It feels as though Sixers Nation has been a bit frustrated lately, doesn’t it? Guys who were untouchable this summer are being bandied about on the Twittersphere as cap-filler in trades. There is lots of blame going around and then lots of people defending each scapegoat. We’re frustrated with Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons, Brett Brown, Dario Šarić, Drew Hanlen, the owners, the front office, the old front office, the lack of two-way wings who can dribble and shoot, and we’re frustrated with whoever blames one of the above for too much of the whole thing!
One thing we can probably all agree on, it feels like the Sixers have lost a bit of standing in the current Eastern Conference hierarchy recently with attempts to work Markelle Fultz into the lineup. Many of us supported such a move, not everyone has the patience or the stomach to see it through after a slow start. And suddenly, even though it’s only November, it’s entirely possible that this game tonight against the Indiana Pacers in their gym could have real implications for home court in a first round series. Hosting or visiting the Pacers as a 4th or 5th playoff seed doesn’t seem far fetched and tonight’s game could make it even more of a semi-grim reality. So let’s make sure we’re prepared!
Facts, Stats, Lineups and Stuff
Last year the Sixers ended the regular season on a 16 game winning streak. The last game they lost before it began was a 101-98 home L to the Pacers at Wells Fargo. Their best player and star Victor Oladipo was a miserable 4-21 shooting but center Myles Turner limited Joel Embiid’s impact by scoring 25 points and 6 rebounds on 9-12 shooting himself.
This year, the Pacers represent one of the stingier defenses in the league, and get to host a Sixers team that has yet to find a way to win on the road.
The Pacers are 6th in the league in defensive efficiency. The Sixers are 11th, tied with Charlotte.
Unlike the Sixers, the Pacers are disciplined and take care of the ball. They have the 7th lowest turnover rate and are therefore excellent at (6th best) limiting their opposition’s points off turnovers. The Sixers on the other end of the spectrum cough the ball up more than everyone except three tank teams, the Mavs, Hawks, and Suns. Although they do get back on D. Brett Brown’s team is excellent at (7th best) transition defense.
If the Sixers fork over some live-ball turnovers to the Pacers for easy buckets, the game could get ugly fast.
No team in the NBA allows less points in the paint than the Pacers, a testament to the job Nate McMillan has done there protecting the rim with guys like former Sixer Thad Young (traded for what became the Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot pick), Myles Turner, and the dynamic duo the Orlando Magic drafted once upon a time, Domantas Sabonis and Oladipo.
The Pacers start the above lineup, although fans who have seen them know some of their best chemistry comes from a bench unit featuring players like Domantas Sabonis, Chester native, Tyreke Evans, and Cory Joseph.
This has been the Sixers starting unit lately. Until we hear otherwise, we’ll assume they’re sticking with it. Although who knows. Covington is questionable and possible a game time decision with a sore back.
With the winds of change possibly swirling, this quote was noteworthy:
It seems like with the team struggling so far to adjust to new lineups featuring Markelle Fultz, there have been some rumblings that Brett Brown may be considering an adjustment.
On the bench, Mike Muscala will unfortunately be out for some time:
And if you’re unsure of Covington’s value to the squad in this one, or overall, keep an eye on that little negative number ESPN tracks to predict scores below. As of now it’s projected to be a one-score contest but that would certainly change if he’s ruled out later:
Of course, Zhaire Smith is still out. Big responsibility for Šarić and Wilson Chandler in this one. Dario will look to break his epic slump tonight when he’s needed most.
If you play fantasy basketball, you may have noticed that the way to attack the Sixers so far this year, is by playing opposing power forwards and centers. We’re talking real life hoops but I think sometimes you can anticipate who may erupt with these stats. The Sixers have been especially generous to front court bigs on popular fantasy sites.
It’s early in the season, and plenty of this might be because of one performance by Blake Griffin, but Philly is the 2nd best matchup for a Center to have and the 2nd best matchup for a power forward on the two most popular daily fantasy sites. These numbers come from proprietary combinations of obvious things like points, rebounds, blocks, assists, steals, etc. Oladipo is a terror on any night but if I were Domantas Sabonis or Myles Turner I might be licking my chops for this one. As noted, it was Turner who broke out last time they met, so maybe it’s Sabonis night.
