. Both players are more than capable of making that shot. So with Ben”s passing ability the defense has a tough decision to make. Even if you help from the wing, and then rotate one simple swing pass and the Sixers have an open 3. It can be a very damaging play.
Here is the same play. Same set up. Scott coming baseline ready for a catch and shoot 3 from the corner, and Tobias creeping up to be ready to shoot if his man helps. This time, though because the defense was just beat by a Horford wide open 3, Drummond reacts running out to the shooter (Horford). Al and his incredibly high basketball IQ, knows he can get Drummond on his heels and blows right by him for an easy lay up. Same concept applies if someone comes to deny Al an easy lay up. Drummond out of the play means someone is going to be open. So Al is a smart enough and good enough passer to find the open man if need be. When the Sixers shooter click, and they run this play, realistically its almost un-guardable. This is something pretty new to this year the Sixers can do.
Not that the Sixers couldn’t run this with Embiid, but at this point in their careers Al is just a smarter player with more experience in the pick and pop. Remember Joel is relatively new to Basketball, and in his career whether college or pro, I’m not sure he has a ton of experience in the PnR or PnP game. It takes time for both players involved to learn their roles perfectly.
Obviously you can’t just pick and pop all game long. They are still going to run some DHO’s and some other half court sets. But I would love to see this integrated more into the offense, especially with Joel being out.
This team is still going to compete with their identity. They aren’t going to turn into the Rockets with PnR and PnP. It’s Defense first. Create live ball turnovers and missed shots into fast break points and points off turnovers. And second chance points. I’d expect the Sixers to dominate the offensive glass, as they had this season, especially with the Blazers missing so many bigs.
Also I think we will see them continue to pick out mismatches and get guys in the post. Bully Ball is going to be what this team does. And they have the players that when switched to a mismatch can score in the post.
My keys to tonight’s game and things to watch for:
- Ben Simmons aggressiveness. Ben has started out most games attacking the rim, but something I want to keep an eye on is if he gets fouled early and misses FTs early. Very uneducated guess for me, but noticed a few times when he backed off is when his FT shot was off.
- This team will continue to only go as far as Ben takes them with Joel out. I don’t know if he will shoot. But that is what it is at this point. Attack, get out in transition and go down hill. Make smart passes and get teammates involved. And FT% and finishing at the rim are key for his game. He starts shooting FTs better and finishes, his confidence will build and he can be a dominate force.
- Limit turnovers.
- They are going to have to limit/shut down one of Portland’s guards. To me it doesn’t matter if it is Dame or if it is CJ. Can’t have both of them go off.
- Balance scoring. Nobody needs to be a hero, doesn’t matter if one guy has more than the other. But if they can get starters into double digits, and bench to have a solid game scoring wise they will be ok. Pretty much it should be the same goal for every game honestly.
- I would like to see Matisse keep shooting. See if he can build some confidence on offense when he see the ball start going in. He starts to be a threat from 3 he becomes a real danger for the league.
- And Furkan. I want to see if he can build confidence off the other night. Get into a rhythm and hit a couple shots. He has tried on defense and made a few plays or 2. Will never be the best but if he is just ok, this team can hide his deficiencies.
I think, and it may be contrary to some belief, the Sixers win tonight. I think it’s hard to see because as fans we are very used to such a drop off without Joel. Especially after that horrible game in Portland last year. But this is an entirely new team, with an entirely new identity. And it is going to take some time for some of us to get used to, but they are really good. Really Really good in this fans opinion. And I think it is time we get used to it. If the Sixers can go into Portland without Joel and get a W, should help some of us out feeling better about how good this team is.