The Adjustment | Pick-and-Rolls Picking Up

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

As the 76ers mounted their resilient, resounding fourth-quarter comeback to cap a key victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the way they went about their business on the offensive end was noteworthy.

After finishing the regular season as one of the least-reliant pick-and-roll teams in the NBA, there were the Sixers - with Saturday’s feisty battle on the line - turning to pick-and-roll actions to get the job done.

The motivation was to feed a hungry beast. Joel Embiid obliged, devouring opportunities to power the Sixers in front.

Of the significant pick-and-roll plays the Sixers dialed up in crunch time, there was:

• Embiid’s slashing lay-up with Tobias Harris as his pick-and-roll partner to cut the deficit to 101-96.

• Another Embiid-Harris combo that yielded a tough, nifty over the shoulder basket from Embiid, and made the score 102-101, Sixers.

• A sequence with Embiid as the screener, and Ben Simmons using the pick to get a good look in the lane. While the shot didn’t fall, Simmons managed to corral his own miss, then kicked the ball out to JJ Redick for a go-ahead 3-pointer, 107-106.

That the Sixers were comfortable leaning on pick-and-roll down the stretch in Game 4 underscored an important theme from the first round - the club is both able and willing to run pick-and-rolls more frequently, and more efficiently.

According to stats.nba.com, the Sixers ran 13.1 pick-and-rolls per game in the regular season (29th / 30 teams), which led to 11.9 pick-and-roll points per game (30th).

Run those same numbers through four postseason games, and you’ll see a dramatic jump. The Sixers are averaging 19.8 pick-and-roll plays per game (10th / 16 teams), and subsequently 20.8 pick-and-roll points per game (5th).

Despite not being pick-and-roll heavy during the regular season, the Sixers were still efficient, generating 0.91 points per pick-and-roll possession (tied 5th). They’ve been even better in the playoffs, tallying a league-best 1.05 points per pick-and-roll possession (tied with San Antonio).

Why the increase? The Sixers have the personnel to pull it off, says Brett Brown.

“That sounds like a simple answer, but we can,” the sixth-year head coach said Monday before practice.

Whether it’s using Harris or Jimmy Butler as ball-handlers, Simmons as a screen-setter, or Embiid or Boban Marjanovic as roll men, the team has options.

“We’ve been...looking at some pick and roll environments late [in games], like crunch time environments more than crunch time plays where you’ve got multiple options I hope out of that.”

Of all the Sixers, Brown has called upon Harris and Butler the most to initiate pick-and-roll. In the postseason, Harris accounts for 6.3 pick-and-roll ball handling possessions per game (3.4 regular season), while Butler has gotten more, with 7.3 (4.4 regular season).

Butler ranks fifth in the postseason among players with at least 5.0 pick-and-roll possessions per game by scoring at a rate of 1.07 points per pick-and-roll possession.

Harris produces 1.00 points per pick-and-roll possession. He’s been encouraged by the results.

He and Butler alike are capable of either driving to the basket, or connecting on a jumper.

“We got some good actions in that fourth quarter going to the pick-and-roll,” Harris said about Saturday’s victory. “I thought it was great.”

It’s been another wrinkle to what is so far a promising start to the playoffs.  

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