The Sixers have an effective play style even when Joel Embiid is out

Joel Embiid is the Philadelphia 76ers’ best player, and the results of him missing 14 of the Sixers’ last 24 regular season games showed his importance for the team.

The Sixers went 7-7 during the 14 games Embiid was out with knee tendinitis. As the Sixers prepared for the playoffs, it was reasonable to wonder whether the Sixers could be their best in the postseason considering Embiid hadn’t been consistently healthy.

Now, the Sixers hold a 3-1 series lead in the first round after defeating the Brooklyn Nets 112-108 in Game 4 on Saturday. Embiid has still experienced tendinitis in his left knee, and he has been a game-time decision for each of the games in the first round.

He missed Game 3 when the series was split at one game apiece, and that’s when the reality of the Sixers playing different without him came to the surface.

Ben Simmons scored a playoff career-high 31 points, and he played arguably the best game of his career. He was aggressive and showed his ability to score, whether it was in transition or in the halfcourt. Despite his lack of a viable jumper, Simmons showed what he can do on offense.

Simmons’ offensive abilities aren’t always completely shown because the Sixers’ offense is built around Embiid. Simmons still averaged 16.9 points per game in the regular season, but he was the No. 5 scorer on his team behind Embiid, Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick.

When Embiid plays, Simmons is tasked with setting him up, along with the rest of the starters. Embiid had the highest usage percentage on the team at 33.3 during the regular season, and Simmons had 22.1, per Basketball Reference. He’s the team’s primary ball handler, and the rest of the team’s starters are close in usage to him.

But when Embiid didn’t play in Game 3, Simmons and everyone else’s play seemed to elevate. Harris scored a playoff career-high 29 points, and Redick scored 26 points.

This is not to say the Sixers are better without Embiid. They couldn’t legitimately be good for a whole season, and depending on the matchup, they could possibly lose a first round playoff series.

Still, it’s interesting to see how much more fluid the Sixers’ offense is when Embiid doesn’t play. The spacing is notably different, because when Embiid is on the floor, more plays consist of feeding the ball to him or playing off him. For example, per the video below from the NBA, Embiid is first shown posting up Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

With Simmons being the Sixers’ facilitator, his job is to give Embiid the ball. There are times when Simmons can be more aggressive even with Embiid on the floor, but most of the time he’s supposed to get Embiid the ball and run the offense.

On the next play in the video, Embiid got a bucket in the post on an isolation play against Jarrett Allen. As Embiid worked against Allen, the rest of the Sixers are spread out, just in case Embiid gets stuck and has to make a pass out the post.

And even though Embiid is one of the most skilled low-post scorers in the game, he made some solid passes out of the post as well in Game 4.

The Sixers have had spots where they play with good pace and spacing in the halfcourt while Embiid is in the lineup.

During the first two games of the series, the Sixers had a pace of 99.0 and 105.0, respectively. In Game 3, though, when Embiid didn’t play, they had a pace of 108.5, their highest of the series so far, according to NBA.com. The Sixers had a pace of 104.0 in Game 4.

The Sixers had a higher level of pace during Game 3 in large part because of Simmons’ performance. Simmons is one of the best transition players in the league, as he’s able to use his 6-foot-10 frame in pushing the ball down the floor.

When Simmons was aggressive during Game 3, the floor opened for the rest of the team, and Harris and Redick were able to score their buckets with ease.

Simmons and the Sixers executed their matchup advantages particurlarly well during the fourth quarter of Game 3. He scored 15 points in the quarter, and he also played center after Boban Marjanovic fouled out in the middle of the quarter. With Simmons playing center, he still gave the Sixers size, and he used it to his advantage against the Nets.

Though Embiid’s dominance is the reason why the Sixers are as good as they are, it’s also interesting to see how the Sixers have a different, yet effective, alternative way to play when he’s not on the floor.

That alternative playing style isn’t shown often, but it comes out, starters such as Simmons and Harris have the opportunity to show more of their game on the offensive end.

 

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