Game Preview | Getting to Know Personnel Key Part of Early-Season Agenda

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Scene Setter:


Know Your Personnel.

The saying is common in coaching circles for all sports, let alone basketball. But as it pertains to Brett Brown in particular, the concept is one that’s been referenced regularly over the course of his tenure in Philadelphia. 

As the 76ers prepare to close out their first week of the new season Wednesday with a home match-up against the Houston Rockets (7:00 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network), getting more familiar with the players at his disposal is an item that remains at the top of Brown’s to-do list. 

Yes, there are more able bodies in the fold this season than in the past, but that doesn’t mean that identifying the Sixers’ most effective pairings, groupings, or rotations happens overnight. At least not in Brown’s eyes.

That’s why, in the early days of the 2017-2018 campaign, he is working hard to make strategic personnel decisions that best put his squad in position to win. Given the Sixers’ youth and positional versatility, a black and white matter Brown knows this is not. Some gray still exists. 

“So much of the evolution of playing this team is studying pairings,” Brown said Tuesday in Camden, following practice, “and the more data you get, apart from just a coach’s gut feel, you can put people together that should be playing more with each other.”

So far, for example, the 2-man tandem of Joel Embiid and JJ Redick has produced encouraging results, with the duo generating a 10.6 net rating in 61 total minutes. 

The subject of pairings and subbing was broached with Brown the day after the Sixers picked up their first victory of the season, an entertaining, roller coaster of a triumph in Detroit Monday, 97-86. Of note was that to start the second half, Brown tinkered ever so slightly. He grouped Dario Saric with starters Ben Simmons, Redick, Robert Covington, and Embiid.

Brown’s intent? To put a bigger unit on the floor, and get a better sense of how the quintet might be able to disrupt the opposition defensively, through switchability, size, and length.

For instance, with Saric out there, Covington, an elite defender, could be freed up to do more. He could focus on opposing ‘threes’ (small forwards), or, theoretically be freed up to jump out on a point guard, and let either Simmons or Saric cover the wing. Simmons and Saric, in their own rights, have shown themselves capable of handling multiple defensive assignments, too.

The sample size for the Simmons-Redick-Covington-Saric-Embiid line-up was small - they spent only three minutes together before Simmons was replaced by Markelle Fultz - but Brown was encouraged by what he saw. The same could be said for Simmons.

“Being able to switch on to whoever it is, and having guys that are so versatile in the games, it helps a lot,” he said Tuesday.

Another ripple effect from the second-half subbing patterns Monday was that the veteran combo guard Bayless could be used in a lightening rod role off the bench. Brown liked that look. The fifth-year head coach also thought Amir Johnson spelled Joel Embiid “admirably,” and felt second-year wing man Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot provided a burst.

As Brown explained on the heels of a successful venture in the Motor City, the objective has been to “reverse engineer” rotations in order to end games with the players he feels give the Sixers the best chance to win given match-ups on a given night.  He praised the Sixers for adjusting and adapting well Tuesday, as he and his staff continue to learn.

“Lots of good players can be good players on an island, but then they seem to do more with different pairings,” Brown said. “I think growth... is always on my mind.”

Opponent Outlook:

Ready? Here comes James Harden, Round 1.

Wednesday at The Center, the Sixers will get their first of two looks at the five-time All-Star in the span of six short days (the Sixers have a re-match with Houston next Monday at Toyota Center). When it comes to scheming up how to contain Harden, Brett Brown knows that a standard approach is as legitimate and good as any.

“It’s a team thing, and he has to see a crowd,” Brown said Tuesday. “He’s just so dynamic in the first 3 to 4 seconds of their offense.”

Accordingly, Brown said that on Wednesday, the Sixers’ defensive world will have to begin in transition. He also believes strongly that Harden should be given a variety of looks. 

“There’s a little bit of cat and mouse with how you guard the pick and roll. I think we have a switchable group. You can’t give him a steady diet of the same look.”

Follow Along:

Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports app

Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network