In light of an unusually busy week for me, there are only two observations for this week’s edition of The Film Room. Well, technically, that I have to come up with a new name for this week because there aren’t five observations is one in and of itself. Anyway, allow me to talk you through the Sixers’ death lineup—that is, the lineup that drives them, not their opponents, into the ground. Then, I yell at the Spurs for taking long twos.
The Sixers’ Spaceless Lineup Must Stop
Dilate your eyes now, because this is so ugly it’s actually somewhat funny. Doc Rivers feels the need to play one of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at all times. That makes sense, they’re both dominant on the defensive end. Simmons generates offense with passing and pace in transition. Embiid dominates with incredible scoring. It makes sense to stagger a pair of stars in their mid-twenties. What doesn’t make a lick of sense is Rivers’ decision to put Dwight Howard and Matisse Thybulle on the playground with Simmons. The Sixers are being outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions in 137 minutes played with Simmons and Howard on the court together. Those numbers get smacked in the face with a shovel when Thybulle is added to the equation. The Sixers are being outscored by 22.6 points per 100 possessions in 57 minutes played with Simmons, Thybulle, and Howard on the court. Even with theoretical shooters taking the other two spots in the lineup, the spacing is no better. In fact, it makes life hell for them, too.
Markieff Morris is playing so far off of Thybulle on this possession that it borders on parodical. That exaggerated help positioning also takes away Shake Milton’s lane to the rim, forcing him to acquiesce to giving the ball to Howard in the post. By the time Howard turns over his left shoulder for a finish, there is effectively a triple contest on him. The Lakers know Howard lacks crafty court vision and isn’t a threat to make a creative pass, and they’re not even remotely afraid of Thybulle or Korkmaz. Howard is able to draw the foul on this play, but there are far too many possessions ending without a shot attempt much less a basket with that 2-3 man grouping.
Looking at those numbers, and observing how there’s really been no progress towards a sustainable solution to those issues through almost twenty games, it seems logical that Philly looks to add a stretch big to the mix for Simmons lineups without Embiid. That doesn’t mean Howard rides the bench, it just means he is used situationally.
The Sixers need to start winning games when Embiid sits, and adding a big man that can offer perimeter spacing would clear up lanes for Simmons to put pressure on the rim and help generate shots for the other players in the lineup. If Daryl Morey and Elton Brand can find one on the trading block or the buyout market (I expect this season’s buyout market is going to be thin), you will see Philly win more of those games.
Adapting Or Dying In San Antonio
The Spurs are staying afloat at 11-9. In the West, that’s tied with Golden State for the eight-seed. They give up just under 110 points per 100 possessions–redeemable at exactly average for an NBA team. They are the best in the league at taking care of the basketball–coughing it up just eleven times per game. So, they’re a fine defensive team, and they typically don’t give away possessions on offense. The Spurs are also top-ten at forcing offenses off of the three-point line, surrendering fewer than 33 attempts per game. So, why are they 11-9? Sometimes, basketball isn’t that complicated, and this would be one of those times.
The Spurs’ opponents connect on slightly fewer than thirteen three-point attempts per game, which grades out to be average for an NBA team’s opponents. The issue is that the Spurs barely attempt more than thirty threes per game–third fewest in the league. What’s surprising is that they actually are a respectable three-point shooting team, converting nearly 37 percent of their attempts. When teams attempt so few threes, they have to connect on a much bigger portion of those attempts to keep pace with other teams. The Spurs are outscoring opponents by .2 points per 100 possessions, which means their margin of error on offense is razor-thin since they don’t attempt enough triples to keep pace with opponents. Instead, they do a lot of this:
The Spurs attempt more than ten long twos per game, third most in the league. Those shots are fine if you’re making more than 55-60 percent of those attempts. The Spurs, however, are making less than 49 percent of their attempts. Those long twos, such as the one above, have to be threes. The potential value of the three-point shot far exceeds the probability that those long twos are deposited. When you consider that, it makes no sense not to step back and wind it up from beyond the arc.
The Spurs, even with their ability to adapt to different styles of play over the last three decades, just don’t want to buy into the three-point game. A lot of that is personnel–LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are not distance snipers. But, the management and coaching staff are the ones who put that personnel on the court. The Spurs clearly don’t want to buy into the long distance era, but you must adapt to the trends or die trying to survive on outdated systems.
Featured Image: AP Photo/Tony Dejak