Ever since that fateful night in Washington when everyone’s favorite MVP frontrunner fell to the floor, the Sixers have somehow managed to not only tread water, but actually play some really impressive basketball without Joel Embiid. They’re obviously worse right now, as back to back rock fights against the Knicks might indicate, but through it all they still sit at the top of the East with a net rating that trails only the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference.
And yet the Sixers remain a bizarre squad despite their recent stretch of winning. Here are four noteworthy things I’ve picked up on while watching the Sixers during March.
1. A hilarious baseline out-of-bounds play that worked to perfection
This is my favorite play from a schematics standpoint that I’ve seen all season from the Sixers:
If you didn’t catch what I was getting at, watch that clip again and keep your eyes locked on Mike Scott and Furkan Korkmaz. The two slowly jog in circles around the paint, with Scott running his loops for 10 whole seconds before the official has even handed the ball to Seth Curry on the baseline. It seems silly, it looks stupid, yet it worked in stalling out Rui Hachimura, who became so perturbed by Mike Scott’s circular patterns that he stopped moving with him and decided to hang back in the restricted circle, allowing Scott to nail Bradley Beal with a screen and open up Shake Milton for the baseline jumper.
Just look in this screenshot how Rui is in no position to defend the pick and Milton has a sizable gap now between him and Beal.
I’m all for quirky, BS plays that fool opponents, especially when employed by the bench lineups that need to get more creative seeing as how they have less raw basketball talent. Hopefully the Sixers have more plays like this in store come playoff time.
2. Furkan the master foul shot grifter
If you ever needed proof that Sixers players occasionally check out a Liberty Ballers piece should their name come up, look no further than Furkan Korkmaz and his new tendencies this NBA season. Last year, our Dave Early wrote about how the 6-foot-7 wing had a killer pump fake, but failed to use said fake to draw those oh so precious shooting fouls on 3-point shots. The unnatural jump into a defender when standing behind the arc — while justifiably hated by many — is the most efficient play in basketball. It’s three uncontested chances at points for the best basketball players in the world, which is why the best of the best often utilize it.
Fast forward to 2021, and the once holier-than-thou Korkmaz, who was previously reluctant to hurl his body into airborne defenders, has turned into a greedy 3-point foul monger.
According to NBA.com, Korkmaz has upped his free throws attempted per 100 possessions from 3.1 to 4.0, which doesn’t seem like much on the surface but does speak to improvement in this area. Now making more of those free throws would be a good next step (Korkmaz is shooting 74.5 percent from the line at the moment, and a disappointing 10-of-17 through his last five games, as he’s all but a guarantee to miss one late in a close game), but it’s great to see him following the lead of Joel Embiid in hunting those easy points.
He’s always had a great, full-body fake, which combined with his super-high set point seems to always get his man up in the air, and this season he’s feasting on their foolishness. You love to see it.
3. Danny Green stuck in slow motion
Danny Green is so bizarre. He’s occasionally a 3-point flamethrower and late-game savior with his aesthetically appalling floaters. At other times, he looks like he’d be frazzled by a 1-3-1 full court press in your local high school varsity game. How do you comprehend a player whose outlier traits are slowly jogging to open crevices within a half court offense and positioning in transition defense? Like, what the heck is that?
That positioning on defense is important for him to retain his value, because on the ball, the Green Ranger has slipped quite a bit. Just ask Jordan Poole, who routinely dusted Green during the Sixers’ clash with the Dubs in Golden State (keep your eye locked on Danny throughout these entire plays).
It seems as though the 33-year-old veteran hasn’t adjusted to his decline in quick twitch athleticism. Green consistently hopped forward toward Poole, confident that he could recover to an attack in either direction, only to let the second-year guard get a shoulder past him and gain a significant advantage that led to a collapse in the Sixers’ defensive shell.
Zoom in and you see there’s barely even a chance for Green to correct his initial mistakes, as he gets beat so bad at the initial point of attack that he’s almost a full step behind every play, allowing his man straight into the paint.
I mean, I don’t know what else to say besides pointing out the hilarity that is this screenshot.
It was at this moment Danny Green knew ... he messed up. pic.twitter.com/LLybmtuezv— Daniel Olinger (@dan_olinger) March 25, 2021
Compare that to Matisse Thybulle, who all but ate Poole’s lunch money whenever he checked in, and Green’s value on that end becomes somewhat shaky. This isn’t a one-game occurrence mind you. Green has been routinely torched on-ball by quicker perimeter scorers, as they all have no trouble knifing into the paint. Weirdly, Green is both incapable and sometimes happy to let these things happen, preferring to try his hand at rearview tracking and wrap-around steals rather than keeping his chest in front of him, which is not great in the grand scheme of things.
Don’t get me wrong. Green is still a good player due to his willingness to fire away from deep (10.3 3PA per 100 on 39 percent shooting is fairly good) and knack for nabbing deflections. Advanced ratings back this up as well, with FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR pegging him as the Sixers’ fourth most valuable player, and he ranks 117th overall in EPM at an acceptable +0.9 rating per Dunks and Threes.
But given his incredibly limited on-ball utility both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get moved here at the deadline.
4. Ben Simmons’s behind-the-back dribbles
It’s incredible how well Ben Simmons can dribble at his size. The 6-foot-10 star can superfreak gallop down the court at breakneck speed with little issue, changing directions if ever impeded by an opponent’s jab in the open court.
However, I did notice a curious move he went to when checked by Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday, one of the most fearsome on-ball defenders in the entire league.
Twice in one play, Simmons reverses course with a behind-the-back move. Each time he went to it, he first hit Holiday with his right hand, before flipping the ball behind his body with his left hand, in order to ensure he had the needed separation to make the move.
Neither righty punch was strong enough to garner an offensive foul, though I’m sure Holiday could have sold a half-decent flop if needed. Utilizing off-hand contact whilst dribbling is nothing new in the modern NBA, but it’s a little awkward for Ben given how upright he is while pushing off. It’s almost as if being taller than the average ball handler prevents him from bending low enough to sharply change directions moving at that speed, and instead he needs to stabilize himself with that right-handed push. He had already broken out this ever so sleight of hand move earlier in the game during that brutal fourth quarter, again while facing ball pressure menace Jrue Holiday.
If my memory serves correct, this isn’t the first time Simmons has busted out this move, and it’s worth questioning if it even is a “move” considering it’s probably just a natural reaction he’s built up over the years for when smaller guards try to get underneath him for steals, but I find it fascinating nonetheless.
Then again, I spend way too much time thinking about basketball instead of doing actual things, so who really knows?