Game Preview | To Keep Players Ready, Brown Considers Empowerment Key
BOSTON – As the halfway point of the season arrives (already?!), the 76ers’ starting line-up has proven to be one of the top units in the NBA.
For evidence, look no further than the net ratings produced by five-man groupings that have logged at least 300 minutes together. None boast a better mark than the 17.6 net rating generated by the combination of Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid.
But what about the personnel beyond the Sixers’ first-stringers? What does the team have on that front?
The past week or so, whether the Sixers have been abroad or stateside, Brett Brown has made frequent mention of the need to grow and “empower” his bench.
This theme was brought further into the forefront on the heels of the Sixers announcing that they’ll be without Redick’s trusted veteran services for the next 10 to 14 days, at which point his left leg injury (bone edema, small fibular head cortical crack) will be reevaluated. He hurt himself in Monday’s win over the Toronto Raptors.
Now tasked once again with managing a shorthanded roster, Brown knows the Sixers, at least in the immediate days ahead, will have to rely more heavily on their back-ups. Of increasing importance is that the contingent feels ready to go, and good about itself.
“That will be the mindset we approach the next few weeks with, however long JJ is out,” Brown said Wednesday at the Sixers’ training complex, before he and the team flew north for Thursday’s nationally-televised match-up versus the Boston Celtics (7:00 PM EST; TNT, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network).
In terms of the reserves most affected by Redick’s impeding absence, the list begins with Jerryd Bayless, another seasoned guard. According to Brown, Bayless will be bumped to the top of the Sixers’ depth chart at shooting guard, with swingmen Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Justin Anderson - perhaps even recent two-way contract signee James Young - likely seeing their roles increase, too.
Performance, Brown said, will be the ultimate determinant of how playing time is allocated.
For now, though, the fifth-year head coach just seems to be focused on making sure the likes of Bayless and his fellow second-string peers are armed with a healthful amount of confidence.
To get players to that point, Brown zeroes in on relationship management, dealing with each person on a case-by-case basis. Gut feel guides his approach.
“It’s just trying to find a genuine angle to show…how successful people have been either now, or in other places,” he said.
Brown recognizes that when minutes aren’t consistent, it’s not always easy for players to maintain a steady output. Such is the life of a reserve.
To try and get guys going, Brown has found the use of visual aids, such as video clips, and running sets for certain players to be valuable tools. He leaned on the latter of these two strategies December 30th at Denver, dialing up several second half plays for Bayless, who responded by scoring 14 points, and helped put the Nuggets away.
“It kind of depends who you are,” said Bayless, when asked how Brown’s handles empowering players. “It depends on who the person, who the player is.”
Regardless of who the Sixers call upon to step in for Reddick, don’t expect to see any dramatic changes to their style of play.
“We just have to do what we do better, and reinforce what we want,” Brown said.
That means a continuing emphasis on player and ball movement on offense, and plenty of activity, rim protection, and rebound-hawking on defense, where the Sixers currently rank fifth in the league (103.3 drtg).
Simmons summed it up succinctly Wednesday.
“Everybody just has to step up.”
The Sixers will get one last chance Thursday to salvage a win from their four-game season series with the Boston Celtics (34-11), which remain in possession of the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Tuesday’s 116-113 overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans marked the Celts’ first game back in action following a four-day break that came on the heels of last week’s come-from-behind 114-103 victory over the Sixers in the NBA London Game 2018. The defeat snapped Boston’s seven-game winning streak.
In three previous pairings with the Sixers this year, Kyrie Irving has averaged 25.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game, while hitting 9 of 22 3-point attempts. Al Horford (17.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 5.0 apg) and Marcus Morris (18.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg) have been impactful in the season series, too.
• Video: NBA on TNT / TNT Overtime
• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network