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Quick Film: Sixers draw from Spain pick-and-roll for easy Embiid bucket

NBA: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

For the Sixers’ very first points of the season, they got Joel Embiid an easy bucket utilizing elements of the Spain pick-and-roll.

If you’re familiar with the Spain PnR, skip this section. Otherwise, I’m going to explain it quickly here because I expect the Sixers to use it every now and again this season considering their personnel.

The Spain PnR begins as a typical pick-and-roll, with a roll man setting a screen for the ball handler around the perimeter. But the wrinkle is this: once the roll man begins his roll to the rim, another offensive player (Player 4 in the diagram below, although it doesn’t have to be a four) sets a back screen for the roll man and then pops. While all this is going on, two “wing” players spot up in the corners or around the perimeter where a driver can kick it to them. If executed correctly, the play typically leads to one of four outcomes:

  • The ball handler, coming off the roll man’s screen, takes it all the way to the rim
  • The ball handler feeds a pass to the roll man, who sprung free from his defender thanks to the off-ball back screen set by Player 4
  • The ball handler kicks out to Player 4 after he has popped
  • If one of the offensive wings’ defenders crashes on the ball handler or the roll man, the ball handler hits the open wing in the corner

Below is a very, very amateur diagram by yours truly:

It forces a lot of communication among the defenders and the ball handler just needs to read and react with the right decision.

Now, the Sixers didn’t run a Spain PnR with all of its steps, but they used the general framework. First, Joel Embiid comes out to the perimeter where Ben Simmons is handling the ball. He motions like he’s going to set a screen for Simmons, and although he never actually sets a ball screen, the effect on Embiid’s defender, Enes Kanter, is enough — Kanter’s expecting it for a split second and is unprepared for the back screen to come from Josh Richardson.

The “ball screen”:

Embiid’s roll and Richardson’s back screen:

Richardson’s back screen gives Embiid an uncontested path to the rim, and all Simmons has to do is float a lob pass over top to Embiid. The result is one of the easiest buckets Joel will get all season:

I mentioned that I expect to see this from the Sixers with some frequency this season given their personnel.

Because of the overall size and the competency (I didn’t say proficiency!) from three in their starting/crunch time lineup, the Sixers can use their players to set up a Spain pick-and-roll in a lot of different ways. In the above, Josh Richardson, the smallest player on the court for the Sixers, sets the back screen on Kanter. That could have just as effectively been Al Horford or Tobias Harris, because they’re both comfortable popping out to shoot from behind the arc and more than large enough to screen a center from behind. The roll man happened to be Embiid, but likewise, it could have been Harris or Horford depending on the matchup. Interestingly enough, before the inbound in the play above, Horford indeed thinks he’s going to be the roll man and receive a back screen from Embiid until Simmons motions Horford to the corner. There’s just a lot of possible variations for this set with the Sixers.

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