Kelly Oubre Jr. leads Sixers in preseason win over Nets: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (0-2) visited the Brooklyn Nets (1-1) in their third of four preseason games. Kelly Oubre Jr. led the Sixers with 21 points in a 127-119 victory over the Nets.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Sixers were without Joel Embiid due to an illness. James Harden was not available.
PJ Tucker (right ankle soreness), Danuel House Jr. (knee soreness), and Furkan Korkmaz (leg strain) were out, as well.
Nick Nurse started Tyrese Maxey, De'Anthony Melton, Oubre, Tobias Harris, and Paul Reed.
Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Tariq Whitehead were out for the Nets.
Jacque Vaughn started Spencer Dinwiddie, Cam Thomas, Dorian Finney-Smith, Ben Simmons, and Nic Claxton.
This was the first time in the preseason that the Sixers executed offense with pace and success over an extended sequence of possessions. If it wasn't a pick-and-roll between Maxey and Reed on the empty side of the floor, it was a quick catch-and-shoot three, the shooter ready to go before the ball even reached their hands.
Of course, that execution is largely predicated on making threes. That's a binary outcome that shouldn't serve as a proof of concept either way. The important thing is that they're getting in the habit of quick decisions, albeit catching and shooting without hesitation or pick-and-roll. Once those two thought processes become snappy every possession, they'll start to get more comfortable with adding branches to those decision trees. That's how you take a team that has long felt painfully unathletic and old because of how slow they played and build up a fast-paced offense. Start with very basic functions of decision-making and expand from there.
Speaking of those pick-and-rolls between Maxey and Reed, the guard in that duo showed noticeable comfort with making pocket passes to his partner. Reed even cashed in on a baseline jumper on the first possession of the game out of that pick-and-roll. Make no mistake, it's not perfect yet. The reads are quite basic at this stage of the partnership. They're not quite at a point where they can get creative with it. Maxey is still leaning more towards his scoring game, taking away the mystique of the action and making it predictable.
The important trend is that they're working on it, and they both have the means - whether it be skill or intangible gifts - to make it work over extended minutes in the regular season. Probably a good guess that we'll see a lot of that two-man game when Embiid (and Harden) is (are) on the bench.
We saw that famous Nurse ball pressure ticked up a significant notch in the first quarter of this game, and it paid dividends for the Sixers. Brooklyn turned the ball over in the open court a ton, failing to make good passes against high pressure and sending Philadelphia into transition with numbers.
With Embiid supposedly gearing up to be an aggressive rim-protector this season, there will be some soft spots in the middle of the floor depending on the coverage they're in. With this roster construction, I think that high ball pressure is going to have to be a significant part of Philadelphia's defensive DNA. When you don't have size or length to lock up high-level offensive players in basic man-to-man coverage, you have to impact the ball early and often to make it difficult for teams to get into their sets. That's why Philadelphia has to do it, and that's why it will be a theme all season long.
Production from role players is often a function of who they share the court with. So, not sure how much of Oubre's great first half was truly meaningful for when the games actually start to matter. But, you could also surely make the case that he played quite well despite not sharing the floor with the team's two best players at all.
It was an excellent first half of scoring for Oubre, who canned a three and got the whistle, nailed a corner three on a kick-out over the contest, and splashed a pull-up triple from the top of the arc to beat the halftime buzzer. It wasn't just the threes that were working for Oubre, either. He dropped a midrange jumper just outside of the painted area and put back a teammate's miss for a dunk.
That energy translated to the defensive side of the floor, where Oubre recorded two steals and two blocks in his first 19 minutes of play. Of course, how he accumulated those stats is more important than the stats, themselves. One of those two blocks came on a low-man rotation, Oubre sliding over to confront the roller in the lane and blow up a would-be lob pass.
Oubre's night-to-night play is probably going to fluctuate quite a bit because, well, that's why he was available at the veteran's minimum. But, he's the first guy who can do a handful of things coming off of Philadelphia's bench in years.
Preseason thoughts have a way of making you look stupid, but there's a decent chance I underestimated Jaden Springer's offensive tools and just how good he is defensively. He's a running back playing basketball, solid as a wall but noticeably small. I underestimated his passing vision quite a bit. Springer has a crafty way of finding cutting teammates when he appears stuck.
I don't think he'll ever have the scoring tools to have the ball in his hands as a primary playmaker. But, I could see him playing at the elbows in some crazy lineups and acting as a stationary playmaker from there.
Beyond that, Springer is so strong that he is surprisingly good at getting all the way to the rim for layups against bigger defenders. While his dribble isn't tight, he has the strength to absorb bigger defenders.
Defensively, not only is his ball pressure terrific, but he can hold his own against bigs. There will be some he just has no chance against because they have face-up games or can do some things with the ball in their hands. But, there are a number of bigs who rely on size and strength against mismatches to really bring their scoring chops out. Springer can handle them in the post.
Look no further than Claxton. Not a gifted scorer. Certainly not going to create for himself very much. But, the Nets fully ignored him on a post-up against Springer because the young guard held strong and denied him the ball. Very few guards in the league can do something like that. The ones that can are typically in the conversation for All-Defensive teams.
Maxey left the game in the first half with back spasms and did not return. Patrick Beverley started for him in the second half. Beverley was ejected in the fourth quarter after chirping at Simmons earned him his second technical foul.
Reed is clearly working on his comfort level shooting the ball from deep. But, the only way he's going to get better at it is to take the open looks. Turning them down is the worst thing he can do. He's in this mindset in which he'll turn down open threes if he takes and misses his first attempt. Have to keep shooting it if the defense is giving it to you.
The Sixers (1-2) will host the Atlanta Hawks (3-1) on Friday in what will be their final preseason game. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBA TV.
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