How did head coach Maurice Cheeks categorize his team's first scrimmage?
"Execution was bad," Cheeks said. "It was not good."
What was Cheeks hoping for?
"I was hoping for different," said Cheeks, laughing.
Then he added: "You know, the first time you’re running up and down the court in a controlled setting it’s going to be a little ragged. We’ve been doing a lot of running, but nothing with a clock, nothing with referees, nothing like that. So this was actually the first time we did it. And we need a lot of work in that area."
While there are strides to be made in a number of areas -- outside shooting and offensive execution come to mind -- today's scrimmage offered a heck of a lot of information to digest.
Let's start with the set-up, so those of you not at Penn State know how these scrimmages work. The 76ers are practicing in the auxillary gym at the Bryce Jordan Center. They played two, eight minute sessions. There were three referees. The team was broken down into black and white (gotta love reversible jerseys).
Black Team Starters (Coach: Jeff Ruland): Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand, Samuel Dalembert. Reserves: Donyell Marshall, Maureece Rice, Cory Underwood, Antywane Robinson.
White Team Starters (Coach: Jim Lynam): Lou Williams, Kareem Rush, Willie Green, Reggie Evans, Theo Ratliff. Reserves: Royal Ivey, Marreese Speights, Andre Emmett, Jared Reiner.
Quarter 1 Final Score: Black wins, 16-10.
Quarter 2 Final Score: Black wins, 11-10.
When Brand was on the floor, the halfcourt offense flowed through him. This is to be expected, since he commands so much attention from the defense. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what the halfcourt sets will look like, but today the ball would either come to Brand from the wing or from the top of the key. When it came from the wing, from Young or Iguodala, Brand would wait for the player to cut off him towards the hoop. Then Brand would face up at about mid-post, sometimes around the elbow, and pop that little jumper. Today, it didn't go in. But it will.
When the ball came from the top, Brand would catch at about that elbow and, again, the wing who got him the ball would make that pinch cut off Brand. One time today, Iguodala made this cut and Brand handed him the ball. Iguodala took a dribble to the left and shot a pull-up jumper (which he missed badly).
Sticking with Brand: Once or twice he commanded a double-team and found a shooter in the weakside corner. These outside shots were wide open. Iguodala and Young missed them today, but it -- the shots Brand will create in these halfcourt sets -- looked promising.
I don't remember seeing Andre Miller take a shot. He might have driven to the hoop once. Mostly he directed the offense. Both teams ran a halfcourt play called "Reverse," which calls for the PG to dribble to the right while the wing starts on the block and comes off a post downscreen from the elbow. The wing catches the ball at the top of the key while a downscreen (usually turns into a curl cut) happens on the left side between the opposite wing and opposite post. Today the guy at the top was often Iguodala, who watched as Young came off a curl cut. If Young wasn't open, there appeared to be a two-man game between Iguodala and Brand on that cleared-out left side.
(Heck, come to think of it, this isn't a bad two-man game -- Iguodala and Brand.)
Both teams -- Black and White -- ran this play.
A little bit about the White Team. They had the four clear-cut guards (other than Miller) in Lou Williams, Willie Green, Kareem Rush, and Royal Ivey. What looked effective with this group was that, whichever three were out there, any one of them could handle the point spot. Sometimes Lou would run the point, sometimes Ivey would run the point and Lou would come off the screen.
On one particular occasion, Ivey ran the point and Williams came through off of a double-down screen. Ivey dribbled to Lou's side, Lou read the defender perfectly (defender went ball-side on the screens) and faded to the corner for the three. Ivey hit him, Williams made the shot.
The chemistry between all these guards appeared to keep them in the game. Williams went to the hoop very well, finishing once or twice. Power forward Reggie Evans had a nice dunk in transition. Green got to the basket once or twice.
The Sixers main game is still transition. Both teams scored about half their points -- perhaps a little bit more -- on the break.
If the Sixers are sacrificing a smooth, knock-down outside shooter by running Iguodala at the two and Young at the three, what they are gaining is an athletic defensive presence. Both these guys are impressively athletic and work hard on defense. The Black Team tried to run a few halfcourt traps and played aggressive on-ball defense. This turned into a couple of very nice looking Iguodala dunks (his ankle is fine, by the way, judging from the ease with which these dunks went down). Young and Iguodala are so lanky that when those two are in a trap, good things often happen.
Elton Brand blocked a shot that ignited a break.
Royal Ivey is good at defense. I know we've said this before. But today it was actually happening, out there on the court, for everyone to see. Ivey spent a good amount of time guarding Young and, despite being four inches smaller, really hounded him. It wasn't necessarily that he was stealing the ball all over the place, just that every time Young caught the ball, or tried to get open, Ivey was there, constantly.
Cheeks said he wants to play pressure defense. He said that especially with the addition of Brand to block shots down low (along with Dalembert and now Theo Ratliff) he wants to pressure and trap because even if they got beat on the perimeter, they have big guys to protect the hoop.
You could see that mentality today from the Black Team.
1.) Reggie Evans vs. Elton Brand is fun to watch. Both these guys have the same physique (Brand is listed as an inch taller and nine pounds heavier). They are like pickup trucks battling for position on the block.
2.) Sam Dalembert, judging solely from today's thirty-minute scrimmage, needs to find his niche within the offensive sets. Only once do I remember him catching the ball and making a move down low. He was being guarded by Speights. He went middle and the referee called a foul.
3.) Speights is, according to Cheeks, a "work in progress." During the scrimmage, Speights kept a few balls alive on the offensive glass and he almost took a charge on Iguodala (referee called a block, but it really did look like it could have been a charge).
4.) This isn't an observation, but I wanted to comment on Rush. Rush did not take an outside shot during the scrimmage, but afterwards Cheeks said of Rush: "He’s a shooter. And I like that. And he’s a maker. He makes them. And when you have a guy who can spread the defense – and there will be nights he won’t make all those shots -- but they still have to guard him. A guy like that that can shoot will pay dividends."