The Philadelphia 76ers will need to change as drastically as ever in 2019-20.
New personnel brings change. Right now, it seems as though the Philadelphia 76ers made a deliberate choice not the run it back. Instead of Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick, the front office chose Al Horford and Josh Richardson.
We can debate the merits of that decision all summer, but it’s done. Over. The Sixers are the Sixers, and there’s a new five-man group to critique and analyze moving forward. No one, however, will be tested more than Brett Brown next season.
After finishing 2018-19 on the hot seat despite a strong playoff performance, Brown enters the 2019-20 season with an unofficial ultimatum. If the Sixers don’t improve — don’t at least compete for a spot in the Finals — there’s a good chance management goes in a different direction.
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It will require serious schematic change, something Brown has been apprehensive about in the past. Just last season, there was outrage about Jimmy Butler’s role in the offense. He didn’t settle into a primary creator role until the postseason, which felt belated in most eyes.
Brown has built his offense around Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick the past two seasons. Embiid gets work in the post, as does Simmons — the former looking to score, the latter looking to create. Redick, however, has been the adhesive holding it all together.
Considering the star power on the roster, it’s sometimes difficult to properly recognize just how essential Redick’s contributions were. He opened up countless looks for both Embiid and Simmons, using his meticulous off-ball movement to paralyze defenders and induce chaos for the opposition.
Whether it was dribble-handoffs, off-ball actions, or just letting Redick run into open space, Brown made constant use of Redick’s unique gravity to kickstart the offense. It’s a stretch to call him the most involved member of the offense (that, of course, is Embiid), but Redick was integral nonetheless.
The Sixers must now move forward in the absence of Redick. As has been discussed in the past, the offense will look considerably different as a result. Brown’s willingness to lean into those differences and revamp is system is key.
In Josh Richardson, the Sixers still have someone who can run two-man actions with Embiid, Simmons and Harris. Richardson thrived in dribble-handoffs with Miami, but it’s not the same as Redick. His skill set varies greatly.
Rather than flying into shots or forcing intense defensive attention, Richardson will use the screen to wiggle into open shots. He’s a smooth mid-range operator, and will use the advantage from a handoff to get downhill and attack.
In addition to his silky in-between game, Richardson averaged 4.1 assists per contest last season. He’s not a natural playmaker, but is still an apt passer who will locate open teammates as necessary. The Sixers will rely on his ability to put pressure on the interior and create for others in Jimmy Butler’s absence.
It’s also important for Brett Brown to embrace the pick-and-roll, an underutilized weapon in recent years. While the NBA has largely transitioned to pick-and-roll heavy basketball, Brown shied away from it much of the past two seasons — even after adding Butler and Harris to the mix.
While that changed drastically in the postseason, it’s a change Brown must follow through on in 2019-20. Harris in particular is a comfortable pick-and-roll scorer, where his pull-up shooting and 6-foot-9 frame are valuable.
Harris will take on the role of top perimeter scorer next season. The Sixers gave him $180 million, which ought to foreshadow a greater emphasis on working Harris into the offense as a cornerstone-level piece. The pick-and-roll is the best path to doing so.
The Sixers also have several unique pick-and-roll weapons, in varying capacities. Embiid is a dangerous roll man due to his size, footwork and interior skill. Simmons can also thrive as a roll man, as we saw in the postseason. He can pass on the short roll, a la Draymond Green. Harris can even switch to screen-setter and pop to the 3-point line for a bucket.
If Brown doesn’t adjust his approach drastically in comparison to seasons past, the Sixers will stutter and eventually fail. There’s more than enough talent on the roster to compete for a championship. It’s up to Brown to make the pieces fit.
Given Philadelphia’s playoff run — which included a heartbreaking seven-game, buzzer-beating loss to the eventual champions — I’m confident Brown will pull it off.