The New-Look Sixers Face Their First Real Test Tonight

Brett Brown joked about his “selective amnesia” when attempting to recall the Sixers’ 17-point October loss in Toronto.

It was said in jest on Tuesday afternoon, but there’s certainly validity in totally forgetting about that game, a game in which Ben Simmons turned the ball over 11 times as the Sixers stumbled on both ends of the floor.

Tonight’s lineup won’t look anything like the lineup we saw in Toronto the first time around, when the Sixers rolled out this starting five:

  1. Ben Simmons
  2. Markelle Fultz
  3. Robert Covington
  4. Dario Saric
  5. Joel Embiid

One of those guys is now on the shelf indefinitely while two are no longer here, so you’re gonna get this tonight:

  1. Ben Simmons
  2. JJ Redick
  3. Jimmy Butler
  4. Wilson Chandler
  5. Joel Embiid

Which lineup is better? I think most people are probably taking the second one, which has ripped off nine wins in the last 10 games.

One of the positives here is that the Raptors can’t just glue Kawhi Leonard to Ben Simmons now without considering the ability of Jimmy Butler to create a shot against Danny Green or Kyle Lowry, whomever they decide to put on him. Then you’ve got the shooting prowess of JJ Redick, which is certainly an upgrade over what Fultz was giving you as a starting shooting guard.

Brown talked about this concept after Tuesday’s practice:

It makes a big difference. I think we’re all seeing, as this situation unfolds, as this season with Jimmy unfolds, you know, you’re learning stuff all the time of what happens and what doesn’t happen and what could happen offensively and defensively. It’s just the growth of the inclusion aspect of Jimmy Butler coming into the program. The point is fair, and I think the other side benefits are that we’re seeing are quite substantial.

Here’s how the Raptors defended Simmons the first go-round:

45 possessions against Kawhi resulted in eight points on 3-6 shooting, plus five turnovers that included a pair of offensive fouls. Ben had 19 possessions against Pascal Siakam and Danny Green in which he only shot the ball once. All Sixers players shot 5-13 combined with Leonard defending them on the night. Kyle Lowry spent most of the game on Robert Covington and Green was matched up primarily with Redick.

That’s certainly something to think about tonight, the idea that Toronto can’t roll out the same matchups they did last time.

It doesn’t necessarily take away from anything they do well, which is pretty much everything, according to Redick:

I think they have great individual defenders and great team defenders. They’re gonna try to blow up our dribble hand-offs. We weren’t particularly sharp with the ball, had a lot of turnovers and a lot of that is just how they play defense. Offensively, it’s a steady diet of pick and rolls, pin aways, Kawhi isolation. They do a lot of stuff well.

They’re just really good with their hands – Kawhi, Green, all of their perimeter players. On this sequence from the first game, the Sixers are just running one of their bread and butter horns sets, with a Redick back screen and flare in the design, and when Simmons tries to drive the slot, Leonard just slides with him and pokes the ball away after a loose behind-the-back dribble:

Serge Ibaka throws a second hand in there. They were doing stuff like that all night long.

Says Jimmy Butler of Kawhi:

It’s how physical he is. The guy has some really long arms and really big hands and he just plays hard. He’s super smart. I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do on any side of the court. He can guard the ball, block shots, get steals, all of that stuff. That’s why he’s one of the best players.

More or less.

Offensively you know what’s coming, which is stuff like 2:51 in this clip:

Valanciunas and Ibaka pick and rolls, some Kawhi iso, a horns set here or there, some pin down screens – that’s what they do. They’re shooting 49.2% this season, which is second in the NBA behind Golden State. They rebound the ball well and have the 8th best defensive rating among 30 squads.

This is another measuring stick for the Sixers, for sure, and this game means a lot more than the first one because the whole point of the Butler trade was to make you competitive with the Celtics, Raptors, and the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

The post The New-Look Sixers Face Their First Real Test Tonight appeared first on Crossing Broad.

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