Game Preview | After Time Outs, Sixers Operating Efficiently

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Scene Setter:

CAMDEN, NJ - Sometimes, it can be used to break up an opponent’s momentum.

In other instances, it serves the purpose of igniting or extending runs.

Most significantly, it’s been called upon to put away games.

The 76ers’ after-timeout offense (which we’ll refer to from here on out as ‘ATO’) has been a bankable, basket-producing weapon this season. Nearly three months into the 2017-2018 campaign, no team has been more efficient in this area, with the Sixers’ rate of 1.22 points per ATO possession pacing the league heading into Friday’s match-up with the Detroit Pistons (7:00 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network).

While building their current three-game winning streak, the Sixers’ ATO prowess has been on full display, particularly at late, pivotal junctures.

Let’s start with an example from Wednesday’s 112-106 victory over the San Antonio Spurs:

With Brett Brown’s club aiming to break through for its first win over the Spurs in 13 tries, this key development unfolded after a timeout at the 25.5 second mark of the fourth quarter.

Here's what we saw in the sequence above. Quickly after pitching the sideline inbound pass to Robert Covington in the midpost, Ben Simmons peels around to the top of the key. Then, with his defender (Kyle Anderson) having succumbed to the temptation to provide help defense on Covington, Simmons, like a battering ram, tears through the backdoor for a dunk. The deposit provided the Sixers with valuable insurance.

In the team’s outing before last, Sunday’s year-ending 123-110 triumph in Phoenix, another helpful ATO call was dialed up with the game on the line.

Here, Covington inbounds the ball from the far sideline to Simmons, who passes to Joel Embiid at the elbow. Via a handoff from Embiid, the always-active JJ Redick curls around to the top of the key, where he shakes his man (Troy Daniels), and rises up for a timely elbow jumper that further stretched the Sixers’ game-ending 18-6 surge. 

Regardless of context, there have been numerous examples this year of the Sixers’ ATO proficiency.

“Because we have so many different resources, different pieces that can score in different areas, that’s what allows us to be effective,” Covington said recently, when asked about the Sixers’ ATO production.

Through the lens that Brown views the basketball world, ATO offense falls under the Sixers’ “special teams” umbrella. Also included in this category are sideline out-of-bounds, underneath (baseline) out-of-bounds, and after-free throw sets. Assistant coach Kevin Young has been given the responsibility to oversee this aspect of the Sixers’ offense.

Looking a little bit more closely at sideline out-of-bounds performance, the Sixers rank among the league’s best as well, manufacturing 1.14 points per possession. That rate is good for sixth overall.

Reviewing a collection of sideline out-of-bounds clips from the past month, sometimes, it can be Covington acting as the trigger man...

...while in other instances, Redick might be the guy, as we saw in these two sequences from Wednesday’s tilt versus San Antonio…

Simmons also regularly puts the ball in play.

As the gifs above show, whether it’s on ATO, sideline out-of-bounds, or underneath out-of-bounds opportunities, the Sixers do indeed have multiple special teams options at their disposal, both in respect to the inbounder, and the scorer. Embiid has emerged as the featured man, too, every now and then. This 3-point dagger proved to be a defining moment from the Christmas Day victory over the New York Knicks.

If you look at some of these sequences closely (Embiid screening off Dejounte Murray to spring Bayless free, or Redick wedging his body in front of New York’s Enes Kanter), you’ll see that often times, a pick sets an ATO, or other type of special teams play, in motion. How opposing defenses react to the Sixers’ action dictates the next move.

It’s all about the reads, says Covington, with the objective being to create confusion for the team on the other side. 

“It’s one thing we’ve been fortunate enough to be good at, but there’s still a lot we can build to it.” 

And such is the Sixers’ plan. When afforded the luxury of coveted in-season practice time, the group makes sure to get its special teams reps in.

“We practice this stuff each and every day,” said Covington. “We go over plays all the time, and just to go out and execute it, it just shows what we practice in practice, we can go in execute in games, and a lot of times, we’re very efficient.”

A statement Covington had every right to make with confidence, as the data bears out.

Opponent Outlook:

The Detroit Pistons (20-16) are doing their best to recover from a rocky stretch. They've won six of their last nine games after losing seven consecutive contests. 

Andre Drummond ranks fourth in the NBA with 25 double-doubles, and is second in rebounding, averaging 15.1 boards per game. Tobias Harris paces the Pistons with 18.1 points per contest.

The Sixers have defeated Detroit twice already this season, 96-87 on October 23rd, and 108-103 on December 2nd. 

Follow Along:

 Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports Philadelphia app

• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network