Yesterday was Valentine’s Day so I thought about doing a “Ten Things I Hate About You” list. You know because, sometimes you think you hate someone when deep down you love them. But hate was too strong. And I can hear some of you already. “How can we spend time focusing on weaknesses, when every team tends to struggle on long road trips facing good teams? The boys have the best record in the East!” I hear you, I’m just I’m mad because I love them and so I’m holding them to a championship standard and viewing everything through that lofty lens.
Lest you think I’m incapable of seeing the light in our beloved:
Ben Simmons is continuing his strong offensive play.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) February 13, 2021
Really aggressive first half from him, getting to the rim and playing through contact. He has 16 points in 18 minutes (6/8 FG, 4/5 FT). pic.twitter.com/k0xyqRLU5e
Awesome spin and dunk from Joel Embiid on Dario Saric here. pic.twitter.com/C5BQLoiEKG— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) February 13, 2021
But we need more! And after the game Saturday Doc Rivers talked about containing dribble penetration better, as the team had lots of trouble (who doesn’t) containing Chris Paul, Devin Booker over the weekend and Dame Lillard back on Thursday. Per our Tom West:
Doc Rivers:— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) February 13, 2021
"We've got to be better defensively first, and then we'll fix the ball movement."
Doc highlighted the Suns' dribble penetration as an issue.
Ben Simmons, before the game, was compared favorably to a combination of Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen by his head coach. But he can’t cover everyone. And the younger (or much older) wings really struggled to stop stars.
It’s not hard to imagine this trend continuing come playoff time
10) Unreliable perimeter defense
Where we stand today, this team is going to ask guys like Danny Green, Seth Curry, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton or Tyrese Maxey to guard the likes of Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Jimmy Butler or even Paul George in a huge playoff game!
Furkan Korkmaz has played some solid defense at times, although he certainly hasn’t won over the respect of NBA officials for his work. Thybulle can be a little aggressive, and a Lillard or a Booker often have little trouble drawing a foul beyond the arc against him or getting to the cup on a blowby. Danny Green is a heady defender but he’s not what he once was, and Seth Curry is often hidden on spot-up shooters, however, can get posted up or forced into an inauspicious switch. They need to figure out if the necessary improvements can be made with coaching and practice or if they’ll need additional help.
9) Joel Embiid a little too aggressive defending pick-n-roll ball handlers
The other element of this to keep an eye on is Joel Embiid’s role in perimeter defense. Last year’s drop coverage would sometimes give up wide-open midrange shots to elite players like Jayson Tatum or Kemba Walker. This year, he’s been more unpredictable and aggressive. He’ll still drop, but then the next time he may hedge far out from the rim, and occasionally he’s flat out switching onto a guard. I really like the idea in theory, but on this road trip there were some times it felt like he was a little too aggressive and it led to blowbys and easy lobs. Maybe there’s a happier medium than we’ve found so far.
Then there was that other thing Doc said we could begin to think about once we fix the defensive issues, ball movement. The Sixers struggled to get clean looks in important situations. To my eye, they came in several varieties.
8) When Joel and Ben play “let me post up, no I want to, no you post up!”
They both have a mismatch and they both want to post up, or they both want the other to post up and it leads to a tough shot.
7) Just good old fashioned unforced errors:
You’ll notice the bench is particularly culpable in the above video. Guys trying to thread a bounce pass to Dwight Howard, overly ambitious passes, or just sloppy inaccurate ones often lead to live-ball turnovers and game-changing swings. No sweethearts candy for these plays. The bench has been especially culpable here:
Doc Rivers says the Sixers' bench hasn't been bad this season, but they have been lately -- probably over the last 5 games.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) February 13, 2021
One note on this: the Sixers starting five played 30 minutes in the game, about 10 more than they normally do. The Sixers outscored the Suns 77-71 during that time.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) February 14, 2021
Phoenix outscored the Sixers 49-34 in the 18 minutes that any Sixers bench player was on the floor. https://t.co/fbnjW9Ubdb
6) Entry Passteritis Blues
Let’s be honest. There Sixers don’t reallllllly have a primary halfcourt initiator on the roster. So they rely on lots of post ups, and movement. Embiid, rightly handles loads of post-ups, and on this trip, Ben Simmons handled a bunch as well (a welcome sight). Tobias Harris gets his fair share also. But the downside to this is without a reliable alternative to loads of posts ups they need to make loads of entry passes and these aren’t always smooth.
