It was a rough showing yesterday. Joel Embiid did not look right. This is a guy who scored 38 points and 13 rebounds in just 28 minutes when the Sixers met the Nets a couple of weeks ago. And you could see he was hurting although he gutted his way to a huge defensive performance. As of now the Vegas line for game 2 is Philadelphia favored by 7.5. Maybe they know something I don’t but it seems a bit high, especially given the chance Joel sits. But let’s get into a couple of things they can improve upon to get the win tomorrow.
1) Jimmy in the flow
There was speculation that Jimmy Butler was saving himself for the playoffs during this regular season and man did he play well enough to lend credibility to that theory. He was really great and the team should allow him to do much more pick-and-rolls. He should be the primary initiator of the offense period, and he should not hesitate to take a few pull up 3s.
Ideally the team will not wait until the 4th quarter when it’s (closing time) or until they allow an 18-1 run and everyone panics to dial his number. They need a healthy dose of Butler from the jump in game two and they should do what they can to get him out there with floor spacers. Ben screening for him and 3 shooters beyond the arc would solve a few of the spacing issues. Sometimes it feels like the Sixers have 2 modes: Jimmy time and not Jimmy time. Ideally he is heavily involved and blended in a bit more both as a scorer and play maker.
2) Less dribble drives for Joel from the top of the key
Joel may not be 100 percent. Heck he may not even play next game. But if he does, he can occupy the same area around the top of the key that he likes to operate in but set more picks, either when he has the ball (hand offs) or when he doesn’t. This can create better flow and make the team more unpredictable. Imagine if when a big sags off Embiid, and doesn’t go for his exaggerated pump fake, if instead of a dribble drive there was a series of hand offs or fake hand offs, and then (if they don’t get a wide open 3 for Harris or Redick) a pick-n-roll.
It’s the type of action that would have been developed had they had more time. But it’s worth a shot anyway. Joel looks for it with Redick but not as often with the other guys and it makes the offense plodding at times.
While we’re at it, this can work for Ben Simmons as well. In the video below, the very last play illustrates some of the terrific ways the Denver Nuggets create half-court flow with perimeter players using screens from Nikola Jokic at the top.
3: More lineups with all four of the starters in when Joel sits
Had Joel not played yesterday, it seems plausible the team would have had some better chemistry than they did yesterday. The ball moved extremely well in some games Joel sat, especially in Oklahoma City when they won. Yesterday the four starters without Embiid only played 1 single minute together. The most used 5 man lineup per NBA.com was one with T.J. McConnell and Boban Marjanovic (13 minutes). That’s odd right? Jonathon Simmons has not been better than Zhaire Smith and he played some too.
The single minute the four starters got to play without Embiid came with Boban on the court. That number needs to grow and I’m not convinced Boban is the best person to be out there with them.
It was with Bolden when Butler, Simmons, Harris and Redick moved the ball really well and have a very good assist to turnover ratio in small samples over the year.
I’d like to see more lineups with Bolden at the 5 or small-ball (these small ones didn’t work out well yesterday but it’s worth another shot for offense). And I’d like Ben Simmons to operate around top of the key setting lots of screens with and without the ball and rolling. Ben was about a 67th percentile roll-man in small doses this year per Synergy. That’s not bad and would certainly catch the Nets off-guard.