Sunday notebook: how Sixers are preparing for Tyrese Haliburton; thoughts on Oubre replacement
PHILADELPHIA - Nick Nurse saw something on the film.
The Pacers were running fast, moving at an incredible pace as a team. Not just to get back on defense. Not just with the ball in their hands. The guys off the ball were getting after it, too.
How were they doing that?
"Well, they're doing it really hard for four minutes and then three more guys are coming in and they're doing it really hard," Nurse explained. "Like, being a fast-pace running offensive team, everybody always talks about, 'Yeah, we want to be like that'. It's super hard work to play that pace, right?"
"And they're playing a whole bunch of guards. In and out, in and out; so, they're fresh. They're really running."
The Sixers got in from Friday's win in Detroit late in the night, one player remarking that he got to bed at 3 a.m., Saturday morning. They had practice on Saturday afternoon, when they implemented their game plan and prepared for Indiana.
"That's what we're trying to get across today - spreading out, beating off the dribble, shoot lots of threes, lots of talent, lots of blocks. You can see the energy, you can see the connectivity. They have the chemistry. They're playing very well," Nurse said.
But, he knows the preparation beforehand will only go so far against Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton. Averaging 24 points on 64.5% true shooting, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.5:1, Haliburton is the best guard Philadelphia will have faced through nine games.
"It's a lot like you're going into any game there's probably a special or star player. Like, every game you're thinking, 'Okay, here's what this guy does'. You got to explain that to the team. You got to show the clips. You got to hopefully find something that you think they do especially well that people let them do too much that you're trying to take away," Nurse explained.
But, Nurse knows the real game begins when Haliburton shows his first counter to what the Sixers are doing to try to stop him.
"That's the kind of things we're trying to do game-planning, personnel wise. Know your personnel. But, when you do that, those guys usually have counters and stuff that's tough to do. So, that's when the game starts, you're starting to make all those adjustments.
How do the Sixers replace Kelly Oubre Jr. in the starting lineup?
Perhaps this move was coming soon anyway. But, it's now staring Nurse and his staff right in the face.
The Sixers wing looked like one of the league's best signings of the offseason, but he's going to miss time after being struck by a motor vehicle near his residence in Center City on Saturday night.
Oubre was released from the hospital a few hours after the hit-and-run occurred. He suffered a fractured rib and will be re-evaluated in approximately one week, according to a team spokesman.
Let's be clear: it is far more important that Oubre get healthy - both in the short-term and long haul - for himself and his family than it is for him to heal for the sake of the Sixers.
It is also important for him and his family that Oubre returns to action some time this season so that he can prove he's healthy before re-entering the free-agent market in the summer of 2024. Given the way he was playing and the buy-in he showcased, Oubre was shaping up to be one of the best wings available next summer. After accepting a minimum deal this past summer, Oubre was on his way to earning a lucrative payday in July.
Having said that, Philadelphia has a decision to make. The Sixers will miss Oubre's athleticism, multiple levels of scoring, occasional ball-handling, and weak-side cutting for offensive rebounds and blocks at the rim.
There are two ways to go. First, they could just start one of Robert Covington and Nico Batum. To be clear, neither is providing the athleticism that Oubre did. Covington might offer some more connectivity on defense, helping the Sixers up their pace with early transition play. But, the shooting is just as streaky. The big vote in favor of Covington might be that he's a natural small forward. That means Tobias Harris would continue to guard power forwards instead of having to take on quicker small forwards.
Batum, on the other hand, isn't the deflection master that Covington is. But, he's extremely heady on both ends of the court. He's a classic glue guy on offense, capable of handling the ball and making plays in short spurts. His aptitude as a movement shooter and, thus, the spacing he provides for Embiid is a major point in his favor. However, at his age, I think starting him forces Harris to take on more difficult defensive assignments. Having to expense more energy on defense might affect Harris' offensive output.
There are pros and cons to both. Alternatively, Philadelphia could go outside the box, choosing to keep the bench as is. In that case, Danuel House Jr. might be an option. House is always a wild card on the court, and he's not really a comfortable catch-and-shoot threat. But, he's one of Philadelphia's best pace-pushers and has the athleticism to make some of the weak-side plays that Oubre did.
Whatever the case, Oubre leaves a relatively significant hole for Philadelphia to fill. There's an opportunity up for grabs, and, depending on how much time Oubre misses, it might just be one that lasts the rest of the season.
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