When you take a look around the NBA you see a landscape that is home to an array of offensively impressive basketball teams. In Golden State, the Warriors may have the best offense ever assembled. Oklahoma City has three of the best scorers in the league in their starting lineup. Houston shoots three-pointers at a blistering rate. LeBron James is still dominating in Cleveland. And Boston has arguably the league’s best finisher on its roster.
Over the last four years, when making your way down the list of offensive threats, the Philadelphia 76ers showed up last. Dead last.
Since 2013-14, the Sixers have registered the worst offensive rating in the league each season. While some of that may have been by design, and not putting guys on the floor that could make the shots necessary to generate wins, the team still maintained the worst offense in the NBA. On the other side of the ball, Philadelphia has made strides over the last handful of seasons, registering the 17th best defensive rating just a year ago.
But new days are on the horizon for the Sixers. With a host of new players at his disposal, head coach Brett Brown has hit the ground running during his first two days of training camp and likes the look of his team’s offensive potential.
“I think the personnel is going to help shield some of those problem areas that we have,” Brown said Wednesday at Sixers training camp. “Let’s go straight now to Ben (Simmons). I think with his skill package, talent, and height, that he’s going to see things ahead of him in a different sort of vision line, I’ve said that. I love the pace T.J. (McConnell) plays with, Ben can play fast as well. I think both T.J. and Ben are going reap the benefits of having a healthy Joel (Embiid), or J.J. (Redick) flying in. Or how do we use Markelle (Fultz) and Jerryd (Bayless)? I think all of those things will happen. I think we sort of expect our offense at some point will catch our defense.”
This offseason, the Sixers’ additions to their roster have been well-noted. 2017 No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz brings his silky smooth offensive game to the gym, J.J. Redick inked a massive contract to provide lights-out shooting from beyond the arc, and 2016 No. 1 pick Ben Simmons will finally be able to hit the court after missing all of last season with a foot injury. Simply put, Philadelphia shouldn’t finish with the worst offense in the league this season.
During camp on Wednesday, the team ran some live-action five-on-five scrimmaging. Simmons was acting as his team’s point guard, as Brown has been on record saying he will do, and for the majority was running with the likes of Fultz, Redick and Robert Covington as his perimeter players.
In a particular sequence, Simmons was able to grab a defensive rebound and used his ball-handling ability to push the tempo into a fast break situation. The end result was a corner three-point basket by Covington.
During the same span that the Sixers have been the worst offensive team in the NBA, they’ve actually maintained one of the league’s fastest paces. Last season, Philadelphia ran with the 5th ranked pace in the league, and during Brown’s first season with the team, they had the fastest pace of all 30 NBA clubs.
The bread and butter of Brown’s offense will be to outrun the opponent. With a 6-foot-10 point guard like Simmons now available and ready in the team’s stable, pushing a team into transition becomes a much easier task to accomplish. Running a well-executed transition offense can lead to a lot of open looks, and Simmons’ teammates are already taking notice.
“Ben puts a lot of pressure on defenses,” Covington said. “He can bust out get open ahead, kick it ahead, there are so many things he can do that come second nature to him. We’re just reading off of him. A lot of the time the ball’s going to be in his hands so we’re getting accustomed to him pushing the ball and attacking defenses and everything. He’s finding open guys, and a lot of guys been getting open shots.”
Through the first few days of training camp, Simmons wants to make sure that he stresses to his teammates if they are open in this new-look offense, he’ll find them.
“It’s not easy to play the point position, but I’m enjoying it,” Simmons said. “I’m getting better at that. Going up the floor, they know if they get to the corner I’ll find them.”
When the Sixers selected Fultz with the top pick in June’s draft, they did so with his potential pairing with Simmons in mind. Fultz is a scoring guard with the size to play either guard position and the shooting touch to play off of the ball. During his lone season at Washington, Fultz not only averaged over 23 points per game, but he also recorded nearly six assists a contest as well.
On the court together, Fultz and Simmons present a unique attack that defenses are going to struggle to stop.
“He played the one some, I played the one some,” Fultz said. “I love it. You don’t know what’s going to happen. He’s gonna push it sometimes, I’m gonna push it. I get to run the floor. I can set screens for him, he can set screens for me. It’s unpredictable. I feel sorry for the teams that have to go against that.”
Along with the culmination of Simmons and Fultz hitting the floor together, the Sixers are also returning this season their biggest free agent acquisition from last summer, Bayless. Last July, Bayless became the first notable player to sign a long-term deal with Philadelphia since the team embarked on The Process. However, a wrist injury forced Bayless to miss all but three games last season.
After coming over from the Milwaukee Bucks, who have an oversized ball-handler in their own right, Bayless brings another point of attack for the Sixers this season. Just two years removed from shooting 43.7 percent from deep, Bayless is looking to hit the court this season and remind the league why the Sixers gave him $27 million in the first place.
While it appears the noise around the Sixers and their budding potential has overshadowed the role Bayless could play this season, Brown certainly hasn’t lost sight of his potential to contribute.
“In the role that he’s at right now, and we’ve talked a lot about it, is trying to be that sort of lightning in a bottle scorer off of the bench at the start of the game,” Brown said. “We had Manu (Ginobili) do that, you see Jamal Crawford, everybody sort of has that type of guy.”
As the Sixers have shaped an offense that will focus on pace, they should be able to generate a lot of open looks on most nights. During training camp on Wednesday, that was on display more than a few times. As a result of that concept, the Sixers decided to pay Redick $23 million this summer to make sure that when they do get off and running, someone will be there to knock down the shot. A career 41.5 percent three-point shooter, Redick fills the mold nicely as a player who can make defenses pay for helping.
“Open the floor up, easy,” Fultz said of Redick’s ability. “Whoever’s guarding him can’t help, and if you do he’s gonna make the shot. He’s not only a shooter, he’s a playmaker, he sets screens, he drives to the rim. He does a little bit of everything.”
For a team that has struggled to fill up the scoreboard over the last four seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers and their new players are in a position to run all over opposing defenses this year.
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