JJ and Joel: Inside The Two Man Game

“Two man Game with Jo was working tonight” – JJ Redick

PFO talked to JJ Redick post game recently about his seeming increased penetration all the way to the rim lately. He had this to say.

Billy Lange and I were talking about this yesterday. So much attention is given to my three point shot that it tends to open things up inside. And in the two man game with Jo, that’s what makes it so hard to guard because if they step up with the big, then Jo is open on the backside, sometimes with a pocket pass, sometimes with a late feed. If the big never steps up, then I can sort of get all the way to the cup. Then there are other times where I’m coming off of the other side late in games where it’s just making reads, and if the help defender doesn’t come, then you can use that float game.

So lets look at some examples of this “two man game” to see what JJ was referring to:

In clip 1 here, you see Joel do a simple DHO (Dribble Hand Off) to Redick above the break. This DHO allows Embiid to initiate essentially a stripped down pick and roll by inviting JJ to run through the screen as he hands the ball to him at full speed. Rubio is rubbed off by the screen, and JJ now has a clear path down the middle of the lane. Embiid rolls to the rim which creates the 2 on 1 situation for Rudy Gobert. Gobert is a DPOY level player, and yet he is forced to choose between his two primary responsibilities of guarding an MVP candidate in Embiid and protecting the rim against Redick. The real breakdown is probably on Favors for not becoming the weakside help defender; he decides to stick tight to Simmons along the baseline.

Clip 2 is essentially the same exact play, but Redick decides to pull up for a long, but wide open 2 right at the top of the key. The decision and read here is likely based on Exum sagging into the paint a hair and reaching in, as well as Embiid getting tangled up with Rubio and not rolling immediately. In this play, Gobert would not have the same decision to make, and Redick’s path to the rim would be more congested. Same start, different read.

Clip 3 against Cleveland. Similar to clip 2, but from a different angle. Here Nance shows a contest and backs off; that makes Redick’s read simple, and similarly he pulls up from roughly 19 feet. This is a bad shot for most players in the league, but any wide open shot for Redick has a high expected value.

This is the ripple effect of it all. Long before analytics told us about the three point shot, pick and roll defense kept coaches up since I’ve been in the league. It hasn’t changed. When you really get back to the notion of “What are you prepared to die on?”, it’s a long contested two. – Brett Brown 

Clip 4: Same action, Embiid rolls, the big steps up to contest the Redick pull up, so Redick reads the situation and drops the pass to Embiid for a difficult but high efficiency attempt at the rim. This is a great result because the chances of Embiid at least going to the line from this play are very high. Hezonja as a help rim protector is sort of the optimal situation the Sixers want to put a team into.

Clip 5: Same action, same read. No help arrives, and Embiid has a monster dunk.

Clip 6: Finally, similar to Clip 2 and 3, but here Embiid “pops” out to the three point line. This could be a case of early fatigue or clear communication, but Embiid does not roll in this instance, and Redick just released quickly and canned the top of the key 21′ jumper.

So when you really look at this simple action, it puts the defenders in a predicament based on the ultra complimentary skillsets of Joel Embiid and JJ Redick. This action is devestatingly effective against teams that cannot blow up a screener. Embiid is so big and smooth and smart that he and Redick developing this level of understanding, timing, and execution has become a staple of the team’s offense.

The fascinating part of this is, as a staple, it does not require an advanced handle from your lead guard to create shots for others in the half court. In many ways, this can initiate things early in a shot clock to get defenses making decisions and rotating. This type of situation has classically been created by the pick and roll, but until the Sixers point guards are able to punish teams for going under on screens, this DHO with Redick (and eventually Shamet, I predict) will serve the same purpose.

By freeing up Simmons to read, react, and crash the offensive boards, or get back in transition defense, you are lessening the impact of what the team cannot do well, while amplifying the impact of its strengths.

Editors note: Thanks to Ben Seltzer and Shane Sullivan for their video work and gif creation for this piece.