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Sixers’ ball movement, three-point shooting leading to success

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Sixers are moving and shooting the ball well, and it showed on their most recent road trip.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

During the Philadelphia 76ers’ 97-79 win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night, they put on an absolute clinic in ball movement. The Sixers offense, led by near triple-double attainer T.J. McConnell, tallied 378 passes to Detroit’s 261, and the difference was certainly noticeable.

Detroit spent most of their evening playing isolation basketball, rarely moving the rock while settling for quick and ill-advised shots, leading them to shoot 39 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from beyond the arc.

On the other hand, Philadelphia displayed an unselfish brand of basketball, shifting the Pistons porous defense at their will until an open look was created.

The Sixers finished the game shooting nearly 56 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from three, and their penchant to move the rock certainly played a large role in that.

Back in September, Brett Brown mentioned that this current Sixers roster was the best passing team he’s had since taking over in 2013, and even without playmaking extraordinaire Ben Simmons, that sentiment still rings true. Philadelphia passes the ball an average of 355.3 times per game, the most in the NBA. While they’ve always been top five in that category since Brown’s first season, the Sixers have finally constructed a roster with a good balance in both shot creation and perimeter shooting, and that’s beginning to correlate statistically.

More passes, more points.

Season Passes Per Game Assists Assist Points Created 3P%
Season Passes Per Game Assists Assist Points Created 3P%
2016-17 355.3 22.7 55.9 36.2
2015-16 332.4 21.5 52.1 33.9
2014-15 327.4 20.5 49.5 32
Sixers shooting and passing has improved. Courtesy of NBA.com/stats Jake Pavorsky

The beauty of this Sixers team (and I use beauty loosely) is that both the starting five and the bench unit are comprised with pieces that complement each other offensively. Sergio Rodriguez is 11th in the NBA in assists per game, and McConnell doesn’t skip a beat when he steps on the floor, as displayed on a larger scale against Detroit. Off the ball, Dario Saric has displayed the court awareness that led to people labeling him as a point forward, Nik Stauskas (who ran the point at Michigan) has posted at least four assists in four of the last six games, and even Joel Embiid has displayed a knack for passing. Philadelphia also has seven guys on the roster shooting above 35 percent from three on at least two attempts per game, a feat that was unfathomable in previous years.

What’s working for the Sixers in their past two games is the ability to play inside out. Philadelphia’s ball handlers are effectively penetrating into the paint, collapsing the defense before kicking out to shooters. Here’s Saric using the pick-and-roll to suck in all five Pistons before finding Robert Covington for an easy straight away three.

Early in the fourth quarter, Stauskas blows past Ish Smith, attracting the attention of Marcus Morris, who opted not to follow Gerald Henderson across the lane in order to help protect the rim. Stauskas makes the correct read by passing it to a wide open Henderson on the opposite wing, who baits Tobias Harris before swinging it to Ersan Ilyasova for three.

Perhaps the most impressive ball movement of the night actually came on a play where a basket wasn’t the end result, but the key here is how the Sixers quick passing put the Pistons defense in scramble mode.

Once again, keep an eye on Morris, who is supposed to be guarding Hollis Thompson. Saric gets dribble penetration, sinking Ish Smith into the lane before whipping a pass to Stauskas, and Nik uses Smith’s hard closeout to attack the rim himself. Aron Baynes slides across the lane to take on Stauskas, leading Nik to find an open Nerlens Noel in the paint. Leuer helping on Noel forces Morris to cover Saric, who alertly realizes that Thompson is wide open for a shot of his own.

Philadelphia’s focus on both penetrating the lane and making the extra pass will have defenses dashing around the court to cover their teammates, and eventually the open shots will present themselves.

This sequence here against the New Orleans Pelicans in an important fourth quarter possession is another example of that. Watch how they toy with the shape of the Pelicans defense, repeatedly compacting and then stretching them out until it results in a Stauskas three.

The same result was achieved on the play that iced the game for the Sixers, although this time Philadelphia was aided by a smart Covington cut through the lane that attracted the attention of multiple Pelicans.

Philadelphia’s roster may have needed some time to click after so much turnover the past six months, but they seem to be finally clicking after 20-plus games of figuring out each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The team still has its fair share of problems, but their passing and perimeter shooting will continue to keep them in games until the final buzzer. It’s certainly a step in the right direction for a team riding high off a successful road trip.