On October 1st, Doc Rivers signed a five-year deal to become the new head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. Just three days after being fired by the Los Angeles Clippers for failing to take a team that acquired two All-Stars in the off-season to the NBA Finals, Rivers inherits a team that has had high expectations each of the last few years but has failed to make those dreams a reality. Having won both an NBA Coach of the Year Award and an NBA title, Doc Rivers has a track record of success.
How Doc Rivers Can Succeed as Philadelphia 76ers Head Coach
10) Use the 21st Pick in the Draft Wisely
I know what you’re thinking, the 21st pick is outside of the lottery. No impact players will be available that late in the draft. Sometimes that’s true but there have been exceptions. In 2001, future All-Star Gilbert Arenas was selected with the 1st pick of the 2nd round. That’s right, everyone who had a shot at taking him in the 1st round passed. More recently, the Chicago Bulls selected Jimmy Butler with the last pick of the 1st round in 2011. In this year’s playoffs, Butler has cemented his status as a superstar, proving that good scouting can find top-tier talent even when others are unaware of their potential.
9) Finding a Replacement for J.J. Redick
Generally speaking, the 2019 off-season was not a good one for the Philadelphia 76ers. One of the biggest disappointments was losing free agent sharpshooter J.J. Redick to the New Orleans Pelicans. Redick was a knockdown three-point shooter who provided much-needed spacing for a team whose best two players thrive in the paint. The team missed his ability to spread the floor last year. The front office must look to bring in a player with a similar skillset if the team is going to compete at the highest level next season.
8) Help Josh Richardson Return to His 2019 Level of Productivity
Josh Richardson spent the first four seasons of his career as a member of the Miami Heat. He got progressively better every year. In the 2019 season, Richardson put up a career-high of 16.6 points per game. In 2020 his average dipped to 13.7 points per game. Granted, he had fewer shot attempts with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in the lineup, but the fact is the Sixers need all the scoring they can get. If the Sixers are going to be a threat to reach the NBA Finals, Richardson must be aggressive on offense and look for his own shot.
7) Using Al Horford Wisely
Al Horford’s best days are behind him. That’s not a nice thing to say but sometimes the truth hurts. However, he can still be a valuable contributor if allowed to play to his strengths. Last season, head coach Brett Brown tried playing Horford at the power forward position alongside Joel Embiid and the two big men did not perform well together. The fact is Horford has gone from being an All-Star center to an elite backup center. At 34 years old, there’s nothing wrong with that. Although not the player he once was, Horford can still provide valuable minutes off the bench.
6) Empowering Shake Milton to Reach His Full Potential
One of the exciting developments for the 76ers this past season was the emergence of second-year player, Shake Milton. Milton had to step up and play more minutes when Simmons went down with an injury. That resulted in several eye-opening performances, including a 39-point outburst against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center. Milton is a 6’5” playmaker who can play either backcourt position and isn’t afraid of the big stage. He has a tremendous upside. All he needs now is the confidence of his coach and an opportunity.
5) Keeping Tobias Harris at an All-Star Level of Productivity
In 2019 Tobias Harris was having an All-Star caliber season under head coach Doc Rivers. In 2021, the Philadelphia 76ers hope Tobias Harris has an All-Star caliber season under head coach Doc Rivers. These two men find themselves reunited after Rivers sent Harris to Philadelphia in hopes of freeing up enough cap space to sign Kawhi Leonard in the off-season. While that part of Rivers’ plan worked, the NBA championship he sought in Los Angeles eluded him. He now finds himself in Philadelphia, reunited with Harris. Many have mentioned the vacuum left behind when Jimmy Butler left Philadelphia for the Miami Heat. However, Harris has shown he’s capable of being the third option the Sixers need. It’s up to Rivers to empower him to be just that.
4) Monitoring Joel Embiid’s Three-Point Attempts
Centers are taking perimeter shots more than ever in the modern NBA. Joel Embiid is known for being able to step outside the arc and knock down a three-pointer. This past season he shot 33.1% from three-point land. While that’s not a bad percentage, especially for a center, one can’t ignore the fact that Embiid’s size and strength make him unstoppable on the block. Listed at 7’0” tall and 280 pounds, Embiid’s combination of size, strength, and agility hasn’t been seen since a young Shaquille O’Neal. Embiid cannot fall in love with the outside shot. He has to have the right balance to his offensive attack and dominate the game.
3) Convincing Ben Simmons to Take Open Jump Shots
Taking and making open jump shots is the only way to keep the defense honest. If a player refuses to take a shot, opposing teams can sag into the paint, clog the lane and easily deny post entry passes. This also puts the offensive team at a decided disadvantage when it comes to rebounding, meaning there will be few if any second-chance points. Simmons is not a knockdown shooter, but he must be more willing to take open shots when the defense intentionally gives him space to pull the trigger. The more of these shots he takes, the more his confidence will grow and the more accurate he’ll become.
2) Embrace Ben Simmons’ Versatility
When the NBA returned from its hiatus in late July, the 76ers embarked on an experiment playing Ben Simmons at the power forward. The roster has other capable back-court players like Shake Milton but moving Simmons exclusively to forward and entirely away from point guard would be a mistake. Simmons is one of the best 6’10” passers we’ve ever seen. He’s shown the ability to get guys the ball where they need it. Simmons can be effective at guard or forward. The Sixers should embrace his versatility to get the most out of him. There may be times when he’ll be in the lineup with both Milton and Richardson and have to play forward. However, when neither of them is in the game and Simmons must be the primary ball-handler. Figuring out the best way to use a player with Simmons’ skill set is a great problem to have.
1) Get Joel Embiid in Basketball Shape!
When the Sixers got swept by the Boston Celtics this postseason, one thing was painfully obvious: Joel Embiid was tired. Having had to go through a hiatus from March to July without real basketball would be tough on any athlete, but when you’re 7’0” tall and 280 pounds the wear and tear of unpredictably stopping and starting are amplified. Joel Embiid could be the most dominant player in basketball. However, that can only happen if he’s in tip-top condition. He’s never played in more than 64 games in a single season and injuries have always been a factor. The uncomfortable truth is he’s too out of shape to be the MVP caliber player he’s capable of. Doc Rivers must get Joel to come into training camp in the best shape of his life. If he’s committed to doing that, the sky’s the limit for this Philadelphia 76ers team.
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