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February 16, 2017

Quietly, Brett Brown figuring out Sixers offense without Embiid

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If you have been paying any attention to the Sixers season, you know how important that Joel Embiid is to the team’s on-court success. And as it turns out, the team’s third-year rookie center also helps Comcast SportsNet’s bottom line:

Let’s get back to the court, though. When Embiid plays, his combination of mobility and elite rim protection make the Sixers defend at a rate better than the best defense in the NBA. The Sixers are already an above average NBA team when “The Process” plays all because he makes their defense incredible. Stats via, with league rankings in parentheses:

 Defenses Points per 100 possessions
Sixers DRTG, with Embiid
99.1 (would be 1st)
Sixers DRTG, without Embiid
 108.3 (would be 23rd)
Spurs DRTG
101.0 (1st)

So, that’s great. Terrific, even. And while the Sixers have been Brooklyn Nets bad (and actually worse) on the season with Embiid out, they at least have made some strides heading into the NBA All-Star game. Specifically, the Sixers have a 104.5 offensive rating over their last five games.

Small sample, small sample, small sample. I get it, but with the Sixers sporting such a young roster, it’s a positive sign that the rest of the team is showing improvement without Embiid. And in those five games, the Sixers have played against three top-7 defenses, including the top-ranked unit in San Antonio.

Basically, it’s not like they’re not doing this against a bunch of Don Nelson teams.

Points per 100 possessions
 Sixers ORTG with Embiid
102.4 (would be 27th)
 Sixers ORTG without Embiid
98.6 (would be dead last)
 Sixers ORTG last five games
104.5 (would be 18th)
Warriors ORTG
 114.2 (1st)

It might not seem like a lot, but for the Sixers to be an average offense without Embiid for any stretch of time is an accomplishment.

Kudos to Brett Brown. Embiid has already “won” this Sixers season by any reasonable measure, but nobody has gained more than the head coach. I quietly wondered about his job security before the season if the team got off to a rough start, but the Sixers already have the most wins of any season in his four-year tenure at the all-star break. The man has earned some leeway.

Recently, Brown has even helped the Sixers stay competitive without Embiid. Oops

The Sixers’ offense is still ranked last in the NBA, but it's starting to creep up on 29th for the first time in forever thanks to the team's recent play. The Sixers are hoping Embiid can come back from the all-star break, and if he does, here are some suggestions of how they can continue to play well without, making the team more formidable for 48 minutes:

1. Play fast: Brown likes to push the pace even with Embiid, but the Sixers have been full throttle ahead in the last five games (104.59 possessions per 48 minutes according to, which would be fastest in the NBA). Intriguing rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is someone who can benefit by using his athleticism to make plays in transition.

Speaking of someone who is good on the fast break…

2. More minutes for Dario: Saric has played his best basketball in February, scoring at least 18 points in his last five games. And while he has played 27.8 minutes per game during that stretch, I wouldn’t even mind bumping that number up to 30. Ersan Ilyasova had a strong first half paired with Embiid, but Saric has clearly been the superior all-around player over the last month. Play the kid, Brett.

3. Stick with Nerlens: A few weeks ago, we did a film review on Noel, Richaun Holmes, and the effect that their ability as the roll man has on the offense. Noel, in particular, has picked up his activity level in the recent 3-2 stretch (13 steals in five games), and the Sixers play their fastest on the season with him in the game.

4. Continue to take care of the ball: The Sixers turn the ball over on 16.5 percent of their offensive possessions on the year, most in the NBA. They trimmed that number down to 14 percent over the past five, and you can see what a difference that makes. Good work by T.J. McConnell.

5. Give Ben Simmons the… You know what, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But let's not forget to mention Robert Covington, averaging 16 points per game and shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc during that stretch. When the shot is falling like it has been recently, the Sixers have an excellent two-way wing.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann