A few weeks ago, we detailed how Brett Brown has brought elements of the Spurs’ motion offense to Philadelphia. The three main actions — Strong, Weak, and Loop —comprise the Sixers’ base half-court offense.
For myriad reasons, teams can’t run only three offensive plays, no matter how good their personnel is. Defenses are too good to be allowed to key on so few actions; teams with less firepower like the Sixers especially have to run counters and other sets to keep defenses off-balance.
The Sixers are only ranked 24th in offense, scoring 101.2 points per 100 possessions. Considering their personnel, it’s probably fair to say Brett Brown is exceeding expectations at that end of the floor. It’s still only a month into the season, but the Sixers are far from the worst offense in the NBA, which was where many pegged them to finish. I sure did.
The team’s relative offensive success is partly due to Brown’s ability to put his players in spots where they can succeed. He’s adept at running sets outside of the offense’s basic framework to free players in areas from where they are proficient shooters.
In this post, we’ll look at a few of Brown’s pet plays for a couple of different players: James Anderson, Evan Turner, and Spencer Hawes.
James Anderson and “Hammer”: The Sixers run a lot of good stuff for Anderson, their only three-point threat running off picks. We’re going to focus on an old Spurs staple, the “Hammer” or “Baseline Drift” set.
As the important action takes place on the weak side of the floor, there are a few different ways to initiate “Hammer.” We’ll look at only one of them. In the first screenshot below, Michael-Carter Williams and the Sixers are in their main “4-out, 1-in” alignment, with a post player, trailer and two wings headed for the corners.
The second shot shows Carter-Williams dribbling out the trailer, Lavoy Allen, who dives to the block. As Carter-Williams passes to the new strong-side wing, Evan Turner, the original post player, Hollis Thompson, runs diagonally from block to opposite wing to set a side ball screen for Turner.
As all of this is happening, Allen sneaks under the basket to the weak-side block, where Thompson started. On the side pick-and-roll, Paul George does what good defenders do in this situation: He forces the ball-handler to stay on the side. The Pacers have the best defense in the NBA because they have long athletes like George steering drivers into their elite rim protector, Roy Hibbert.
As you see in the shot above, a drive toward the baseline draws Hibbert’s help, but also leaves Lance Stephenson to play one-on-two against Allen and Anderson. As Turner drives, Allen sets a back screen (Hammer!) on Stephenson.
While Hibbert is worried about blocking a shot, Turner happily drives past him on this play. That’s because his ultimate destination isn’t the rim, but the baseline.
Once Turner reaches the baseline, he has a perfect angle to throw a pass to Anderson in the corner for an open three, as you can see below. Also for your viewing pleasure, there are a few more examples of the Sixers running “Hammer” for Anderson in real time.
Evan Turner flare screens: It’s an understatement to say that Turner had a tough time guarding Aaron Afflalo the other night. After fouling Afflalo on a three-point shot, which allowed Orlando to tie the game with 12 seconds left in overtime, Turner had the potential game-winner drawn up for him.
Even though Turner slipped and was eventually tied up, it was a good call by Brown. His leading scorer was having a solid shooting night and the Sixers dialed up an action they’ve had success with, running Turner off a flare screen at the elbow.
Looking at the shot chart above, you can see that Turner has been unusually efficient from that sliver of real estate 8 to 16 feet from the hoop on the right baseline. Brown, who has obviously noticed this trend, often runs Turner off a flare screen to get him that shot.
Like “Hammer,” there are a couple of ways the Sixers get to the final action, a flare screen. In this case, it depends if Turner is originally playing point guard or stationed off the ball. We’ll focus on the plays when he starts off the ball, in which Turner gets involved in a “screen the screener” action.
Again, the Sixers start in their 4-out alignment. Turner, the strong-side wing, is going to loop around Daniel Orton and set a back screen at the foul line for Hawes, who heads to the weak-side block from his original trailer position. As that screen is happening, Orton creeps up from the strong-side block to the elbow.
Immediately after he’s done setting the back screen, Turner runs off Orton’s flare screen at the elbow. Often, Turner catches the pass and takes one or two dribbles to his sweet spot on the baseline, but on this one Carter-Williams leads him right there. He nails the catch-and-shoot 12-footer.
In a vacuum, that last screen shot shows a very difficult mid-range attempt. Turner has excelled at those shots so far this season, and Brown will keep calling his number on that play until he cools off.
Due to the compact nature of the play, Turner’s defenders are often forced to trail him over top of the flare screen. After all, that’s the only way they can avoid running into their own teammates.
Here are a few more examples of the action in real time, including the ones where Turner starts the play as the point guard.
Hawes out of “Horns”: I honestly don’t know what to call this last action, but it’s a tricky little quick-hitter that Brown has run to free Hawes for his bread and butter above-the-break threes.
Unlike the last two, the Sixers run this action out of what looks like a hybrid “Horns” and “1-4 High” set, with the two big men slightly above the foul line and two wings slightly below it. Thaddeus Young pops up and receives the pass from Michael Carter-Williams. MCW follows his pass and replaces Evan Turner on the wing. Turner cuts under the basket.
This is where the good stuff starts. Hawes sets a diagonal screen that Anderson tightly curls off of…. to set a down screen for Hawes. Anderson’s defender, Tyreke Evans, goes under the screen, allowing Anderson to screen Hawes’ defender, Ryan Anderson (no relation). Before you can blink, the ball is in Hawes’s hands for an open three.
It’s one of the many tricky little offensive sets that Brown has up his sleeve. The Sixers’ head coach runs some excellent stuff, part of the reason this team has been surprisingly fun to watch. I look forward to what’s next.
RIch Hofmann Jr. can be contacted @rich_hofmann.