Seven on the Sixers: Winning But Weird

No other team in the NBA could simultaneously draw the ire and disgust of national and local media members everywhere while also entering the all-star break on a three-game win streak, capped by an impressive win over the presumptive title favorite prior to the regular season.

Let’s take a look at how they did it.

1. Now THIS is How You Post Up

In last week’s column, I blasted Embiid and the offensive play calling for having the big guy simply wrestled for position down low without any creative setup, only to get out-maneuvered by Bam Adebayo. Now, I’m not saying that Brett Brown read my article … but this happened to be the very first play of the Sixers’ next game after I published my article.

No time is wasted as Shake Milton immediately sets a cross screen at the foul line to set Embiid up with deep post position on the already overmatched Luke Kornet. I also like how Joel didn’t do his plodding turn and face game, and rather attacked with a soft jump hook immediately.

You don’t need to try and break out Kevin McHale-esque moves when you already have a glaring girth advantage down low.

(Side note: Technically, Embiid is only listed as being 10 pounds heavier than Kornet, which from eye test alone I can already declare as the biggest indictment of all time against the official NBA health records).

2. Not Even Average Al

Horford was the target of much criticism following his zero-point outing against a very poor Chicago Bulls team in the team’s 118-111 win.

But I’m not as upset about that. Sure, it would be great if our starting power forward/backup center/eighth below-average shooter could contribute more in the most important statistical category there is, but we didn’t sign the veteran big man for that. We signed him to be a defensive-anchor, a savvy veteran presence and to inspire his teammates with his willingness to do the dirty work.

That’s what makes plays like these far more infuriating that any of his six missed field goal attempts.

It’s only poetic that the guy who capitalized on Horford’s laziness/lack of awareness was former Sixer Thaddeus Young, who never got the acclaim he deserved, but was appreciated by Philly faithful for his hustle and willingness to play in lesser role.

This former Liberty Ballers writer and Process-Truster summed it up best:

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Horford is shooting 32.6% from three, his worst percentage in a season where he’s attempted more than one three per game, and both his Offensive and Defensive Rating rank in the bottom-third of his per season marks throughout his 13-year NBA career.

The collective frustration accumulated to the point that Brown finally decided to bench the former five-time all star for a certain player were about to talk about here in a second. Horford played much better against the Clippers in a shorter stint, with nine points on a tidy three-for-four shooting performance. However, it speaks to how big of a problem this has been when you’re happy over a single-digit scoring performance from your big free agent acquisition.

Thank goodness only $97 million of his four-year, $109 million contract is guaranteed, Amirite???

3. The Korkmaz Pass Fake

In terms of mid-season stories that would have totally shocked me if you told me them before the season, Furkan Korkmaz becoming one of the Sixers’ best pieces and a beloved player amongst the fanbase might be number one.

The 6’7″ Turkish wing became the first Sixer to score 30 points in back-to-back games this season with 34 and 31 point eruptions against the Grizzlies and the Bulls respectively, a stat that makes me happy yet furious at the same time. He went a combined 13-of-20 from behind the arc in those games, and whether it was hitting simple spot-ups or pulling up for a 30-footer in transition, it just seemed like he couldn’t miss.

But I’m not going to waste your time simply rehashing all the threes he drained. Instead, I want to talk about something he did inside that precarious line that gives you an extra point per shot.

Last week, I detailed how Korkmaz’s funky form made him a worse off the dribble shooter than J.J. Redick, and thus was hurting Embiid due to the deterioration of the two-man game.

However, Korkmaz did something in that Bulls game off an Embiid-ball screen that Redick could not do nearly as well. He used his tall stature and attacked the lane for an easy layup.

Redick had his moments of tricky and cunning finishes near the hoop, but more often than not, if he ever stepped inside the paint he would be swallowed up by the length of NBA bigs. You wouldn’t confuse Korkmaz for an all-world athlete, but it matters that he’s a full four inches taller than Redick, and can elevate just enough to clear the trees inside the paint.

Also: that pass-fake was a subtle but beautiful touch that helped him move Luke Kornet out of the way at exactly the right time. It’s a direct pull from the Joe Ingles-playbook, and the more I thought about it, the more I hope Korkmaz can become like the Utah Jazz forward, who uses deadeye sharpshooting and slow but deceptive drives to be the engine to their offense.

Korkmaz still has a long way to go, as Ingles shoots over 40% from three, plays much better positional defense, and has perfected that pass-fake to the point that he can make All-NBA defenders look silly in the process.

Ingles isn’t a perfect player, but he’s proof that an unathletic 6’7″ forward can make it in this league, and if Korkmaz could turn himself into that kind of player for the Sixers, then we might really have something here.

4. So the Simmons and Embiid Combo Kind Of Works Now?

A big reason why Brown swapped big Al for Korkmaz was so that this very play could work better. While Furkan failed to score a single point in the win over Los Angeles, it’s undeniable that his presence (and Horford’s absence) opened up a play that had flopped so horribly that it was a subject of mockery in last week’s column.

Notice how Paul George and Marcus Morris are forced to remain above the break due to their respect for the shots of Korkmaz and Harris, and even Lou Williams, who would usually be the help-man in this situation, meanders outside the paint so he doesn’t get far enough away from a not-terrible outside shooter in Josh Richardson.

Given, Williams is one of the worst defenders in the league and probably could have played this better, but I still find it undeniable that this action has been helped the most by the team’s new-found spacing in the half-court.

This also wasn’t a one-off play that they were just experimenting with. It was their primary mode of attack the whole game.

