Tyrese Maxey’s explosion, Doc Rivers’ adjustments and more Sixers film studies
After the Philadelphia 76ers’ lifeless performance Wednesday in Toronto, coach Doc Rivers made a salient point about his team being out of sync through the early part of the season. He admitted the team’s offense was very much a work in progress without letting his players off the hook completely.
“In the meantime, you should still be able to get wins and win games with your effort,” Rivers said. “And I thought they had a lot more energy than us tonight.”
This weekend, the Sixers turned 1-4 into 3-4 by sweeping the raptors i bulls in consecutive road wins. And while that’s far from a perfectly fine-tuned machine right now, that matters less when a team can get wins like Rivers alluded to. The temperature may have cooled down a bit, but only time will tell if it remains so.
The biggest takeaway from the weekend was that the Sixers found a way to get some wins while still being a work in progress. In case you were watching the World Series, here are 10 other things from the weekend to help you catch up on the Sixers.
1. Friday night marked the first true Tyrese Maxey explosion of the season, which is always a pleasure to watch. Take a look Joel EmbiidThe reaction from the bench in the clip below, hands to head in amused disbelief.
This is what it feels like when Maxey turns on the kind of heater so few N.B.A players are able to match. He scored 44 points on 15-of-20 shooting from the field and 9-of-12 from beyond the arc. The points and 3-pointers represented career highs against a team he also had a lot of success against in the postseason.
This has been mentioned frequently, but Maxey is an incredible success story for player development. Think about the work the Sixers just did. Maxey puts up a screen for James Harden At 30 feet from the hoop, he stretches out to 28 feet, takes a behind-the-back bounce pass from Harden and immediately lets it rip. This is, in a way, a good move when he has it going. As with Embiid, you can only shake your head in disbelief when a Maxey attack occurs.
2. Rivers continues the trend of coaching well when Embiid doesn’t play. The Sixers went 6-8 without Embiid last season, but much of that came during a three-week COVID-19 absence as the rest of the team was also dealing with the outbreak . There were four games where Embiid received a legitimate load-handling night during the regular season. And the Sixers went 3-1 in those games, with some of their best (and most unlikely) wins of the season.
For whatever reason, Rivers does some of his best work organizing poor Sixers lineups offensively. And there was one set that highlighted the Sixers’ solid offensive strategy in the second game of a back-to-back against Toronto.
3. The double swipe screen is alive and well. Let’s show two Maxey buckets from the Sixers’ win in Toronto, one with each starting guard starting the action that has two filters (one that shoots, one that jumps) at the top of the key.
Harden hasn’t played well on the road trip. Over the past three games, he’s shot 32.4 percent from the field and doesn’t always make quick decisions to keep the offense moving. But some of his best work came when he found a player escaping Toronto’s shift scheme in double drag action. Here, he finds Tobias Harris over the top and Harris takes advantage of the advantage situation to find Maxey in the corner.
Below, Maxey accepts the switch defense and makes a favorable matchup (Gary Trent Jr.) in isolation. The Sixers lived in that action against Toronto, and it’s something they can score in a number of ways.
4. The midcourt offense has been surprisingly good so far. Trust me, I know it doesn’t feel that way. Saturday’s game in Chicago was the perfect example. Harden and Embiid found ways to score Nikola Vucevic defending in space, the second unit played at a good pace and the Sixers had 54 points midway through the second quarter. The Sixers lost their rhythm and rhythm after that. Embiid said as much after the game. he he rescued them in a pick-and-pop 3.
But according to Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers have an offensive rating of 103.9 in the half court. That’s good for third in the NBA, which seems like good news considering the room for improvement here. The bad news is that the Sixers rank 26th in transition and generally don’t create enough easy baskets. This will probably have to change moving forward.
5. The Sixers are playing a fair amount of zone defense. They’ve deployed the zone on 7.7 percent of their possessions, which is sixth-most in the NBA. This is 1.8% more than last season and 2.5% the season before. While he helped them win Friday’s game against the Raptors’ reserve units, he’s likely less of a long-term fix than a trade-up for a struggling defense.
And when the area is involved, that usually means…
6. Matisse Thybulle finally broke the rotation. And it went reasonably well. This is not to say that Thybulle has done anything out of the ordinary. He knocked down a pair of open 3s and had an up-and-down decision-making night against Toronto, which put a lot of stress on him offensively. But I also don’t think it was a coincidence that the Sixers had two above-average defensive performances and their two best turnover performances.
Brought in early for Maxey (foul trouble) in Chicago, Thybulle gives the Sixers a different look. Specifically, it makes safety lineups more changeable. And as I wrote on Friday mail bagit made sense to insert him into the lineup before the fight Casa Daniel Jr. with how the Sixers defend.
7. By Anthony Melton it seems to install. After a rough first few games on defense, you’re starting to see what Melton is capable of. On Friday night, he started and made some excellent plays on the short run when asked to screen Harden and Maxey. He can push the ball in transition, which the Sixers need badly. He can knock down threes and isn’t afraid to take it. Melton fits the bill for a player who, in theory, can hang on both ends of the court.
More than anything, though, Melton is a wreaker in a slightly different kind of role than Thybulle. Ball handlers have to be very careful when putting the ball in front of him because he is very skilled at getting it out. Toronto learned that the hard way as Melton had five steals on Friday. And whether it’s contesting shots at the rim or hitting the defensive glass, Melton is also an excellent jumper. It’s easy to see why their numbers in these categories are so good.
8. Instead of Embiid, the Sixers went small ball and Montrezl Harrell appearance Harrell was the backup center in both games this weekend, which meant just that Paul Reed he didn’t get a chance to play. Tucker at center again proved dynamite in Toronto (the starters had a net rating of plus-41.5 in 22 minutes), a group that was certainly helped by Maxey’s tremendous shooting. At one point in the Chicago game, the Sixers even went to a bench group because of foul trouble: Milton-Melton-Thybulle-Niang-Harrell. This group also lasted in limited minutes.
9. Half court defense won the game in the end against Chicago. Despite their offensive woes, the Sixers dug deep and held the Bulls to 22 points in the fourth quarter. One adjustment that proved key later on was moving Embiid Patrick Williams. The logic behind this move is simple: Vučević was making his pick-and-pop triples, so the Sixers dared him to beat them inside while giving his rim protector a player he could afford to to leave.
Embiid’s strategy paid off, as his defensive activity level was night and day compared to Wednesday in Toronto. This possession below ends with a difficult DeMar DeRozan recorded Embiid answering right after the video ended.
10. Embiid is now 12-0 against Chicago. There have been some close calls, but he tends to close the door late against the Bulls.
(Top photo of Tyrese Maxey: Cole Burston/Getty Images)
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