The Sixers aren’t losers anymore. The bandwagon is overflowing. Multiple potential superstars line the roster. The team sold out its initial allotment of season tickets. The new world-class practice facility draws rave reviews from every player on the roster as camp kicks off. Legitimate NBA players are competing for minutes throughout the entire roster.
Gone are the days of fringe NBA players trying not to give away their shots. Gone are the brick-layers of yesteryear. Some vestiges of that era remain - here’s to Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell for kicking down their proverbial doors into the NBA - but most of the roster are well-established athletes or are high draft picks with the pedigree to be great someday. Also, Jahlil Okafor is still around, but even he’s turned a new leaf.
It’s a new day, yes it is. And we’re going to celebrate it in our player previews, which will focus on the change in the air, the new faces, and the old faces in new era of Sixers basketball. We’ll compare and contrast the old and the new, though the writers here might change the format up day-by-day. Today, we start out with a new face in J.J. Redick, who has $23 million reasons to be happy in Philadelphia and help take the Sixers from good to great. Can Redick be as effective without being flanked by two of the best players in the NBA?
J.J. Redick played in a situation almost ideally suited for his talents. In Los Angeles for the LA-not-Los-Angeles Clippers, Doc Rivers used Redick’s off-ball movement alongside three other great NBA players to trigger almost-unstoppable half court offensive sets. Chris Paul’s departure broke up what was supposed to be a championship contender, which was sadly derailed by injuries and playoff disappointments before the Warriors rose to power.
LA routinely outscored opponents by double-digits per 100 possessions, per basketball-reference.com, when the Chris Paul-Redick-Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan foursome took the floor. The three most common lineups with those four were +15 (+Luc Mbah a Moute, actual friend of the Process and The Process), +13 (+Jamal Crawford), and +17 (+Austin Rivers) with over 1,000 minutes played.
What made LA so dangerous with Redick and company was that they could crisply execute sets and generate open shots even when the defenses could prepare for the plays. The Clippers hammered home the same base sets over and over again. Redick being an effective scorer off screens, paired with two of the best screening bigs in the NBA, sprung open jumpers off pin-downs.
While dated a couple of years, this breakdown by Clips Nation gets into the heart of what Redick can do. When a defender fails to trail Redick around screens and maintain position as he magellans his way through a labyrinth of his teammates, the result is an open jumper from a top 5 shooter on the planet. Trailing Redick too closely opens up scoring opportunities for his teammates, whether via jumper or layup.
The defensive attention span paid to Redick opened up easy opportunities for almost everyone else on the Clippers. Even with a mostly useless fifth player on offense, the Clippers blitzed opponents.
But the Clippers never reached the conference finals with Redick and Paul, a disappointment after lofty expectations in Lob City. Injuries, especially to Blake Griffin, played a huge role in that, along with a razor thin bench. The Clippers also struggled to defend teams with multiple threats. DeAndre Jordan was a solid if unspectacular defensive center - awards nominations be damned, there’s no actual evidence to the contrary - and Paul is an all-time great defensive guard.
Redick always posed a challenge on defense for the Clippers, as while his effort was never an issue, his size was. Redick is one of a few NBA players with a shorter measured wingspan than his height - and Redick is only 6’4” - and having him on the court necessitated having a defensive-minded wing alongside him, even if there was little offensive value to gain from that player. LA never found a competent two-way player to pair with Redick, which ultimately hurt the team on both ends of the court.
Especially against good teams, the Clippers struggled to hide Redick. The Warriors wiped the Clippers out over the past two seasons, especially once Kevin Durant replaced Harrison Barnes, because Redick had to defend a much bigger opponent who could score over him.
The Clippers’ core played together for four seasons, which allowed for the team’s chemistry to brood and for the players to familiarize themselves with one another. The only projected Sixers starters to ever play a game alongside one another are Robert Covington and Joel Embiid, exactly 31 times. The changes may cause turbulence, and executing Brett Brown’s offense crisply should be a challenge for a particularly young team early in the season.
Redick is a known entity at this point. He’s a career 41.5% three point shooter on a high volume of high-difficulty shots, a deadly shooter coming off of pindowns and backscreens. He can defend people his size and gives solid effort, but he’ll almost always be a liability. That won’t change. The players around him will help determine his effectiveness, and in doing so will need to learn specific skills to help free Redick up.
The first thing Sixers bigs need to learn is how to hold their position on screens, and learn how to get away with moving on them. Of the bigs on the roster, Joel Embiid, Amir Johnson, and Emeka Okafor are solid screen-setters. Simmons prefers to slip screens (and take possession of the basketball back from the guard). Holmes and Dario do the same, as they’re usually popping to 20+ feet or rolling to the rim. Jahlil Okafor has made about as much screen contact with defenders over two seasons as he has with meat this summer. I’m pretending Kris Humphries doesn’t exist.
The screener has almost as much responsibility in getting Redick freed as Redick himself. The best screeners should create the best opportunities for Redick to score or demand additional attention.
Expecting Markelle Fultz or T.J. McConnell to operate with the surgical precision of Chris Paul isn’t reasonable. But they’ll need to deliver passes into Redick’s shooting pocket as he comes off screens. The same goes for Simmons, but he more visibly has those passing skills.
The Sixers have pieces to run reasonable facsimile of the Clippers’ offense as time moves along. Covington offers more effective shooting outside the corners than Luc Mbah a Moute. Embiid can do everything DeAndre Jordan can and much, much more on both offense and defense.
Ben Simmons, meanwhile, more and more resembles Blake Griffin every time I see him take the court. Simmons is not as explosive an athlete as Griffin, but he does seem to have better court vision and passing ability, even as Griffin is one of the better passing big men the NBA has ever seen.
Bryan Colangelo signed Redick with the idea that he’ll help the Sixers take off to the next level, even if he might not be in Philadelphia when the team finds postseason success. If the Sixers can create anything like a Clippers-style offense in a single season, it’ll be a successful one. Since Redick is what he is, that will largely depend on how his teammates execute.