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3-Point Play: A Trio of Sixers Observations

Thoughts on the JJ Redick-Tobias Harris pairing, Jimmy Butler defending Kyle Lowry, and remaining schedules for the Eastern Conference elite

Denver Nuggets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Whew. What a week for the Philadelphia 76ers. They went 2-1, with home victories over the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles, and were anything but dormant prior to the trade deadline. They brought in five new players and sent out four, including former number one overall pick Markelle Fultz. Now, time for some observations.

Let’s dive in.

The JJ Redick-Tobias Harris connection

When I analyzed Harris’ fit with the Sixers last week, I noted how Redick could stand to benefit from playing alongside another high-level shooter. While he’s been teammates with a few very good marksmen during his time in Philadelphia — guys like Marco Belinelli, Landry Shamet, Robert Covington and Dario Saric — none have either been tenable pairings defensively (Shamet, Belinelli) or versatile shooters (Covington, Saric are primarily spot-up players).

In Harris, Redick has found that partner. Through 41 minutes, it has worked wonders. Redick’s scored 31 points on 12-for-15 shooting, 5-for-6 from 3 and 2 for-2 at the foul line, generating an astronomical and unsustainable 97.6 true shooting percentage. Obviously, this won’t continue, but film reveals some of the ways Redick is profiting from Harris’ presence.

Wilson Chandler hit 39 percent of his 3s with the Sixers, but even then, opponents cheated off and dared him to shoot. Harris, though, doesn’t receive that same treatment and defenders stay nearby to deter open looks. Simply stationing Harris on the weak-side wing stretches the floor for Redick.

Watch how on these two plays, Redick’s job is easier since the defender — Jamal Murray, then Kyle Kuzma — doesn’t stunt or help off Harris (Harris is in the second clip, that’s his red shoe, I swear):

The first bucket is especially encouraging — another wrong-footed layup from Redick, by the way — because Harris shifts closer to the corner once he spots Murray ball-watching. If teams are going to ignore a 44 percent 3-point shooter, he’s got to make them pay with both shot-making and off-ball relocation.

Here’s another play where Harris’ gravity as a shooter compromises the defense and leads to an open shot for Redick:

Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid run a pick-and-roll with Harris in the strong-side corner. Nikola Jokic and Will Barton trap Butler and he swings it to Harris, who is then surrounded by Jokic and Murray. Embiid rolls to the rim, Malik Beasley thinks about getting in his way, and Redick zips near the corner for 3.

This next play highlights some of Harris’ versatility and why I think it’s such a valuable part of his skill set. He operates as a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll to force JaVale McGee onto him and immediately screens for Redick, prompting another switch. McGee isn’t nimble enough to recover on the stepback and Redick buries the jumper:

One more, which reveals the impact of now rostering two All-Star-caliber wings with pull-up ability. Harris gets the edge on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Reggie Bullock commits to help. Redick races to the corner, Harris feeds him, Caldwell-Pope flies by, and Redick dribbles into a smooth jumper:

There are a host of other sequences where Harris plays some part in Redick notching a bucket, but these are some of the best. Most of the ones above just occurred within the flow of the offense. As Harris is integrated into the lineup and actually practices with the team (he’s yet to), expect he and Redick to link up for some nifty actions. But it’s already clear Redick is enjoying his new teammate’s shooting prowess.

What to make of Jimmy Butler vs. Kyle Lowry

In the Sixers’ 119-107 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, Butler defended Lowry for 24 possessions, second-most on the team behind Ben Simmons with 25. Extending a recent stretch of lackadaisical defense, Butler struggled to track Lowry, particularly off the ball. He often didn’t fight through screens and let Lowry spring free for open 3s:

Sure, those contests don’t look terrible in real time. Butler eventually hustles to close out. But he doesn’t do anything to disrupt Lowry’s rhythm or preparation. For a guy who has regularly been one of the NBA’s best shooters (besides this year), Butler and the Sixers have to be better.

The other option is to put Simmons on Lowry. However, he experienced similar struggles back in Toronto on December 5, letting the veteran guard roam uninhibited off the ball. Nonetheless, I’d like to see Simmons as Lowry’s primary defender in a potential playoff series. He’s bigger, faster, stronger, and more spry than Butler, less likely to wear down over time or lose his offensive dynamicity.

Despite the down shooting year (.409/.333/.833 splits), Lowry remains Toronto’s offensive engine. He ranks 12th in ESPN’s Offensive Real Plus-Minus, 13th in Jacob Goldstein’s Offensive Player Impact Plus-Minus, and the team is 10.7 points better per 100 possessions offensively with him on the court. Simmons is the type of defender whose size, length and savvy can shut down the openings Lowry tries to manipulate.

Inversely, the Raptors went through stretches with Lowry on Butler, who repeatedly went to the post and used his 6-foot-8, 220-pound frame against the 6-foot, 205-pounder. Despite Lowry’s knack for stonewalling guys down low, that’s too significant a mismatch to be confident in his post defense. On one occasion, Butler drew a shooting foul. Another time, Serge Ibaka doubled and it left Embiid open for 3:

If Lowry tangles with Butler on the block or mid-post at times — areas Butler is comfortable in — it’ll zap some of Lowry’s off-ball verve and dribble-drive game. Over the course of a playoff series when everything is magnified, that would carry weight.

Considering the new-look Sixers will not see the Raptors again this year beyond a potential postseason duel, all that’s left is speculation. I’m not married to Simmons defending Lowry and a lot of that idea’s merit comes down to whether or not he can avoid those infrequent off-ball lapses. Butler has similar issues at times, though, for whatever reason, I have more faith in Simmons balancing his offensive and defensive responsibilities. Plus, his physical profile is more conducive to containing Lowry’s off-ball traversing.

A look at the race for Eastern Conference seeding

At 36-20 with 26 games to play, the Sixers are currently fourth in the East, one game ahead of the Boston Celtics for fifth, one back of the Indiana Pacers for third, 4.5 behind Toronto for second, and 5.5 back of the Milwaukee Bucks for conference supremacy.

Prior to Victor Oladipo’s injury, five teams were vying for the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, it’s likely just four, meaning two very, very good clubs will be sent packing after two rounds. Playoff matchups are going to have a significant role in determining the conference finalists.

Here’s how the rest of the schedule breaks out for Milwaukee, Toronto, Indiana, Philadelphia and Boston:

*Apologies if that chart is a bit confusing. I wanted to be very in-depth with my breakdown. If you’ve got any questions, drop them in the comments section and I’ll try to address them.*

It’s clear Toronto has a leg up on most of the competition; the Raptors could end the season on a hot streak and perhaps even atop the conference. Meanwhile, Boston has a grueling final portion of the year and is facing an uphill climb for homecourt advantage.

Philadelphia is stocked with many home games against the remaining .500 or better teams on its schedule. But it also has quite a few contests with the league’s top squads — two each against Boston/Milwaukee and one more against Golden State — though four of them come at home, where the team is 23-6 this season. If I had to project, I’d say the Sixers leapfrog Indiana and keep Boston at bay to finish with the third seed.

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