Sometimes they make them from wonky angles and don’t always put each other in the best spots:
5) Staring at the ball when shots go up
Danny Green on the last 2 games:— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) February 13, 2021
"I just think our energy has dropped. Not in any particular unit, 1st or 2nd. But we start off pretty decent, we just don't do it for 48 minutes."
He also said the Sixers have to do a better job limiting opponents' 3s, offensive boards, and FTs.
Danny Green mentioned the offensive rebounds allowed. The team gave up 15 offensive rebounds to the Blazers the other night, and let a couple of bunnies get away in Phoenix. It can be tempting to just stare at the rim and wait, but it’s always better to hunt for a body to box out:
4) Unneccessaryily long 2s
Over the last 14 games the Sixers are averaging 24.3 three-point attempts per game.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) February 14, 2021
No team has averaged that few attempts over the course of a season since 2017-18.
90 out of 90 team seasons over the last three years have eclipsed that mark.
How unDaryl Morey for the Sixers to shoot the 5th highest frequency of long 2 pointers in entire NBA! They rank 28th in frequency of a 3 point attempt.
Now, they’re second in the league in terms of accuracy, shooting 48% on long 2s, and second in the league in accuracy on all midrange shots, so maybe he’s onto something.
But there are times they take a long two it just feels wrong to me. Some of these dribble handoffs that lead to long 2s for Seth Curry especially, seem like they could be turned into triples with a little more practice. And Joel even forgoes a wide-open dunk for a long 2 in this below clip!
3) Taking weirdly tough shots when there’s still time on the shot clock
Then there are the times they simply get stuck and force a really tough one up that essentially functions as a live ball turnover because there was no one else besides Joel who could break down the halfcourt defense:
2) Hunting for contested midrange shots
There are the times they seem to run Tobias Harris around a series of screens or iso him that so often lead to contested midrange shots. Harris ranks in the 91st percentile among forwards for midrange shot attempts. He’s in the 86th percentile in terms of accuracy on them, at a terrific 50 percent. This isn’t hateworthy and he’s been quite good this year. But... he shoots 65 percent at the rim, so it would be nice to find a few more rim looks from this action. I included one where he draws the D in and hits Seth Curry for an open triple, that seems like a great use of the Tobi-motion action they utilize.
1) Why does Joel shoot the techs when Seth Curry is in the game?
Embiid is a stellar 80 percent free throw shooter for his career and 85.1 percent this year but.......Seth’s career average is a shade higher than Embiid’s career-best season at 85.2 and this year he’s shooting 97 percent. If they both shot 300 free throws, my money is on Seth. C’mon Doc, he’s literally one of the best shooters ever, take the points!
Some of this can be fixed in practice. Things like boxing out, or sussing out just how close to Donovan Mitchell Matisse should play when facing a high screen. Dwight likes a lob, not a bounce pass. These things can certainly be improved upon with practice.
But then there are the bigger questions. Everyone wants the team to shoot more 3s. But what types of role players might they need to accomplish this so that those attempts remain worth taking? How much could a stretch big, who shoots and adequately defends, help bench units? Why is Doc still marrying Simmons’ and Embiid’s minutes so much (exposing units without either star to get toasted)? Surely, a lineup of Ben plus four shooters could help them jack up more treys and limit some of these weirdly bad passes.
Then there is the biggest question of all. Can the Sixers reasonably expect to win a championship without a primary or at least secondary halfcourt initiator in their starting (or closing) lineup? How many of these issues we looked at might be fixed by having another way to score in the halfcourt besides a post up or a dribble hand off? It seems as if their offense is becoming predictable already. Imagine when a Brad Stevens or an Erik Spoelstra has a full week to scheme for them and officials decide to “let them play” a bit more, robbing us of some of the fouls we’ve enjoyed drawing?
We love these guys, so we can be hard on them. They’re back on tonight in Utah where they might have some tough sledding.