In Part II of our Twitter poll series, we dive into Brett Brown and Philadelphia’s crunch time lineup options. The Sixers hotly debated head coach returns to Orlando under intense job scrutiny. But a key part to his success will require juggling the rotation at critical moments. Cobbling up the right (or wrong) mix could determine the fate of the franchise’s third longest tenured head coach. 

HOW DOES BRETT BROWN STACK UP AGAINST HIS COACHING COUNTERPARTS?

INTERPRETING THE RESULTS: Framing any coaching conversation must start with a basic point. Talent MATTERS. In the Eastern Conference Brett Brown faces an abundance of qualified coaching foes. But where he ranks within that group is intriguing. AMONG THE TOP 6 TEAMS, BRETT BROWN HAS THE 3RD HIGHEST WINNING PERCENTAGE (55%) BUT THE LEAST AMOUNT OF PLAYOFF WINS (12). However this is only part of the conversation. Pay attention to the impact the addition (or subtraction) of talent has on these records. 

Per Basketball Reference. NBA coaching records
Per Basketball Reference. NBA coaching records

Suggesting Brown is at the very top of the conversation based on these data points is quite a stretch. But those numbers also indicate he is far from a bottom tier coach. If we acknowledge that Nick Nurse and Erik Spoelstra are atop of the group, where does that leave Brown? On head to head playoff matchups, he has taken down Spoelstra while losing to a severely undermanned Brad Stevens’ Celtics. The bigger story I think lies in the Sixers highly competitive playoff series with the eventual NBA champions Toronto Raptors, a series where Brown showed the willingness to deviate from the original game plan. Displaying similar adjustments could play well in Orlando. 

SO WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM BRETT BROWN IN LAST SEASON’S TORONTO SERIES? 

In the epic 7-game series we got the see both the good (and bad) sides of Brett Brown. The Kawhi Leonard-led Raptors were a machine in the postseason. After a blowout loss in Game 1, Philadelphia made a series of adjustments that flipped the series on its head. A main coaching point included assigning Ben Simmons as Leonard’s primary point of attack defender. Another entrusted Jimmy Butler with more pick-and-roll responsibilities. 

Those adjustments were significant. FROM GAME 2 TO GAME 7, TORONTO POSTED AN OFFENSIVE RATING OF 105.6 (4 POINTS LOWER THAN THEIR POSTSEASON AVERAGE). Leonard had his moments, obviously. But the combination of Simmons’ defense and some of the Sixers’ bigger lineups were a massive obstacle for that offense.

Facilitating Butler in the pick-and-roll also yielded positive results. Philadelphia saw a considerable uptick in pick-and-roll possessions in the playoffs. JIMMY BUTLER GOT HIS POINT GUARD WISH, LEADING THE TEAM WITH 22 POINTS PER GAME AND A ROBUST 49 FREE THROW ATTEMPTS IN THE SERIES. This departure from Brett’s ball movement offense also helped to elevate much needed offense amidst Embiid’s struggles with Marc Gasol.

But Brown also had his head-scratching moments. The backup center duo of Boban Marjanovic and Greg Monroe was a disaster in 77 series minutes. Could he have stolen some minutes by playing Ben Simmons at the five? For sure. The Sixers needed to uncover a few non-Embiid minutes during the series. Yes, roster construction was an issue. But Brown’s lack of lineup creativity came at a heavy cost.

WHAT IS PHILADELPHIA’S OPTIMAL CLOSING LINEUP?

INTERPRETING THE RESULTS: So much to think about here! First off, crunch time can mean a lot of different scenarios. For the sake of the discussion, let’s limit it to the last 5 minutes of a one possession game. As a conversation starter, Philadelphia does have some semblance of a functional crunch time lineup in place. THE SIXERS HAVE THE 4TH BEST DEFENSIVE RATING IN THE LAST 5 MINUTES OF A 3 POINT GAME (90.6). The backbone is the team’s original starting lineup that includes Al Horford. IN 43 4TH QUARTER MINUTES, THE GROUP HAS A 16.5 NET RATING (4TH BEST AMONG ALL LINEUPS WITH OVER 40 4TH QUARTER MINUTES). 

By taking a deeper dive, we see that the solution is not so crystal clear. The Horford group is a tough out defensively for sure. But how much of that is contributed to the other guys on the court? And if that’s the case, can the Sixers drive more crunch time offense by plugging in other options? Let’s take a look:

Per NBA.com. Player performance in the last 5 minutes of a 3 point game
Per NBA.com. Player performance in the last 5 minutes of a 3 point game

I think it is important to look at these options under the scope of a low usage contributor who will not compromise the team’s defensive identity. Assuming most of the late offense will go thru Joel Embiid, we can see how each player slots into that framework.

AL HORFORD

In Horford the Sixers have their most experienced late game lineup in play. Defensively, the option is sound. But in a back and forth scoring affair, does Philadelphia have enough offensive firepower to keep up? I don’t believe so. Obviously the conversation changes if the team finds some offensive fluidity in the form of an aggressive Embiid. However, Jo’s ability to assert himself is severely compromised if Al is not spacing the court. It is an offensively capped group that banks on grinding games to a screeching halt. Which brings us to … 

FURKAN KORKMAZ

I like Korkmaz here for a variety of reasons. Will teams target him on the defensive end? Absolutely. But Korkmaz has proven to be somewhat of a feisty competitor defensively. SINCE JANUARY 1ST OPPONENTS ARE SHOOTING ONLY 39% ON 194 ATTEMPTS WHEN DEFENDED BY KORKMAZ. Does this mean we should not worry about Furkan? Absolutely not. But there are signs of a capable wing defender. Specially in an infrastructure that pairs him with an elite rim protector and versatile wing defenders. 

On the flip side of the coin is the offensive upside from the team’s most prolific shooter. Korkmaz plays with the confidence of a seasoned vet. FURKAN LEADS THE TEAM WITH 33 THREE POINTERS MADE IN THE 4TH QUARTER THIS SEASON. In crunch time he is rarely used. But again, the confidence stands out. In the limited late game action, the home grown sniper converted on both three pointer attempts. Including his exquisite late game heroics in Portland earlier in the season. So what the Sixers lose in size and rebounding presence, they likely gain in potentially significant offensive upside. 

SHAKE MILTON AND MATISSE THYBULLE

There is a growing sentiment that Milton’s insertion into the starting lineup will also translate into crunch time opportunities. Our Austin Krell did a tremendous job detailing what Shake brings to the table. While the option to introduce more shooting and ball handling in the crux of games is enticing, there is little evidence of Shake as a crunch time performer. Most of Milton’s late game usage has come with both Embiid and Simmons nursing injuries. Can the relationship work? Absolutely. But will Brett Brown hand Shake ball handling duties late ala Jimmy Butler? No way. Milton is undoubtedly a key piece of this team in the postseason. But this is also the 54th pick in the draft who opened the season in Delaware. Quite a leap!

The other wildcard option is Matisse Thybulle. Earlier in the season we talked about how Thybulle was part of a devastating closing lineup for Philadelphia. Matisse is an interesting option because of the defensive impact he brings in such limited usage. It is evident that the Sixers are a better defensive unit with him on the court. But he must bring some semblance of offense to be considered as a consistent crunch time alternative. Regardless, this is a name to keep in mind as the team navigates postseason obstacles such as foul trouble problems and injuries. 

Tune in next week for our final installment of this Sixers Twitter series. Where we examine each opponent on the road to a possible matchup with Milwaukee. 

*All stats from NBA.com