The Philadelphia 76ers (1-1) hosted the Brooklyn Nets (2-0) on Monday night in their third of four preseason games. The Sixers outhustled a farcical Brooklyn defense to move to 2-1 in the preseason.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Nets were without the services of Kyrie Irving (not with the team), DeAndre’ Bembry (dental procedure), and Devontae Cacok (sore right groin) in this game.
Steve Nash started James Harden, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant, Bruce Brown, and Blake Griffin.
A shorter sentence might entail who was available to play for the Sixers. None of Seth Curry (rest), Tobias Harris (sore right knee), Tyrese Maxey (tight left adductor), Shake Milton (sprained right ankle), Grant Riller (surgery on left knee), Matisse Thybulle (sore right shoulder), and Ben Simmons (not with team) were available for the penultimate rehearsal.
Doc Rivers started Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz, Isaiah Joe, Georges Niang, and Joel Embiid.
The Sixers made a concerted effort to utilize off-ball screening actions around the lane to create pockets of space for Embiid to establish in the post early in the first quarter. While they implemented similar concepts last season, there was more variety to the number of wrinkles they used to shed Embiid of defenders. A deeper menu of toppings to get to the same dessert is something you expect to develop with a more extensive training camp. So, it’s far from surprising that anyone is noticing new flavors of what the Sixers are running.
A more significant indicator of change within Rivers’ offense is that those Sixers screening for Embiid are then jutting out to the perimeter with purposeful cuts. It certainly might hurt the Sixers in the turnover department in the young stages of a new season. But, their offense will ultimately flow better due to improved spacing and deliberate off-ball movement. The passing that accompanied the upgraded playbook also forged good looks from the perimeter. Regardless of whether or not Simmons returns, that buy-in to Rivers’ principles is something that will aid the second unit’s offense and prevent stagnation.
Listen, I don’t know if Point Furk is something that anyone wants to see much of when the games count. But, I would be lying if I said he didn’t look extremely fluid and comfortable as an offensive initiator. His passes were well-timed and well-placed, and his shooters capitalized on the precision. Most obvious was his ability to read what Brooklyn’s defense (or lack thereof) was doing and react without too much thought or strain.
Rivers can downplay the notion that he and his staff are emphasizing three-point shooting all he wants. It’s very evident that they’ve hunted more looks from deep in these last two preseason games. Part of it is surely the fast-paced style and efense (no D in anything Toronto or Brooklyn did). But, there’s no disputing that Philly feels more empowered to let it fly from deep than they did last season.
We haven’t seen much of rookie Jaden Springer to this point. When we have seen him, he looks every bit of a guy who needs some run in Delaware with the Blue Coats. But, he can be confident in his pull-up mid-range jumpers. As uncomfortable and unsure of himself as he looks at times, his pull-up middie is feathery.
Joel Embiid did not play in the second half. Andre Drummond started for him after intermission.
I’m not sure how I feel about this as a crutch, but Drummond bringing the ball up and immediately facilitating a dribble hand-off with one of the wings or guards is something that might be effective in spurts since it always results in the recipient of the hand-off pushing the middle of the lane without immediately facing resistance. Eventually, any team defending with urgency is going to just switch it to take the ball-handler’s lane away. But, Drummond will then have the mismatch to go to work in the post — something of which he has proven he can take advantage. More than anything, those Drummond DHOs get something going towards the rim in that second unit. That beats the heck out of pounding the air out of the ball on the perimeter like the second unit did much of last season.
Between ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reporting that Ben Simmons returned to Philadelphia on Monday to join the team, Jon Gruden resigning, and the Sixers obliterating the Nets without three starters, it was a bizarre night in sports.
Paul Reed makes his matchup work every time down the floor and on both sides of the ball. Even if Reed doesn’t generate a positive play by himself, he exhausts the opposition by continuously moving, fighting, and hustling. It’s difficult to define what skill is going to get him on the court right now. But, his intangible impact warrants consideration when it comes time to trim the rotation.
The Sixers will travel to Detroit to visit the Pistons (1-0) on Friday. Tip-off is set for 7 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.