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The Sixers could draw on Lob City’s offense to utilize Fultz and Simmons

What Brett Brown could take away from the Clippers of yesterday.

NBA: Preseason-Memphis Grizzlies at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

During the Sixers’ media day (Sept. 21st), Brett Brown was asked about the potential on-court fit between Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. Brown answered drawing a comparison for Ben Simmons. Via the Associated Press, Brown said, “I personally want to post him more. I look forward to using him as a screener and giving Markelle the ball and let him roll out of it, that Blake Griffin-sort of half-roll and go to dunk.”

Ben Simmons and Blake Griffin have some similarities. They both are freakishly athletic, they both entered the NBA with questionable jumpers (though the concern for Simmons’ jumper if much more significant) and they both have facilitating abilities (though those of Simmons are much more frequently on display). But what Brett Brown sees in comparing the two is a similar utilization of their skill sets off-ball.

To get an idea of what Brown is envisioning, take a look at the following clip, a play involving Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Both Griffin and Jordan set high post screens for Paul (lousy screens, but they’ll suffice for our purposes), following up their picks by diving to the rim.

With a bit of imagination, it’s easy to replace Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in the above play with Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid respectively. There are of course many differences between each of those players.

Fultz doesn’t demand nearly the same respect — or really, any respect whatsoever just yet — in the mid-range as Paul. Paul’s reputation as a deadly jump shooter from the elbow draws Jeff Teague around the screen and forces Thad Young to leave his assignment (Blake Griffin) to deter Paul from pulling up:

If Fultz is the initiator in a play like the one at hand, he’ll have to be able to make teams pay before he draws the attention of multiple defenders. Early this season, there’s a good chance he’ll get opportunities to do exactly that, as opposing teams will be happy to give Markelle mid-range looks. If Fultz can consistently hit from the elbow, the attention he’ll command should free up Ben Simmons diving to the rim, similar to the way that Griffin has a good two steps toward the rim before he’s challenged.

Like Fultz, Ben Simmons’ mid-range reputation is also lacking in comparison to his representative. But the play in question doesn’t rely on Griffin’s jump shooting, rather Griffin’s gravity as a roll man as well as his willingness to finish with either hand (something Ben definitely doesn’t possess). Between the pressure Griffin and Paul create on the Pacers’ defense, the Pacers collapse and the Clippers get spacing like this:

Griffin elected to finish with a layup. But I call on you to use your imagination again. With Simmons in place of Griffin, picture Dario Saric/Robert Covington replacing Luc Richard Mbah A Moute (above in the top corner 3) and JJ Redick replacing Jamal Crawford (above at the bottom corner 3). Simmons strength and court vision would allow him to easily find his teammates in the corner for an open trey. With Joel Embiid instead of DeAndre Jordan, Simmons also has a safety dump for a guaranteed two points. And Simmons obviously could always mimic Griffin, finishing the play himself.

The Sixers ran a set in their preseason game against the Magic that was similar to the Clippers play from the video above. However, Markelle Fultz starts with the ball on the wing and dribbles in, rather than at the top of the lane and dribbling out like Paul. As Markelle dribbles toward the lane, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons set screens:

There’s a major point and a major difference (compared to the Clippers play) that I’d like to point out.

Major point: Fultz makes the Magic pay. Nik Vucevic never fully commits to defending Fultz, instead putting himself in position to provide help on a rolling Ben Simmons. Markelle hits the jumper.

Major difference: Embiid fades out to 3PT after the screen, while DeAndre Jordan rolled to the rim. If Vucevic were to chase Embiid out there, the Magic are left without anyone to protect the rim and the whole defense is compromised. If DJ Augustin wants to stay with Embiid, well sure go ahead, but it’s not going to matter little guy. Or the Magic can leave Embiid wide open as they did above.

For that sort of play to consistently produce, Fultz has to be known as a threat from the mid-range, and if Embiid can get his 3PT% up, the set will cripple defenses.

One crucial element of Lob City’s offense was Blake Griffin’s passing ability, specifically from the post:

I’d argue Ben Simmons is a better passer than Blake Griffin, and I don’t think I’d get much resistance. But it’s not always just about Blake Griffin’s passing. Griffin is able isolate in the post and/or force double teams, and spacing multiplies the problems of the defense. That’s why Markelle Fultz’ 3PT shooting (or lack thereof) is always brought up in discussions about the ceiling of the Sixers’ core. Take the following play, for example:

A very well-timed cut from Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, and a beautiful find from Blake Griffin. But neither of those elements are what allowed the play to be successful. It was the threat of Chris Paul banging a 3PT that made the score possible. Paul’s gravity sucks LeBron James out of the lane, clearing the way for LRAM. Follow LBJ here:

Whether teams will send help on Ben Simmons in the high post is questionable at this point. But Simmons is such an accurate passer, his teammates don’t need to be running wide open, they just need a step. What does need to happen eventually is Markelle Fultz hitting threes — well, if the Sixers want to maximize the time Simmons and Fultz spend on the court together. And while it’s encouraging that Fultz has taken threes in the preseason... has it really been encouraging? I guess he has to start somewhere, but 1 of 5 over four games just isn’t going to suffice. 1 of 5 isn’t vacuuming LeBron James out of the lane.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, Brett Brown can use some plays that allow Fultz and Simmons to operate closer to the rim out of the pick-and-roll like the first play we looked at. Brown isn’t going to remodel his offense in the image and likeness of Lob City, but he’s already borrowed from it. If you look at any string of, say, 20 Blake Griffin assists in 2016-2017, you’ll notice many of his assists go to JJ Redick and utilize similar concepts Brett Brown implemented for Simmons and Redick. Now Brown can again dip into the Clippers well to make Simmons and Fultz work together (and Embiid as well) by using their strengths through the scope of Paul and Griffin in LA.

I’ll leave you with one last play, and a beauty at that. The Sixers employ one-third of the players involved. You’ll have to use your imagination one last time for the others.

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