Early on, Doc Rivers guaranteed the 76ers would run more pick-and-rolls this season.
Not just that. The coach guaranteed that more of them are going to feature All-Stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
On paper, the duo’s playing styles don’t fit well in traditional pick-and-rolls. Simmons is not a threat to shoot coming off screens like a traditional point guard. Embiid is more of a popper or a short roller instead of rolling all the way to the basket.
“They have been great,” Rivers said. “They are starting to figure it out. It is going to take time. The pick-and-roll, I was telling somebody the other day, it is the oldest play in the game. It is still one of the most difficult plays to guard in the game.
“So when you put your two best players in it, it really doesn’t matter their skill set.”
Rivers said pairing a team’s two best players in an action creates chaos. He believes they’re doing just that while seeing the little things the Sixers can do out of that pick-and-roll. The presence of Seth Curry, Danny Green, and Tobias Harris in the starting lineup gives them multiple shooting options on the backside. That makes things difficult to defend.
Simmons’ speed has also been a factor. The coaching staff has been encouraging him to use his speed while picking his spots.
While all that sounds good, Simmons is not a threat to pull up off the dribble. So the Sixers have had to make adjustments.
“It ‘s more angles, pick angles. I think people forget I had Rajon Rondo and he was a pick-and-roll giant,” Rivers said, referring to his non-shooting point guard in Boston.
That’s why Rivers tells his players, especially Simmons, that if defenders are going to give him room to shoot, to liken himself to a great quarterback with no pass rush closing in. He’ll get to make decisions. Rivers is going to do the same with Simmons that he did with Rondo. He’s going to allow him to make passes.
“It is just like a quarterback in the NFL,” Rivers said. “I keep telling our guys, if you didn’t blitz or rush some of these guys, can you imagine the passes some of these guys can make? And I want our guards to feel the same way.”
The belief is that everyone on the floor will be in position to flourish.
“When both of them are in pick-and-roll space with three other shooters, it is tough to guard,” Harris said. “So it is up to them figuring out how to use their God-given talents, which for Ben is size and speed. For Joel it is his ability to be stronger than a lot of other guys.”
Green, Curry, and Harris aren’t the only shooters the Sixers can plug in to help Simmons. Reserves Furkan Korkmaz, Shake Milton, Mike Scott, Matisse Thybulle, Isaiah Joe, and Dakota Mathias all have three-point range.
The Sixers say Simmons has been patient and realizing the options he has.
“And then Joel is setting real solid screens,” Dwight Howard said. “He is reading the defense, he is rolling, popping and making plays.”