Doc Rivers arrived at the Philadelphia Sixers in October 2020 and managed to lead the team to the conference semifinals in the two seasons he was in charge. This third season began with an unpromising record, with a 0-3 loss that raised so many doubts that the experienced coach had to clarify: “we are not ready to win yet”, an eloquent statement considering that it is a team championship contender.
Undoubtedly, the arrival of James Harden to the team was a step forward in a project that already has some cracks and that began in 2014 with the arrival of Joel Embiid, listed as one of the biggest stars who played in “The City of Love”. fraternal”.
The departure of Ben Simmons placed the nationalized Frenchman as the most brilliant figure in the franchise, but he made everything happen through him, in a case similar to what happens with Nikola Jokic in the Denver Nuggets. The difference with the Serbian international is that Jojo does not work as an assisting beacon, but rather is a play finisher and constantly looks for fouls.
JOEL EMBIID, THE MOST DETERMINING PLAYER
The Sixers had a rocky start with a 5-6 record, but they managed to straighten out with wins over the Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz, as well as tremendous performances from Embiid with 42 and 59 points. A true star who always seems to show scoring improvement with each passing season.
However, the rumors about the departure of Rivers do not seem to go away. He is the great architect of a project that has several cracks, and that is built on two pillars that cannot shake: Embiid and Harden, although, it must be said, they are not to be trusted. The center has already missed four games and is coming back after plantar fasciitis sidelined him during the offseason. Harden, for his part, has missed the last two games and will be out for at least a few more weeks because of the sprained foot he sustained last Wednesday against the Washington Wizards.
TWO UNRELIABLE STARS
What to do when it is likely that the two stars of the team could miss several games in the season? It seems like an unanswered question for Rivers, who has to take charge of a team that doesn’t have many alternatives. We are talking about the worst bench in the entire league in terms of average points per game.
While it looks like a team built to orbit its two stars, Rivers isn’t doing much to change the fortunes of a franchise that seems a long way from getting its first ring in 40 years.
AN OFFENSIVE WITHOUT MUCH FLIGHT
The Sixers are not a team that stands out for their offensive system, they are the 16th team in the NBA in offensive rating, with 111.7 points per game. They have a stagnant attack, without much flight and that tries to generate fouls. The team ranked fourth in offensive scoring before Harden missed games with injury, which speaks to the importance of the guard, one of the best assisters in the league.
Harden had also been one of the best 1 vs. 1, averaging 1.16 points per possession. As a frame of reference, the Sixers’ entire offense scored 1.11 points per possession. To get a sense of what Philadelphia lost with the injury of the MVP award winner in 2018. The isolation of “La Barba” is the predominant play of Rivers’ team.
THE POOR DEFENSE OF THE TEAM
Given Harden’s injury, the problems are not only offensive, but the Sixers’ biggest shortcoming is defense. They sit 19th overall in this section and while their perimeter defense wasn’t too bad, they are a complete disaster in transition defense, where they show a lack of effort throughout matches. On this record, they rank 26th in the league in points received in transition, according to Cleaning the Glass.
A COMMANDING VOICE THAT IS NOT HEARD
Regardless of each player’s individual obligation to give their all in a defensive rotation, to run the floor in a transition, it’s Rivers’ responsibility to fail to motivate his guys to put in a better effort. His “soft” way of communicating at times, giving his stars freedom to make decisions on the court is one of his trademarks.
In addition to this way of directing, the bad decisions he makes in the last stages of the game are a problem most of the time. This is reflected in the last play designed to beat the Utah Jazz this past Sunday. Tyrese Maxey told the press that Rivers asked him to execute a pick and roll, but the guard ignored him and he made the decision to assist Embiid, who finished the game with 59 points.
Rivers’ criticism of his team
Rivers is faced with an unusual and troubling situation: His players don’t listen to him. An example of this were the statements he gave after the 119-109 loss against the Toronto Raptors, when he expressed his frustration: “[La ofensiva] it can be better if we play well. If we spaced out the court more, if we played a little faster and didn’t give away the ball so much.” Days earlier, after the 114-105 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Doc noted that his team didn’t seem prepared.
Rivers seems to be prepared with his helmet and his plans, confident that he can repair all the cracks in the building of Philadelphia. However, the two pillars that support the building are flimsy, while their beams don’t seem to work with the structure. Rumors grow and so do bad decisions inside and outside the team. Time will tell if they make it to the top.