Game Preview | Finding Balance Between Post, Perimeter a Matter of Feel

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Scene Setter:

CLEVELAND, OH - From a surface-level view, the 76ers’ offense has been productive so far this season. Entering Saturday’s game in Cleveland (8:00 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network), the team ranked eighth among the NBA’s 30 squads with an average of 108.0 points per game, and 18th with an offensive rating of 104.1 points per 100 possessions.

These figures, for starters, represent significant strides made from previous seasons, and are no doubt tied to the roster enhancements the Sixers made during the summer. Furthermore, there has also has been a mostly balanced approach on the offensive end, with the Sixers finding ways to maximize the use of their dominant, double-team busting big man, and proven perimeter shooting stable.

Recently, however, while expressing general encouragement about the direction the Sixers’ offense has been headed, Brett Brown hasn’t lost sight of an important task - teaching his group how to best deploy its weapons. In other words, when is it more optimal to get the ball to Joel Embiid [out Saturday @ CLE; load management], versus when does it make the most sense to let 3-pointers fly?

Brown understands that getting a handle on this dynamic requires time, and reps.

“There’s no book that tells you how to do that,” Brown said this past week, when asked about how the Sixers coach their players on striking a balance between feeding Embiid, and taking 3-point looks. “There is completely a gut feel.”

On the whole, with Embiid anchored in the middle, and prolific marksmen like JJ Redick and Robert Covington sprinkled around the arc, the Sixers have managed to create a multi-dimensional attack. Their 26.8 points in the paint per game are good for second in the league, while their 16.0 post-up points on 19.0 post-up touches per game stand as the NBA’s highest marks.

In terms of 3-point shooting, the Sixers have hit 254 triples this season on 709 attempts, 15th and 16th-most, respectively. Up until this past week’s losses to the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers, the Sixers’ 3-point percentage, now at 35.8, was in the top half of the league, too.

Redick, second on the Sixers with 54 threes, thinks the team has generally done well setting up Embiid, while also carving out chances for 3-point threats like himself.

“Because we’re playing at a faster pace, we’re moving the ball, we’re driving and kicking, and a lot of times out of that, you get threes,” said Redick.

He and the Sixers play at a pace of 104.0 possessions per game, fourth-fastest in the NBA. 

“We sometimes have to just recognize when Jo is on the floor, and [if] he goes a couple of trips down without the ball just to kind of maybe slow it down and give him the ball. We’re clearly balancing it, it’s just something we have to continue to monitor.”

Almost two months into his second pro campaign, Embiid, for all the different ways he’s been able to put the ball in the basket, has been a force inside. He’s ninth among his peers in points in the paint (11.0), and first overall scoring in post-up scenarios (10.6).

“When you look at the usage rate Joel has, it’s massive, it really is massive,” said Brown, referring to Embiid’s 34.1 usage percentage (how frequently he factors into plays while on the court). “The paint touches, the post touches, the usage rate, versus the game is going really fast and we’re shooting a lot of threes is gut feel, all the way around, in real time.”

To that end, the Sixers don’t micromanage possessions, according to Redick. 

“That’s not realistic basketball,” he said.

But, Covington, who’s canned the 4th-most 3-pointers in the NBA, with 77, indicated there are certain cues the Sixers pay attention to when deciding whether to seek out Embiid, or fire away from 3-point territory. First and foremost, the club looks to see how strong Embiid posts in the key.

“Based off of how strong Jo posts in the paint - if he has a foot in the paint, give him the ball,” said Covington. “Statistics-wise, he’s off the charts when he has a foot in the paint. We give him the ball, he does a lot of good things.”

Even if an deposit isn’t immediately made, the ripple effects of Embiid simply having the rock on the block are positive.

“Guys are going to double-team him because he’s so deep in the paint,” Covington said. “That allows us to get open threes. It’s all a trigger effect. Instead of just firing up threes, we got to play inside-out. The more we get him going, the more it’s going to open up the court for us.”

And therein lies the line the Sixers continue to try to walk.

Opponent Outlook:

Eyes around the NBA figured to be trained on the Cleveland Cavaliers Saturday, curious to see how the three-time Eastern Conference champs come out a day after their franchise-record tying 13-game winning streak was halted with a 106-102 loss at the Indiana Pacers. The NBA’s third-most potent 3-point shooting team, the Cavs went just 4 for 18 outside the arc in the second half, as they were forced to battle uphill after being outscored 32-23 in the third quarter.  LeBron James was tabbed as the KIA NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Month for October-November, accounting for 28.0 points (58.3 fg%, 42.5 3fg%), 8.2 rebounds, and 8.5 assists in games played during that stretch.

Follow Along:

• Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports app

• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network