Brett Brown Signals Changes to Sixers Defense in Embiid’s Absence

PHILADELPHIA: The 76ers returned home to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. It was the first time they’d played at home since a Christmas Day dismantling of the Milwaukee Bucks. Prior to Monday’s win at home, the team had gone winless in 4 road games. The Sixers closed out the Thunder by continuing to shoot 50% from the field and from three. The win, however, did not come without a cost. Joel Embiid hurt his left hand twice in the first quarter, fighting through a horrific left ring finger dislocation to play 32 minutes in the win. After seeing specialists over the next few days, it was decided on Thursday that he would undergo surgery on a torn radial collateral ligament of the fourth metacarpal in his left hand. Embiid will be re-evaluated in 1-2 weeks. 

 Blowtorch and a Bullet

Brett Brown talked about the loss of Embiid, the massive hole in the center of a defense built around what he can do as a rim protector. “I mean everybody sitting in front of me would understand what do you miss on defense that you know you used to have in a seven-foot-two All-NBA defender, that you now don’t have, what does that mean?” Said Brown who declined to get into specifics about adjustments. “I won’t get into a clinic now, but you all can sort of guess what that could mean with a bunch of different things. Pick and Roll post whatever.” 

Brown then continued on the other side of the ball “Then you get into offense, you know you get an all-league player that is sort of your focal point to your offense. You don’t have him. What does that mean with pace a game focal points, called plays? And so, you know, where do I begin? It’s massive. And, you know, I think if you look at sort of the results that we have had without Joel. You know we have lots of room to grow and to play against the Boston Celtics.” When asked, he did not shy away from any assertions that the team will attempt to play faster and utilize more transition play in order to cater to Ben Simmons’ strengths. 

The Human Side 

“Ever since he’s been in the NBA I’m the only coach he’s had,” said Brown about Embiid, who has battled as many different injuries as one could imagine in his relatively short career. “And, you know, it’s like it’s easy for all of us to say it’s part of sport, it’s part of a player’s life coach us we’re here.” When speaking of the hand injury that follows knee, back, foot and face injuries in the past, Brett referrred to them as “unfortunate circumstances”.  

Moving Forward 

“Now all of a sudden, you know, you have to recalibrate a little bit. And in and find a way to get excited to coach the team that we have, you know, all of a sudden we’re different. You know, we’re just different. And you know I look at this as an opportunity and nobody’s crying. This is not a ‘woe is me’ moment, not for me at all, Not for my players.” 

“We’re just different than we used to be.” Admitted Brown. “What’s the gym look like offensively and defensively, again we can all guess what it should look like. And we’re very lucky to have [Al Horford] when things like this to Joel happen.”

“I’m putting a blowtorch and bullet into what we used to do, it doesn’t fit.”

“It’s on me to try to like make it fit, we don’t have Joel Embiid. And so when I say blowtorch and bullet. I mean it, it doesn’t mean we have to completely pivot out to like wild stuff that could be reckless, I don’t think so I think it’s just taken sort of our house we’ve lived in and moving the furniture around a little bit. And, and that’s what I intend to do what to think like we’re going to replicate what we used to do with Joel now without so that we make the perimeter people’s world more, you know, seamless and comfortable.” 

Next Man Up Options

When talking about who will get opportunities to play, Brown said “look out on the floor and you’re going to see, you know, Jonah Bolden come into the team.” Norvel Pelle and Kyle O’Quinn had been utilized situationally as backup centers.

When speaking of O’Quinn, Brown said “Kyle O’Quinn, let’s just start with he’s a great, not a good, he’s a great teammate. Just look at him on the bench. And, you know, you look at a veteran player that is trying to find a role, and he hasn’t really come in and played that much basketball for us today, and he still is like a personality and a spirit in the locker room, on a plane, on a bus. I think he’s incredible, really, like I love him on this team, I love him in the locker room. He’s a man, he’s an athlete, his toughness, he can make a shot, he’s an excellent passer. He’d probably be more of an aggressive like pick-and-roll guy that he wouldn’t draft.

And then you go over to Norvel which is kind of the complete opposite; he’s far more of a rim protector, you know, really excellent back and trying to read things, obviously those have the experience that Kyle has but you know was kind of built out of that. You know Nerlens/Capela-type rim protective fly mode and Kyle’s like a lumberjack just a street fighter and they are different” 

Al Horford’s Offense

It’s no secret that Al Horford has taken a backseat in the 76ers’ offense thus far this season. Brett Brown had talked frankly prior to the Embiid injury about Horford’s need to sacrifice and work as a pick-and-pop and floor-spacer. But with the injury to Embiid, Horford will likely have more sets run to get him into pick-and-roll spots and feature his offense more. Brown alluded to as much when discussing Horford Thursday: “to kind of get them into a more comfortable so used to kind of get him back into rhythm again. I think that’s fair, probably to feature him more and I feel like I don’t know I don’t pay much attention but I feel like with the questions that I get asked. I think people have to understand like in that old world.

For Horford, It’s About Role Versatility

As of 24 hours ago with Joel, like, he’s not featured as much. It’s just part of being on a good team and he accepts it, and to now, like, play him and and feature him more in things that we all know that he’s quite good at, capable at just in a more frequent environment that I think positives can come out of this. And when we do get Joel back in the mix, you know, hopefully, we got some good things to look at in the rearview mirror” 

“And that’s how I see it.. and you know I feel like we all talked about, like, ‘let’s pick-and-pop Al’,” The Sixers coach said, alluding to discussions had most of this week at practices and games. “But it’s deeper than that, it’s way deeper than that; to me, the thing that made Al special was when he rolls and you weren’t too sure if he was going to pop all along.” Al Horford is known as an intellectual player who made the right reads, the right plays and was able to overcome a lack of size and athletic advantage by being crafty and heady. “Of course, you know like now all of a sudden he’s more of a feature.” 

Taking advantage of the Absence

So for the next couple of weeks, the team will try out new styles of play, increase pace and play more to the strengths of its leader, Ben Simmons. With every loss comes opportunity and the team will get the chance to make the most of them, starting with Boston.