All in all, a pretty good week for the Philadelphia 76ers, going 2-1 and knocking off the Golden State Warriors — albeit without Klay Thompson — in a thrilling nationally televised game. Now, time for some observations.
Let’s dive in.
Wilson Chandler, teacher’s pet
In mid-December, ESPN’s Malika Andrews wrote a longform piece about the newest wave in the NBA: a 4-point line. Among the teams referenced in this movement were the Sixers. Back in 2017, Brett Brown installed a gray 4-point line on the team’s practice court to further stretch the floor for interior-inclined stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. JJ Redick does this quite well but there is nobody who has bought in more than Wilson Chandler.
Track his positioning off the ball or where he catches it to rise for 3-pointers and you’ll notice he’s often a few steps removed from the arc:
Brett Brown often wants guys to space the floor to the "4-point line" off the ball. Nobody on the Sixers does that better than Wilson Chandler. pic.twitter.com/OzBAyFp5Bz— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) February 3, 2019
And he’s even willing to let it fly from Curry-lite range:
As a career 34.3 percent 3-point shooter, Chandler doesn’t necessarily pull the defense as much as the Sixers need. Opponents often slink off of him to muck up driving lanes or post-ups and are comfortable letting him shoot. This season, he’s making them pay, connecting on 39 percent of his long balls and his .570 3-point rate is a career-high.
Chandler has many flaws and is best suited for a smaller role off the bench but he’s adhering to Brown’s offensive philosophies and knocking down outside shots when called upon. In that sense, it hasn’t been all bad.
Corey Brewer, a ball of energy
With Jimmy Butler back in the fold, it appears Corey Brewer’s run as a regular rotation player has ended. In three games since Butler re-entered the lineup, Brewer has received 39 minutes and just 16 over the past two. But when he does see action, it continues to be en electric experience because the dude refuses to stand still. He’s like a young kid on Christmas Eve stirring with excitement.
I’m not sure there’s ever been a player run harder or faster on the break to fill the lanes. When a shot goes up, Brewer says to hell with boxing out or rebounding and sprints ahead:
Transition opportunities compose 31.7 percent of his offensive usage, the third-highest mark in the league, according to Synergy. When Brewer is on the floor, the Sixers’ pace rises to 105.9, up from 103.01 without him.
In the halfcourt, Brewer lurks along the baseline, reads the defense and darts to the rim when teams forget about him. He’s largely ignored as a shooter, sometimes getting the TJ McConnell treatment, but recognizes when to take advantage:
His frenetic energy and hyperactivity isn’t necessarily the most effective, however, as the team is 16.3 points better per 100 possessions sans Brewer. I guess a game predicated on your limbs flying everywhere while donning the nickname “The Drunken Dribbler” doesn’t always leave a positive imprint.
(Editor’s note: since the submission of this article, Corey Brewer’s contract with the Sixers has expired and the team has not offered him a new contract for the remainder of the season.)
The after-timeout traps
Beyond an aversion to pick-and-rolls and a fondness for the word “spirit,” one of Brown’s coaching staples are sporadic full- and half-court traps or presses. Usually, they’ll come following a break in the game — timeouts most often — attempting to catch the opposition off guard.
When the Sixers took on the Suns last month, they picked up Devin Booker full court quite frequently. After the game, Brown told me it was a strategy designed to chew time off the clock and get the ball out of Booker’s hands. It’s fair to assume that same logic applies to other cases as well.
Traps and presses can be risky approaches if teams are at all prepared for it. Any semblance of crisp ball movement and spatial awareness are death sentences. But sometimes, nobody sees it coming and the Sixers benefit, like in the first two sequences below, one of which nearly gave the Sixers a win:
Brown is pretty discretionary with this trick and he does well to not rely on it after every timeout. His guys seem equipped to handle it, even when they aren’t the ones pressuring ball-handlers; off-ball rotations can be the most challenging aspect to making it work. It’s a fun wrinkle to watch materialize from time to time, especially if it sparks transition chances on the other end or hurries opponents into poor decision-making. Moving forward, be sure to keep an eye on the Sixers’ defense post-timeout. It might just get funky