The wait is over. Sports are back. The Sixers will play their first scrimmage in the Orlando bubble this afternoon at 3:30 PM, Eastern time. They face the Memphis Grizzlies. Significant changes to the playbook and to the rotation have been implied in recent media availabilities. The Philadelphia 76ers will seemingly present a bit differently than what their audience is used to seeing. Here is what to look for in their first game since March.
The Embiid-Simmons High-Low Game
Ben Simmons will be shifting over to power forward, and moving away from primary ball-handler duties. The challenge is integrating him into the half-court offense without relegating him to hovering idly in the dunker’s spot. It appears that he will serve as a spacer in the corner as part of his “Go Guy” role. But, there will be opportunities for him to seal off smaller defenders in the low post and look for an easy bucket right below the rim.
With Simmons occupying the paint on those plays, Embiid will have to provide spacing by roaming out to the perimeter. Smaller defenders will be engulfed by Simmons down low, and Embiid is big enough to make passes over any defender in his way. Look for the half-court offense to incorporate the Embiid-Simmons high-low game with increased utility. It is a two-man game that has seen success within Philly’s offense in the past. In these scrimmages, that dosage should be actively prescribed moreso now that Simmons is expected to play heavy minutes at power forward.
Utility of Three-Point Shooting
Perhaps the most questionable philosophy that Brett Brown imparted on his offense this season was actively pursuing three-point shots–even though his team lacked a true sniper. That insistence on three-point shooting promoted errant shot-jacking, and often contributed to painful lulls of offensive dehydration. The driving force of Brown’s philosophy was a lack of spacing resulting from Simmons’ continued discomfort with attempting jumpers.
Without a true sniper for defenses to proactively combat, the idea was to, essentially, “shoot to get hot”. If the team attempted a high volume of triples, they were more likely to make a high volume of triples. If they were to catch fire, defenses would have to adjust, and spacing would improve. But, Philadelphia often gasped for air when defenses adjusted with zone philosophies and experienced painfully drab scoring inefficiencies on the road. That three-point philosophy was largely a failure and yet another indictment on the head coach.
With Simmons now seeing increased utility at power forward, the offense will not need to counter his limited offensive package on the perimeter. Therefore, the spacing will naturally improve. The pieces fitting better, and the offense will flow more organically. The forced three-point shooting should be decreased in the Orlando scrimmages.
Alec Burks’ Role
Shake Milton is not only in the rotation, but assuming primary ball-handler duties. The back-court is increasingly crowded. With there being numerous dynamic ball-handlers in the rotation, things appear a bit cloudy for Alec Burks. 47 percent of the veteran’s made field goals were unassisted this season, with 33 percent of his field goals coming on 3-6 dribbles. Burks is a walking green light, and he has tunnel vision for the basket. The Sixers have multiple ball-handlers who can both create their own shots and dish to others. So, the need for him to assume significant ball-handler duties is minimized.
While the Sixers could, and probably will, experiment with him off-ball, Burks (6’6″) is not big enough to slide up to small forward. That corners him into the shooting guard spot, but his reliance upon creating his own shot off of a live dribble begs the question of whether Burks can be engaged and effective off-ball. Look for Burks to take a lesser role than his mercenary partner, Glenn Robinson III, in these scrimmages, a role that should consist of significant off-ball duties with a light mix of on-ball shot-creating.