Raul Neto hasn’t had many chances to show what he can do with the Philadelphia 76ers so far this season. Brett Brown opened the season by experimenting with Josh Richardson playing in the backup point guard role, leaving Neto to average just 3.9 minutes (with one DNP) over the first five games of the season. Outside of a few nice plays in six minutes against Detroit on October 26, there weren’t any Neto takeaways from these games.
When the Sixers’ thrilling 21-point comeback against Portland took place on November 2, Neto’s six-minute stint off the bench provided a burst that was key to getting the team back on track. Neto tallied four points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal. His plus-13 plus/minus wasn’t pure six-minute-sample noise, either.
He started with a heads-up steal to demonstrate his off-ball awareness. With Skal Labissiere looking to the baseline, Neto knew there would be a backdoor cut coming. Neto immediately turned to spot Anfernee Simons cutting and kept his arms raised in position for the steal:
Neto proceeded to keep the ball moving, push the tempo when he could, and ended his game with a timely trap to help force another steal and score.
The first real look at Neto came against Utah on Wednesday. He played 30 minutes, receiving extra run due to Ben Simmons being sidelined with a shoulder injury after 10 minutes. Neto finished as a plus-9 with 11 points (shooting 5-of-11 overall and 1-of-2 from three), four assists, three steals and, due to a few messy moments, four turnovers. Apart from those few mistakes, it was a quality performance from Neto.
As expected, given the amount of roster change and drop in shooting and perimeter creation without JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler, the Sixers have been off to a rather slow start offensively this season. There have been multiple issues so far, from abnormally cool shooting from players like Josh Richardson (24.2 percent from three), to hesitant shooting from Tobias Harris (he's the team's best shooter, yet ranks third with 4.6 three-point attempts per game), to ranking 27th in turnover percentage. The Sixers need to overcome the loss of perimeter playmaking when Simmons is off the floor. It’s something that Richardson can’t accomplish by himself in a backup point role — operating as a lead guard simply isn’t where he’s best.
Neto doesn’t have an overly complex skill set to, but he can help keep the offense steady. He’s selective with his shots when looking to attack the rim or enter the lane for floaters (he’s shot an efficient 63 percent within three feet of the basket for his career) and is a 37.7 percent three-point shooter for his career.
Neto is generally a wise decision maker as a playmaker who reads the floor well and keeps the ball moving without trying to do too much. Plus, he provides the opportunity for the Sixers to run a little more pick-and-roll.
Philly has had some characteristic struggles in this department so far. They rank dead last in both pick-and-roll frequency (using 12 such possessions per game) and efficiency (producing a measly 0.68 points per possession). When considering how infrequently Brett Brown typically uses pick-and-rolls, all of the roster changes, and how awkward it can be — particularly early on — to run too many when Simmons, Al Horford and Joel Embiid are on the floor together, some issues were to be expected this early on. This offense needs time.
Nevertheless, it's still worth acknowledging adjustments that can be made. One of which is giving Neto more minutes moving forward and a chance to use a few pick-and-rolls.
The following play late in the first quarter is the kind of action the Sixers should utilize more often. With Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Scott and Richardson on the wings as shooters, Neto finds Embiid rolling down the lane with a bounce pass. Once the paint and strong-side of the floor are filled with four defenders, Richardson wisely relocates to the corner, Joe Ingles loses him, and it’s easy for Embiid to find his teammate for a corner three:
Spacing wasn’t optimized here, with Korkmaz and Scott only clearing to the strong-side corner once Neto was already hitting Embiid in the lane. This reduced Neto’s room to drive and kept multiple defenders between Embiid and the rim. That said, using a ball handler like Neto and surrounding a rolling Embiid with three plus shooters — including Tobias Harris for optimum spacing — can create quick rewards.
Neto can hit a floater or short pull-up jumper if he’s left open or make an accurate pocket pass to find Embiid rolling if there's a window. When the strong-side of the floor is loaded and one shooter (in this case Richardson) is left on the weak-side, it’s not too hard for them to relocate or find space. If their defender — as the one in the best position to help on the roll — needs to tag Embiid, the corner is left open. Embiid doesn’t have to be a high-level passer on short rolls to make plays like this. Meanwhile, Neto is capable of making skip passes to the corner if he holds onto the ball.
This is a good example from when Neto was with the Jazz. Again, two shooters are positioned on the strong-side and Neto runs a pick-and-roll with Rudy Gobert. As Gobert slips the screen he’s able to get behind Thomas Bryant, prompting Jabari Parker to help towards the paint. As soon as Parker starts heading in the wrong direction, Neto fires a pass to the now open Kyle Korver:
Neto doesn't need to do too much to help the Sixers. Keeping the offense humming and making simple reads in pick-and-rolls for 10 minutes or so a night is enough to make a positive difference.
Defensively in the Jazz game, Neto demonstrated his instincts and activity off-ball, stunted on drives to bother opponents when possible, and competed well. He’s a solid on-ball defender against point guards, with decent quickness, a low stance and reliable effort. He made multiple plays to disrupt Utah’s offense.
More explosive guards and switches onto wings are going to give Neto trouble, but he has plenty of help around him. The Sixers are better built to cover for one small defender than any team in the NBA with their endless size, and Richardson can take tougher assignments at the point of attack.
Even still, defense is where Trey Burke falls well short, and one reason why he’s yet to make it onto the court. Brett Brown clearly has a preference for Neto. He’s a more balanced player, even with his own obvious limitations as a backup — he isn’t a high volume three-point shooter (3.8 attempts per 36 minutes for his career), he isn’t a great creator off the dribble, and lacks versatility on defense.
As Brown continues experimenting with his rotation, he needs to find more reliable ball handling and playmaking off the bench. Simmons is now listed as out for Friday’s game in Denver and will be re-evaluated at the weekend before Sunday’s game against Charlotte, opening up more minutes for Neto to share backup point guard duties with Richardson.
If Neto can continue to make the most of these opportunities, his skill-set should solidify him a spot in the rotation.