Per Derek Bodner of The Athletic – “Synergy logged 34 pick-and-rolls for the Sixers in their game against the Clippers. This season, the Sixers have averaged 14 per game. Burks and Richardson certainly helped increase that number, but the Sixers also ran a bunch of snug pick-and-rolls with Embiid and Simmons.”

Stan Van Gundy was adamant on the national broadcast that the Clippers need to have Kawhi go underneath the Embiid-ball screen rather than playing switch defense.

While that’s the preferable strategy on a perimeter pick-and-roll where Simmons’ lack of shooting can be exploited by the defense, it doesn’t really work this close to the basket. As Zach Lowe said on his podcast with Pablo Torre, there just isn’t any room on the court for you go to under. Try that and you”ll end up behind the backboard as a 6’10” Australian locomotive rams the ball down on your head.

The only other option for the Clippers here might be to swap the slow-footed Ivica Zubac for the more nimble Montrezl Harrell. He certainly would have stood a better chance at stopping Simmons in this situation.

But as the Sixers planned in their moves this off-season, they can scrap that action and simply go to bully-ball, banking on the hope that the 6’7″ Harrel stands no chance out-muscling a near seven-footer in Joel Embiid.

For all the crap we’ve justifiably given Brett Brown, this play combined with the new starting five is a very enticing option moving forward.

5. Thybulle the Stretchy Octopus Man

Every time I watch a Clippers game, I end up retweeting this.

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I, as well as many other Sixers fans, are still feeling the pain from losing our sweet-shooting prince in the Tobias trade last year. It will never fully go away, but this play from our newly crowned rookie prince at least helped it subside.

First Pat Connaughton last week, now Shamet has been added to the collection of players that have been “Thybulled”, which is to have a seemingly wide open jumper, only for Matisse to unleash his tentacle-arms and meet the ball at its apex, leaving the poor shooter to ponder his very existence on the basketball court.

It’s unbelievable that this play ends in a blocked shot.

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At 3.5 steals per 100 possessions, Thybulle has the second best steal rate in the entire league, trailing only Chicago’s Kris Dunn.

Long live the Octopus man.

6. Oh, So THAT’S Why the Warriors Traded Alec Burks

I really liked the move the Sixers made at the deadline. It’s not like they had a lot of options. Embiid and Simmons are untouchable. None of the bench players had big enough contracts to be used insular dumps for picks. No competent general manager would touch the Horford and Harris contracts with a 39-and-a-half pole. Vlade Divac wouldn’t do it either.

So when I heard we were able to flip three meaningless second-round picks (a Hinkie special) for a 40% three-point shooter in Glenn Robinson III and a 16-point per game scorer in Alec Burks, I was delighted. Both guys are accurate-enough marksmen to hold their defenders close enough to them and create some of that precious space that the superstars of this team need.

But that begs the question, why did a franchise as smart as Golden State give them up for next to nothing. It did help them get under the luxury tax, and that draft capital at least has some value that might mean more to them than Robinson and Burks, but it still felt like they were selling low.

Robinson has been a pleasant edition, and Burks very well may turn out that way. But I’m not too optimistic after watching him jack long, contested twos repeatedly in his debut against the Clippers.

It’s not that Burks is a total zero. He’s an enticing option as a pick-and-roll ball handler, as Tom West detailed in his fantastic breakdown for Liberty Ballers. I just am really bothered when the team’s fifth-best player on the court decides to take a stop your momentum and re-gather shot with 13 seconds left on the shot clock, rather than pulling it back out and working for something better.

Two other possessions ended in similar veins to this one, and left me with the impression of Burks as a ball-dominant chucker, which is not exactly what a team with chemistry problems needs.

I wholeheartedly hope that I’m wrong about this, but for now, I remain uneasy about his place on this team.

7. This Week in Unnecessary Sixers’ Drama

I know that I dedicated this column to being focused not the X’s and O’s rather than hot takes and social media highlight garbage, but this storyline is too important to ignore in the context of this week.

It started as Sixers fans booed Joel Embiid and head coach Brett Brown at home on Sunday night.

Then this happened.

Okay, so it’s not great that he did that, but on the surface it doesn’t look too bad. Who knows? Maybe he wasn’t shushing the home crowd. Maybe Luke Kornet is secretly a renowned trash talker and JoJo just wanted him to shut up after his thunderous dunk.

(Looks at Kornet’s body type and demeanor, thinks about some more … Yeah, probably not, but this still isn’t something we need to make a big deal about, right?)

Game almost over, Embiid hits a dagger three, and it should be nothing but warm feelings all around.

Nope.

Embiid again shushes the crowd before yelling “Shut the (expletive) up,” then claims post-game that he was only talking to himself and that he, “Doesn’t care how it looks,” and that he’s just focused on having fun out there.

At least it can’t get any worse, right? (Right?!?!? Right?!?!?)

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Why can’t we ever just be a normal team?

Of course, Joel supposedly patched things up with the Philly fans following his dominant performance in the Clippers’ game. We can argue whether that was genuine or not.

But we can’t argue is that this recent outburst from Embiid was troubling and in no way helps a team that had strong championship aspirations coming into the season.

More to come next week, barring a random Embiid offseason trade-demand/threat over all-star break, which will be followed by me slamming my head inside of a door for consecutive hours.

Happy trails!

 

 

 

One thought on “Seven on the Sixers: Winning But Weird

  1. George A Priestley

    Could not agree more about your Thaddeus Young comment – always thought he was a great player for the Sixers. Would love to see Landry Shamet and Lou Williams back in town!

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