On the flip side, the Pacers come in as one of the top matchups for a shooting guard to have:
While on paper this seems like it might bode well for someone like J.J. Redick or Landry Shamet, that could be a trap. Like Covington, Victor Oladipo is a First-Team ALL NBA Talent. And this statistic could simply be reflective of recent explosions (by opponent’s like Tim Hardaway Jr. and James Harden) more so than a weakness to exploit. Some film work we’ll get to will help us sort that out.
The Pacers are healthy, following their home loss Monday to the Houston Rockets. Recently, a backup big man some Sixers fans wanted to replace Amir Johnson, Kyle O’Quinn, has not been in the rotation, though he has been more than effective statistically when he has gotten an opportunity:
FREE KYLE O'QUINN (an annual plea) pic.twitter.com/2AVe052PN3— Ben Detrick (@bdetrick) November 3, 2018
It’s possible they call in the big guns to keep their preferred bigs out of foul trouble:
I wonder if the Pacers bust out Kyle O’Quinn for more minutes tomorrow vs. Embiid. Turner gets first crack but I don’t think Sabonis can handle him (not that anyone can) and O’Quinn is Baynes like.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) November 6, 2018
The 23rd pick in the 2018 draft, just 3 spots before Landry Shamet, is the younger brother of former Sixer, Jrue Holiday. But that rookie, Aaron Holiday, is not in the rotation yet having logged just 16 minutes so far. And you might hear the storyline during the broadcast that Redick noted he was very close to signing with the Pacers while the Sixers were big-game hunting. He said he was nearly a Pacer back in July. Their loss.
But let’s jump into some film and see if we see any tips or tricks for tonight.
Ways to Attack The Pacers’ Defense
I watched the Rockets-Pacers game on Monday and the Rockets used this play above in particular to run Indy ragged in their big road win. You have a primary ball handler get not one but often two high screens. Usually the first one comes from a wing. Say Chris Paul, sets one for James Harden or vice versa. Then there is another pick from the big, Clint Capela. Two other shooters space the floor. The Rockets often seem to get the play designed for Paul, moving to his right, and if the play is for Harden, he’s often going to his left, their respective dominant hands. Above, Harden surveys what the defense gives him. Because they chase him over screens, he’s usually looking for a teammate on the wing, in the corner, or his roll man for a lob. Pick your poison.
I understand that It may be tough to gleam some tips and tricks here because of the way Oladipo has to respect Paul’s or Harden’s jumpshot and so he travels over the screens. He won’t do this with Ben Simmons or Markelle Fultz, a big concern for the Sixers’ coaching staff. But because Indiana had so much trouble with it, it’s worth watching a little bit and seeing what we might learn.
Here you have a simple two man game between Capela and Harden. They get the ball to Capela, where Joel Embiid might be. Perhaps J.J. Redick can cut into a similar spot on the floor for either a short jumper or the kick out to the corner 3. In the play above, it’s P.J. Tucker who benefits from how aggressive the Pacers half-court defense can be.
Story of the night Monday. Force Oladipo to chase over screens, turn the corner and pop-quiz hot shot: A) Hit the corner man for a 3? Nah. B) Hit the wing for a wide open 3? It’s not there. C) Lob to your rolling big man for a dunk. It forces Oladipo to work his tail off on D, and it forces sturdy but not laterally quick bigs like Sabonis or Turner to cover lots of ground and make hard choices while sliding or back-pedaling frantically.
What can we do with this info? Why do shooting guards find success vs. Indy? Because Redick is one of the few Sixers who will enjoy speedy, agile defenders running over screens to chase him, Brett Brown could tap him for the burden of making the Pacers bigs scramble. The key to this game might be in creating situations where a great shooter like Redick can step up his playmaking responsibility. He might run off a double screen or a dribble hand off and resist his typical temptation to pull up, but instead take one dribble and survey for the open wing or corner 3 or hit his roll man for a lob. Making the Pacers pay for aggression is the key. Is Redick up to a task like that though? He rarely gets more than 5 or 6 assists.
If the Sixers win this game, I suspect it might be because a player like Redick (or Shamet who did some of this at Wichita State) takes on more of a play-making role, and because we finally get to see Simmons play roll man in the screen game. A great night to experiment based on the Pacers’ weakness!
