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Brett Brown, Jimmy Butler, Mike Scott, Switchgate: where does the blame go in Chicago defeat?

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Plenty of blame to go around in such a bad loss, but what’s fair and what’s maybe more complicated?

The Sixers had their second of a back-to-back in Chicago last night and were still short-handed without Joel Embiid, who is (responsibly) nursing his left knee tendinitis. This is not the first time you’re hearing about it from us so we’ll spare you another re-cap as Justin Carter did an excellent job there. Let’s just dive into some of the details and points of contention today.

The big questions most people are writing about or discussing today all very much overlap: to switch or not to switch? Should Mike Scott have been subbed out? What’s Butler’s deal is he mad again? Did Brett Brown blow the game?

Switching and Butler

Switching has been all the craze in the NBA for a long time. It’s no secret that Jimmy Butler has feelings about it that he’d take up with his former coach Tom Thibodeau from time to time. Butler likes to take on a tough matchup and prides himself on that. So it bothers him sometimes when he is asked to switch and then has to watch a lesser perimeter defender get beat like a drum.

While he may have a point in many instances, on the whole switching isn’t going anywhere and the last few NBA Champs, the Warriors and the Cavs have comfortably put to bed any debates about its efficacy.

But regardless of Butler’s feelings, the way that he expresses himself might not always be fun for everyone around him:

He has already had a well-documented dust-up with the team’s coaching staff back in December and it seems at least fair to say that what is typically a “honeymoon period” for newly traded players (especially ones hoping to land monumental contracts in a few months) has not gone as smoothly as everyone would have liked; even if they do still want to make it work for a long time.

Fans pointed out last night that it appears Butler is saying “told ya man, that s-it don’t work man.” Presumably he means making a last minute read to switch:

Jimmy seems hard to get along with at times and doesn’t seem terribly interested in hiding that. But blaming others or an agreed upon system (if that is indeed the case here) when things go wrong seems frustrating for teammates or a coaching staff; especially brand new ones who may not even be familiar with said system yet.

Film

If Philadelphia stopped the last play we’re instead talking about how Butler bailed the team out the last two games and that he is their closer and how will Embiid react to this when he’s back and blah blah blah.... A game of inches right? But let’s dig in.

Mike Scott and Butler both decide to cover Robin Lopez even though Lopez isn’t nearly as dangerous 25’ away from the hoop as Zach LaVine, who had 37 points at the time:

Is one of Butler or Scott to blame more so than the other? The short answer is boring: we don’t really know what the coach called for in the huddle, (although he has said he wanted a switch) so it’s hard to tell. But it’s more fun to infer stuff. In that case Scott made the biggest mistake by a mile. You can’t let LaVine turn the corner for an open layup and foul him and let him make the shot! This is worse than intentionally fouling Kevin Durant in crunch time the other night, man! Either foul hard or don’t at all!

Here is how the play unfolded a couple of times down the stretch when they executed a complete switch. This would have been better than what happened but LaVine still gets a way-too-easy layup on Scott:

Another time Scott at least coaxes him into a one-legged fading floater which Zach nails:

That isn’t an ideal matchup for the Sixers, of course. A few other times Scott forced LaVine into more difficult mid-range pull ups (that he sometimes missed) and that left Robin Lopez under the rim where he could get rebounds or bat balls out.

But based on the way the Sixers play that same spot frequently, it’s at least possible Butler may deserve some blame as well.

Consider: the few times the Sixers found success on these plays is when they hedged and didn’t fully switch immediately. This shows LaVine what may feel like a double for at least a moment. Here is how it looked when Butler doesn’t bolt to chase the big but stays aggressive on LaVine:

The same strategy works when Ben Simmons is the one chasing over the screen, Scott is able to spy off Lopez just enough to force a pass that Ben can deflect:

I believe based on the game flow that this was the best way to have played that difficult situation, and without knowing what coach Brown called on the final play, I wish Butler would have made this hedge again. If Butler actually has the freedom to make the type of read both he and Simmons routinely made throughout the game, he could have tried to fight through that screen which they learned tempts LaVine into passes he is not great at making.

I could be wrong but at no other point in the game do I recall Butler making such a hard and fast read to sprint to chase the roll man. It was a surprising choice to me given how devoted he (and others) were to staying glued to or cognizant of the ball-handler in many similar spots.

The risk to what I’m suggesting is that if you completely neglect Lopez it’s possible he does something like Blake Griffin did to Philly earlier this year:

I think in an ideal world the players are reminded by the coach there to play it the way that had worked the best down the stretch, which was for Butler to at least try to get over that screen and force a pass.

If the play was for a complete switch no matter what then some blame should go to Brown and the most to Scott. If the players are allowed some discretion, then Butler is partially responsible for a poor read as well.

Should Amir Johnson have been in the game instead?

Some people have made this case and it’s a fair point since the veteran played very well and was a +12 on the night, not only a team but a game high plus-minus. Personally, I don’t agree that Amir would have been the better choice for the home stretch of the game. (Of course knowing the results, you’d like to go back and simply try anything differently but from a ‘process’ standpoint I prefer Scott).

To be fair, Scott was just absolutely torched on switches. Even the ones he played fairly well LaVine hit floaters on him. But his feet are still quicker than Amir’s, and it stands to reason that if Scott was singled out by Jim Boylen as a target for a high screen-n-roll then Amir being even less quick on the wing would have an even bigger bullseye on his back.

As demoralizing as the Robin Lopez offensive rebounds felt at the time, they weren’t the worst outcome. A couple of times late in the 4th after Lopez boards either Lopez or Lauri Markkanen were stripped (by Butler and Simmons respectively) and a couple of times Lopez got fouled and made one-of-two at the stripe. All in all, results Brett Brown is probably content to live with given the other threats and benefits of that 5 man-lineup.

Robin Lopez isn’t exactly DeMarcus Cousins once he gets the ball under the hoop and it showed.

On the other end of the court, Scott wasn’t hitting big 3’s. But he did provide the type of spacing that opened up lanes for Simmons to drive in that direction a couple times, once for a layup and once for some free-throws in huge moments. He pulled his defender away from Butler which opened a lane for him to drive for a foul that put the Sixers up with under 5 seconds to go.

The spacing Scott provides makes Simmons’ and others’ lives easier on offense.

Did Brett Brown blow it?

It’s easy to blame the coach and in a loss like that we should. Even if we like the plays that were called and the players simply failed to execute them, the coach should shoulder the responsibility. He can probably do a better job than he did and knows it and knows more about how and why than I do.

Having said that, it’s at least worth noting that it was the second of a back-to-back without his best player and he’s coaching a very new roster with guys who don’t yet all know what to do or where to be so it’s understandable that there will be some very disappointing outcomes.

But yes, feel free to blame the coach for this one, he probably wouldn’t disagree with you after last night. I hope the coaching staff doesn’t overreact and eradicate certain lineups or switches, but I hope they also take detailed notes of some possible lessons learned for the road ahead.

Finally, as The Ringer’s Ben Detrick might remind us, all of this is simply skirting around the biggest issue that the team simply doesn’t have enough two-way guards and will continue to get smoked by players like LaVine for that reason and everything else is less important: