Its players cannot yet train in large groups, are tested daily for COVID-19 and are expected to play their first preseason game in two weeks. There are challenges for the Sixers head coach in implementing his plans and forming bonds with a new team, but there are also league-wide hurdles as the NBA moves forward. launches in a scheduled 72-game regular season in domestic markets during a pandemic. A Wizards player and two Warriors have tested positive for COVID-19.
“Well, it’s a little different (from the bubble) because now we’re home and we’re with family and friends,” Rivers. “We can order and eat wherever we want, regardless of which restaurants are still serving or which are open. So there is a little more freedom. Having said that, it is my concern. Food is not my concern – I’m happy about it – but freedom is a concern. I am very worried if we can be successful. Just looking at the football, Ohio state missing games, Pittsburgh and Baltimore can’t even play a game… hope they play Wednesday now.
“The difference in football is that they play once a week and they have 1,000 players. When you miss three or four players, you can still get away with it. If we miss three or four players, we are in trouble, especially with the number of games. We play three and four games a week, so if one of our guys or two of our key players gets the virus and they miss 10-14 days, it can be eight games.
“In a 72-game season, that can get you out of the playoffs. It’s a problem. The health of our guys is a problem. And it is difficult. As a coach, you want to go with your team’s concerns being more (about) basketball, and I think every coach’s concerns right now are probably not basketball.
Right now, there was basketball to dissect – or at least imagine – and Rivers seemed in her element to do it.
On day one, it’s not difficult to identify the differences between Rivers and his predecessor, Brett Brown. Among them, Rivers’ preference for performing more pick-and-rolls. Tobias Harris has had more success as a driver and pick-and-roll ball handler on Rivers’ Clippers. He’s not the only player Rivers believes could benefit from a system change.
“I guarantee you we’ll do more pick-and-rolls, and I guarantee you’ll see more pick-and-rolls with Ben (Simmons) and Joel (Embiid) in them,” Rivers said. “But I like a lot of things that they’ve directed in the past too. They had really good movement stuff. We want to make sure that because of this shortened preseason, the shortened training camp and the quick first game, we don’t try to do too much. We want to make them as comfortable as possible. ”
Regarding Harris in particular, Rivers did not water down his assessment.
“Tobias and I have obviously talked a lot since I took the job,” Rivers said. “The first thing we have to bring him back to life is a quick decision player. I told him I saw him dribble too much. Tobias is so adept at going down left and right. We have to start enjoying it again. ”
The main focus with Harris, it seems, will be to identify discrepancies and attack them. It might be a bit easier for the 28-year-old to do with Al Horford out of the picture and more power to defend him.
He was reluctant to give the Sixers a definitive identity for the time being, although Rivers made it his goal to be in the top 10 both offensively and defensively. Raising the pace was a goal Rivers mentioned in his introductory press conference, and the way forward seems clearer after the work done by president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and the Sixers front office during a fast offseason.
Rivers shouldn’t have a hard time finding lineups that complement Simmons with shooting and speed after the additions of Seth Curry and Danny Green. First-round pick Tyrese Maxey loves to run. Assistant coach Dave Joerger’s 2018-19 Kings team finished third in pace. And, in case the engagement at pace isn’t clear, two-way rookie Paul Reed considers his best trait to be “running the ground like a deer.”
For Rivers, both overall philosophy and granular detail will be key on this front.
“Messaging is always important because we have to tell them how we want to play,” Rivers said. “Identity is important. We have to show them what we should look like every night and get our guys to buy into it and believe in it. And then structurally, as much as offensively, moving the ball forward and bringing the ball back up onto the floor has to be something that works every day.
“You can’t take it for granted. You can’t even take for granted who takes the ball. … We have to make sure that the right people take the ball, that the right people run their lanes. You will hear a lot about running your lane, staying in your lane, due to spacing issues. It will be taught.
It seems like a tough style, and Rivers admitted he’s unsure if the Sixers will be physically able to handle it right away. He said his first priority will be to assess the conditioning and then step it up as needed.
The first day of camp was too early for any statement on starting lineups or rotations. Rivers’ comments on Shake Milton, however, were enlightening. He first brought up Milton’s name when asked if the Sixers had a second-unit point guard like those who have excelled for many of his previous teams.
“Yeah, it’s probably going to be a process,” Rivers said. “I was very lucky with some really good second unit guards. I think we have it. I think Shake, No. 1. By the time I took the job, Shake was where I focused. I have to let him play even more freely. Which is crazy, you know. I will say when I tell him that he was very happy with this news.
“I told him I would hold him a lot more responsible defensively than I did for Jamal (Crawford) and Lou (Williams) for sure. But Shake has that ability in him. Furkan (Korkmaz) has another ability in him – and maybe using them as a scoring combination coming off the bench would be great for us.
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