Here above is one for early in the game when Markelle Fultz shares the court with Ben Simmons. Let’s say the Sixers force a switch onto a big like Young or Sabonis the way CP3 does is in the clip above. Paul backs it out then drives to his strong side. While the Pacers react and help, they rotate to pick up the baseline cutter. You’ve heard Brett Brown call that baseline cut “peek-a-boo.” It happens fast but you can see these switches leave open the weak-side corner. Paul hits James Ennis for one of the best shots in the sport, an open corner trey. Ideally Fultz is the ball handler, Simmons cuts baseline like Tucker does above and Simmons’ vertical gravity “pulls” Šarić open.
Above, was the basketball equivalent of how a great run game can set up play-action passes in football. You know we’re going to run the ball up the middle and you still can’t stop us. Getting beaten like speed bags on lobs to the roll-man and corner 3’s all night made a very good team like Indy forget to guard the reigning MVP on the game’s biggest rotation. They finally commit to stopping the
run lob and they instead give up the deep bomb.
The Pacers are generally very aggressive defending the pick and roll and they don’t necessarily read the scouting report. Here, Evans goes over a screen to offer the driving lane to New York’s Frank Ntilikina, who is crafty and long enough to drop it off for Enes Kanter. Evans would have been better off sagging.
Finally, if Sabonis is defending the post, and Embiid kicks it out to a shooter like Covington, Sabonis may not be quick enough to rotate over to get the charge. Here below, Enes Kanter and Lance Thomas take advantage:
Few surprises. They like to get Oladipo in the pick and roll and they like to get Oladipo in isolations against mismatches. He can step back to the left or right, he can drive hard then pull up to his right, and he can finish at the cup and kick out to shooters. He’s the absolute total package folks.
There’s also realllllly good chemistry on this team when Sabonis is in, like above.
Their first look is to hit the roll man for the layup, and they’re very good at this whether it’s Oladipo or Tyreke Evans as primary handler.
Sometimes after a pick and roll they may try to get one of your smaller guards on Young, Turner or Sabonis. In these cases Young, Sixers fans know, is looking for the lefty jump hook which he is excellent at vs. guards. And Sabonis is looking for an up and under for the and-one and has the lefty jump hook also.
Here is what Dario, Embiid, and Amir Johnson have to watch out for, Sabonis’ favorite thing to do:
Below is the preferred way to defend Sabonis, and hope he settles for these jump hooks:
A very well coached and unselfish team, doubling onto a player like Sabonis often triggers these beautiful sequences where they get open lay-ups and 3’s
10 Commandments (in the style of our own @SixersScience, Eric Sidewater):
- Thou shall run Oladipo, Turner and Sabonis ragged in the half-court set forcing as many rotations as possible
- Thou shalt force isolation opportunities for slashers when covered by Bojan Bogdanovic or Tyreke Evans.
- Thou shalt target Turner with Embiid to force fouls
- Thou shall try some double screens for Redick or Shamet as a primary ball handler while surveying for shooters, as Embiid or Ben Simmons rolls to the hoop.
- Thou shall tempt Sabonis and Young into their lefty jump hooks rather than the And-1’s and pretty passing sequences that lead to 3’s.
- Thou shalt limit turnovers
- Thou shall pray Covington is healthy
- Thou shalt be careful of Darren Collison’s transparent head fakes and tempt him into contested jumpers
- Thou shalt be careful: if Oladipo drives and kicks, he often gets forgotten about and darts back out for an open 3 as defenses rotate.
- Thou shalt seek and destroy Cory Joseph when he guards Ben Simmons
Prediction (assuming Covington plays at close to full strength)
Pacers: 110 Sixers: 105
Prediction (assuming Covington rests):
Is it me or does that Nuggets-Grizzlies game on the other channel suddenly feel like game 7 of the finals?
Either way, because I’m predicting a Sixer loss, I guess I expect more of our collective Twitter melt down tomorrow. To that, I offer you Aaron Rodgers:
Should be a fun game though, and I’ll be live tweeting it for Liberty Ballers so be sure to tune in, follow along, and hit us up.
Time: 8:00 pm EST
Place: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis IN
Watch: NBC Sports Philly & ESPN
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Vegas: -3 Pacers (opened -1.5 Pacers)