What you may have missed: Running a few plays for Butler and more

The highlights are great. But so is the stuff between the highlights. Here are some things you may have missed from the last week (or so) of games…

For all videos, press the SLOW-MO button at the bottom right to watch in slow motion.

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Wed. Nov. 14 – Sixers at Magic

In their first game with Jimmy Butler, the Sixers ran the first play of the first quarter for their new star. With the Magic switching the double pick-and-roll, it didn’t really go anywhere, and Butler was mostly a spectator in the Sixers’ offense throughout the first half.

With Minnesota, Butler was in the top 20 of the league in pick-and-roll ball-handler possessions per game, but the Sixers have run the fewest pick-and-rolls in the league. No other Sixer ranks in the top 65 in pick-and-roll ball-handler possessions per game.

The playbook was limited in Butler’s debut, but Brett Brown will surely add some sets for Butler to do his thing as the season goes on. And down the stretch on Wednesday, the Sixers did run some pick-and-roll with Butler.

It was the same set, a Butler-Joel Embiid pick-and-roll from the left side of the floor, three times in a stretch of eight possessions late the Sixers’ 111-106 loss to the Magic.

The Sixers got three pretty good shots out of the play…

  1. Nikola Vucevic calls for a late switch on the pick-and-roll, forcing Evan Fournier to recover out to Embiid. When Embiid blows by Fournier’s close-out, two Magic players help on the drive and Embiid finds Ben Simmons on the baseline (with Wilson Chandler also wide open in the weak-side corner).
  2. More weak-side (and maybe unnecessary) help from Terrence Ross results in a corner 3-point attempt from Mike Muscala.
  3. When another late switch call from Vucevic has Fournier scrambling again, Embiid takes an open three from the left wing.

The question to ask is whether it’s good that Embiid is popping out to the perimeter on these pick-and-rolls instead of rolling to the basket. And if the answer to that is no, then the question to ask is if Simmons’ presence on the floor (on the baseline because he can’t shoot) is why Embiid is popping instead of rolling. With the score within five in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime this season, Embiid has taken 12 of his 25 shots from 3-point range and another four from mid-range. He does have a high free throw rate in the clutch, but that shot selection is less than ideal for a guy who’s bigger and stronger than almost anybody else in the league.


Fri. Nov. 9 – Hornets at Sixers

With the Sixers up three in overtime last Friday, the Hornets ran a “hammer” play to tie the game, and they executed it pretty well, with Malik Monk getting to the baseline, Willy Hernangomez setting a weak-side back-screen for Kemba Walker, and Walker springing free for an open corner three. But it wasn’t open long enough, because Simmons was able to cover a lot of ground and get a hand on Walkers’ shot to tie the game.


Tue. Nov. 13 – Houston at Denver

The Rockets’ offense is a lot more fun to watch when the opponent doesn’t switch screens. Alas, sometimes the defense has no choice. In the third quarter on Tuesday, Houston ran a fun play to create a little confusion prior to a James Harden-Clint Capela pick-and-roll along the left sideline.

The first time the Rockets ran the play, the Nuggets didn’t switch anything, Nikola Jokic hedged out to Harden (with Gary Harris trailing), Capela got a clean roll to the basket, and Capela got an easy dunk of a perfect pocket pass from the MVP.

When the Rockets ran the same play on the very next possession, the Nuggets had Jokic on the weak side and worked out a three-way switch where Paul Millsap picked up Harden, Juancho Hernangomez covered Capela on the roll, and Harris switched onto Hernangomez’s man (P.J. Tucker). Harden, of course, went to an iso.


Mon. Nov. 12 – Utah at Memphis

In third quarter on Monday, the Jazz set up in a pretty unique configuration, with four guys bunched together between the foul line and the 3-point arc. Then Derrick Favors ran in a circle around Donovan Mitchell to set a screen for Mitchell to flare out to the left side.

It’s an elaborate set-up (a semi-disguised “horns” set) for a Joe Ingles curl around a Rudy Gobert screen that gets a runner for Ingles, with Marc Gasol dropping back to defend Gobert’s roll to the basket (with no help because the Jazz cleared out the right side of the floor).


Wed. Nov. 14 – Miami at Brooklyn

A team’s best shooter can often be its most effective screener, because his defender has to choose between sticking with the shooter and helping on guy coming off the screen.

In the third quarter of their easy win in Brooklyn on Wednesday, the Heat ran an ATO (after timeout) play with Wayne Ellington setting a back-screen at the left elbow for Tyler Johnson. Joe Harris was guarding Ellington and chose to stay attached, allowing Johnson to get an easy layup off a feed from Justise Winslow.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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