Practice notes: Nico Batum talks post entry passes, Nick Nurse on dribble weave
Nico Batum remembers what was said about him after he was waived by the Charlotte Hornets in November of 2020.
People thought his time in the NBA was up.
In Batum's words, a lot of guys are talented, but not everyone knows the game.
He knows the game, and Batum claims that advantage saved his career after his time in Charlotte came to an end.
Taking pride in mastering the finer details was a theme as Batum contrasted his longevity in the NBA with that of LeBron James, the 21-year arguable greatest player ever who will stand opposite the Sixers when the Los Angeles Lakers take the floor in Philadelphia on Monday.
Batum wants all younger players to know that getting to the NBA is the easy part. Staying in the league is the immensely difficult part.
So, he's grateful and proud of how long he's stuck in the NBA. First, the goal was to last a year in the NBA. Then, it was to last four years. Then, it was to last 10 years.
Then, Batum looked up, and he was walking away from the press after Sunday's practice, in the middle of his 16th season in the league.
There are a handful of reasons he's doing much more than sticking with the Sixers in year 16. It's the movement shooting, the instincts as a team defender, the cutting. But, as the Sixers' weaknesses become clearer with each passing game, it's the passing that has made him such a great fit with this team. Specifically, his ability to make clean entry passes to Joel Embiid in the post.
"I mean, we saw Jokic, it's pretty easy. I say that because, when I got there, playing against him, it's awful. You don't want to play with that guy because he's a big human being. So, he's an easy target. He takes so much space. It's tough to gather around him and front him. It's tough for the defender to do that. So, it's an easy target," Batum said of what makes post entry passes easy for him.
In the veteran wing's mind, it's not about the guy guarding the big. It's about the helpers.
"Now, what you have to read is the players around him because they crowd him. Put, like, two or three guys around, so you have to know where to make him the pass inside. Sometimes, I don't really look at his guy. I look at the guys around. Like, maybe he's going to come and steal the ball. So, that stuff I have to be careful of. But, you know, it's such an easy target to get the ball inside."
Batum's history has prepared him for being one of perhaps two players on the roster capable of consistently getting the ball inside to the big fella without problem.
"Yeah, I said that to Coach. He asked me that question earlier actually. Like, because I played with LaMarcus Aldridge, I played with 'Big Al' Jefferson, and even Kawhi, though. Kawhi is a big post entry guy," Batum explained when asked whether playing next to a star big in Aldridge early in his career influenced his skill at entering the ball to Embiid in the post now.
"So, you know, I'm used to that. I'm used to that for 15-plus years. When I got the best - [Embiid] is the best big man I've played with - it's even easier to play with."
Inside the Sixers' dribble weave action
Another detail that appears to be particularly easy for Batum is spacing around Embiid. As Philadelphia has jumped out to an 11-5 start to the season, the menu on offense has been a pleasant surprise. Batum is just one of the Sixers that consistently moves around Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, stretching help defenders and forcing them to make difficult decisions as Philadelphia's actions develop.
One of the main courses that the Sixers cook up is dribble weave. They put the Phoenix Suns away with that action in the first week of the season, Maxey spamming the play repeatedly against a Kevin Durant-led lineup with the game hanging in the balance as Embiid recharged on the bench.
The play often flows into a pick-and-roll, at which point the other three teammates space to different spots to keep helpers away from the action.
It got Embiid a good look at a jumper by the nail in the second quarter of Saturday's win over the Thunder in Oklahoma City. The very next possession, the Sixers ran it again for a Maxey three-shot foul.
According to Nick Nurse, the idea is simple: crack the paint, and see what's available.
"We got a couple different versions of it. But, basically, we're just looking for some downhill, into-the-paint action and reading it from there," Nurse said of what he's looking for with the dribble weave.
"Like you said, one time it's a blast down the lane, hopefully for a rim attempt. Somebody comes over, it's a roll to a rim attempt. And if they take those away, hopefully it's a weak-side open catch-and-shoot three. Like a lot of our offense, we're looking for those things as priorities."
Dribble weave is just one of the sets that is working quite well for Philadelphia, for now. Nurse wants to make sure that the playbook stays fresh and the Sixers stay difficult to predict.
"As we're going here, we're learning how to move some of the pieces. Run some of that stuff over and over, but maybe change who's doing it. Just to give it a little longer life and put guys that maybe were in the scouting report that weren't in that spot in the live game or whatever," Nurse told reporters after Sunday's practice.
"Doing an OK job of executing some of our offensive stuff. I still think we got a ways to go to clean up and get a little bit more precise, though."
The Lakers will present the Sixers with another opportunity to clean up that precision on Monday night in Philadelphia.
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