LOS ANGELES, CA – As the 76ers’ five-game road trip reaches its home stretch, and Saturday’s loss at Golden State moves farther and farther into the rearview, it’s still easy to recall one of the lasting impressions from that game – heck, just about any game the Warriors play.
Amidst all the talent the Dubs boast, and the many accomplishments the club and its players have achieved, the group, at its heart, is an unselfish lot. The quality isn’t just a desirable one, it’s one worth mirroring, and such is the Sixers’ intent.
While still very early, the Sixers appear to be moving toward building their own dynamic nucleus, with Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, and Ben Simmons all in the mix. Each prospect boasts a high ceiling, with skillsets suited to the way the sport is being played.
The mission that remains very much on the Sixers’ minds, however, is continuing to nurture the team’s promising individual pieces while spreading the ‘selfless’ gene, much like Golden State has managed to do. In Brett Brown’s eyes, the key lies in a not-so-coincidental stylistic overlap that his Sixers and Steve Kerr’s Warriors share.
“Steve and I go way back,” said Brown, who worked with Kerr regularly on a one-on-one basis in San Antonio, when Brown was an assistant to Gregg Popovich, and Kerr was a player. “His background as a player and my background with Pop and the Spurs and just sort of how I see the world in general, the pass is king. I’ve said before, I think it’s the link to team chemistry. I think it can creep into a locker room, if you’re selfish. I think it can creep into not as cohesive defensive mentality if you’re selfish, so I think [the pass] king.”
Roughly a month into the regular season, stats show that the Sixers, similar to the Warriors, are more than willing to pass. As has been well documented, the Sixers trail only Golden State in assists per 100 possessions (24.9 vs 30.0), and assist percentage (65.4 vs 69.8). The Sixers, meanwhile, top the NBA in passes made per game (354.1).
Kerr, though, seems to believe that ball movement isn’t the only ingredient needed to foster a culture of unselfishness. Player movement is also important, as is, perhaps most of all, buy-in from the stars themselves.
“It’s easy when the guys who are leading your team already possess those qualities,” Kerr said Saturday, before the Sixers and Warriors squared off at Oracle Arena. “It’s something we try to promote as a coaching staff, but it’s really not difficult. We got a team full of guys who are unselfish, who love playing the game together, who play very well without the ball. That’s one of the keys to our group. None of these stars are ball-dominant. A lot of stars in the league have to have the ball, and none of our guys do. As a result, they can all play off the ball, which creates a good opportunity to pass, move, and create an offensive rhythm, and that in turn leads to unselfishness and a fun style.”
“What they do, and the way they play, with the talent that they have, it’s hard to pull off,” said Brown. “I have tremendous respect for how they play, and Steve – as importantly, the super stars within that system – have found a selfless type of mentality to play that way.”
Revisiting Brown’s stance on the pass representing the lynchpin to unselfish, egalitarian play, he and his assistants make sure to constantly harp on its significance.
“We glorify it every single day,” Brown said of passing. “We glorify the heck out of it every single day, and we show it on tape every single day. It’s stuff that you can just never let go.”
So far, the message looks like it’s hitting home, especially in the context of two of the Sixers’ leading men. Entering play Monday, Simmons ranked fifth overall in assists per game (7.8), and topped the league in passes per game (72.6).
Embiid, meanwhile, was fifth among centers in both assists per game (3.3), and assist percentage (20.4%). Like Simmons, he’s a willing ball-mover, placing fourth among all centers in passes per game (54.4).
“That’s the way we want to play,” Embiid said Saturday, referring to Golden State. “We don’t want to be selfish. We just want to move the ball. That’s a model we can follow. We just got to be a better job next time.”
The Sixers won’t have to wait very long for a rematch with the reigning champs, which visit The Center this coming Saturday. But first thing’s first – starting a two-game stop in Los Angeles on a good note Monday against the Clippers (10:30 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network).
After an encouraging 5-2 start to the post-Chris Paul era, the LA Clippers (5-7) have recently fallen on hard times. Amidst their current five-game slide, injuries have piled up. The team has recently been without Patrick Beverly, Danilo Gallinari, and Milos Teodosic, all of whom were key off-season acquisitions. The Clips shipped Paul to the Houston Rockets in June. In addition to Beverly, they received Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams, and a 2018 first-round pick.
• Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports app
• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network