As the offseason dust begins to set in, the realism of simply “pushing it back” begins to set in. The Sixers have chosen to bring Danny Green back and there still hasn’t been a trade with Ben Simmons. While a deal can certainly still happen, time is running out and Daryl Morey recently tweeted some positive stats on last year’s lineup, indicating that it might be better to expect more of the same. thing. For Doc Rivers, a change of mind is needed.
While Ben Simmons has rightly been heavily criticized for his playoff performances, he’s far from the team’s only problem. Doc Rivers should also be held responsible for a disappointing playoff performance in which he was widely passed and failed to put the Sixers in the best position to win. Regardless of next season’s roster, the Sixers will need a better playoff performance from their head coach if they are to reach their title hopes. Here are three specific areas where improvement is essential:
All ranges of benches
Let me start by saying that the quality of the bench for the Sixers was certainly part of that problem. There were nights when guys like Dwight Howard, Mike Scott, Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz were just unplayable given their production on the pitch forcing Rivers to adapt on the fly. The Sixers have preached their satisfaction with the depth of the squad throughout the year and haven’t learned the lesson that a few good guys are more effective than a lot of good guys.
During the regular season, the formation of Shake Milton, Mike Scott, Matisse Thybulle, Dwight Howard and Furkan Korkmaz was the formation that recorded the team’s third most minutes. This group only trailed the typical starting lineup (Embiid, Harris, Simmons, Green, Curry) and starters with Mike Scott in place of Embiid during the minutes played. While it’s possible to get by in the regular season, relying on a roster made up of all the benchmarks in the playoffs is inexcusable.
During the playoffs, Rivers was first seen trying to use the all-bench roster in the opening series against the Wizards. The lineup of George Hill, Tyrese Maxey, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle and Dwight Howard played just 11 minutes and 25 seconds in the playoffs. Per 100 possessions, this group was outscored by 27.4 points and attempted 11.7 fewer shooting attempts.
To solve this problem, Rivers chose to play Tobias Harris with the typical bench formation. Tobias, Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, George Hill and Dwight Howard recorded the third most playoff minutes of any unit, but always struggled to find success. This group was outscored by 11.4 points per 100 possessions and played a total of 33 minutes and 52 seconds. When you consider that the starters outscored their opponents by 39.7 points per 100 possessions, reducing the second unit’s deficit would be effective in translating into team success.
While the overall bench unit talent is certainly a problem in solving this, Doc’s stubbornness in keeping the units spinning rather than just letting the guys rest is a real concern. This concern will not go away next season and will become more of an issue in the playoffs. The decision not to have one of your top five players on the pitch when the season is on the line is a decision that simply should never be made.
Feel on the game
Doc Rivers spent 12 years in the NBA as a once-star player and averaged 10.9 points, 5.7 assists and 3 rebounds. He also coached for 22 seasons and received Coach of the Year honors (99-2000) and won a championship with the Boston Celtics. There shouldn’t be any questions about Doc Rivers’ basketball IQ, but for a guy who’s been in basketball for so long, it’s about how he feels about the game.
There’s a lot to love about Doc Rivers in his first year with the Sixers. He commanded respect from the dressing room, had a positive impact on the team’s culture and led the team to first place in the East. Rivers led Joel Embiid to a year of career and a legitimate MVP candidacy.
While the regular season’s accomplishments were excellent, Rivers’ flaws were highlighted in the playoffs. Scott Brooks managed to lead the Wizards to a surprise victory in Game 4 where he effectively highlighted the weaknesses of the Sixers. In the Hawks series, Lloyd Pierce made several adjustments that Doc Rivers just didn’t have a meter for and the Sixers fell into a series they had to go through.
During playoff basketball, every split decision carries more weight. As a coach it is so important to have the pulse of the game. Making the decision to end a lineup or make an adjustment on the fly can make or break games and Rivers has failed in that area. For example, watch how Steve Nash played against Kevin Durant for a full 48 minutes to win Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks. While that hasn’t worked out in the long run for the Nets, Nash has put the team in the best position to win in a way Rivers hasn’t shown flexibility this year.
Protect Joël Embiid
As long as he keeps playing, Joel Embiid is the Sixers’ number one opportunity. That was reinforced recently when the Sixers struck a super-max deal that will keep him at Philly until the 2026-2027 season. While load management is too easily tossed about in today’s NBA, Embiid has earned every right to those off nights. Protecting him and making sure his body can play for as long as possible needs to be high on the Sixers’ priority list in order to get the most out of his career.
While Embiid himself hates the prospect of not playing every game possible, it is the Sixers’ responsibility to protect him. “The Process” himself played in seven different consecutive game series last season, which is unacceptable given his injury history. While it would be great for him to be able to be there in every game, that just isn’t the case for Joel Embiid. The Sixers have to think about how to get the most out of their career when making these kinds of decisions and it’s far too risky to put on the centerpiece of the franchise.
Discussing the concept of the load management tactics that surround Embiid, Doc Rivers brought up what he called “old-fashioned load management”. By that, Rivers meant the Sixers would take Embiid out of the game as soon as possible when a significant lead was established. It’s great in principle but much more difficult in practice because games don’t always go according to the storyline, and the Sixers have certainly proven that this season. There have also been many games throughout the season where Embiid has been in the game for much longer than needed, which is infuriating.
The Sixers must have an effective plan in place to protect Embiid this season if they are to hope for long-term success. While part of this can be attributed to the newly implemented Covid protocols, Joel Embiid’s status was uncertain for just about every game. There were countless games last season where Doc Rivers sat in the pre-game media sessions and had no real answer on whether or not Embiid would be active for the game that would debut in. an hour and a half. It certainly doesn’t fall entirely on Rivers’ shoulders, but leading the charge to protect his superstar needs to become a higher priority for Doc.
Given the bitter end to the Sixers’ season, no one should be immune to a reassessment. The 6’10 Aussie elephant in the hall absorbed most of the criticism, but Doc Rivers also needs to improve his performance last season. That being said, the Sixers might have far worse options to lead the team than Doc Rivers. Last season saw some unique obstacles that no coach could ever have prepared for. With a full offseason and more normal training camp on the way, the story could certainly be different with Rivers this season. Whether he’s the right guy for the job remains to be seen, but there’s certainly room for Doc to grow up before second year.
Photo by Stephen Lew / Icon Sportswire