Doc Rivers is showing why he was the perfect hire as playoffs near

NBA: APR 09 76ers at Pelicans
NEW ORLEANS, LA – APR 09: Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers reacts to a play against New Orleans Pelicans during a NBA game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Philadelphia 76ers at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA on Apr 09, 2021. (Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)

Return on Investment 

One of just six teams to notch 40+ wins so far this season, the East-leading Sixers have been excellent all year, led by the play of their superstar tandem. Simmons, the 2016 first overall draft pick, looks much more fluid under Doc Rivers. The gifted point-forward has been aggressive when attacking the rim, using his size-speed combo to blow by defenders. He has also done a great job being the floor general of Rivers’ offense and keeping others involved- ranking in the top 15 in assists en route to his third-straight all-star campaign. 

Although his scoring has dwindled a bit, that can mainly be attributed to Doc forcing the issue less than Brett Brown and allowing Simmons to pick his spots and be decisive on when to attack. Unlike Brown, who advocated for Simmons to shoot more and become a bigger perimeter threat, Rivers seems comfortable with whatever contributions Simmons makes, no matter how unorthodox it is. 

All season long, Rivers has raved about the multi-faceted impact Simmons brings to the floor on a nightly basis. The veteran coach praises Simmons for his ability to keep the offense afloat, but is equally impressed with his work on the other side of the floor and has publicly advocated for Simmons to be named the DPOY multiple times.

“Ben is a lock to me” Rivers said in an ESPN interview. “He just – he guards every position. And he makes such a dif erence. And not just at the rim. It’s everywhere. He literally at times swallows players. And I’ve not seen that.” 

Simmons’ defensive versatility is incredibly rare and gives Philly a positional advantage each time he is on the floor. Opposing players are left with little to no option to score when matched up with him as he suffocates one player after the next on offense. 

Of course, this isn’t exactly surprising, as Simmons was a great defender under Brett Brown as well. This year, though, with Rivers at the helm, Simmons has been an absolute menace on the defensive end, one worthy of being awarded the DPOY. 

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“I’m just gonna keep saying it, Ben, if he doesn’t win, and I don’t ever campaign,” said coach Doc Rivers following a win over Utah. “This may be my last campaign speech, other than for president, he guards the best every night. I mean, Donovan Mitchell, if you just look at the 33 points he was 12-for-34. No one does that to him, and Ben does it and he does it every night to everyone, so he’s been amazing. He needs more credit.” 

This type of praise is why Rivers is loved and cherished by his players more often than not. Just as quickly as he is too hold players accountable for their shortcomings, Rivers is equally apt to acknowledge and praise their successes. 

Doc Rivers is building an MVP candidate

Additionally, Defensive Player of the Year honors may not be the only hardware coming back to Philly this season either, as Joel Embiid has firmly entrenched his name in the MVP conversation.

Another high draft choice who was misused and hindered by the coaching antics of Brett Brown, Embiid has evolved into an unstoppable force under Rivers. Averaging a shade under 30 points per night, Embiid is playing the best basketball of his career right now. 

All season long, Embiid has left defenders feeling helpless as he imposes his will on one defender after the next. His offensive repertoire has become incredibly refined and Doc Rivers has not been shy about dialing up opportunities for the Cameroonian big man. Compared to last year’s numbers, Embiid has experienced an uptick in field goal attempts and post-ups per game. Although he is being called on to score more, he isn’t necessarily being asked to do more. 

Under Brett Brown, Embiid would be asked to facilitate far too often, which took away from his desired assignment in the post. Images of Embiid standing at the top of the key looking for open teammates became a hallmark in the Brett Brown era, one that Embiid even voiced his concern about. 

“I don’t like shooting threes,” Embiid said following a 2018 loss to Boston, taking a jab at the offensive system implemented by ex-coach Brett Brown. “I only do it because of the spacing that we have and sometimes I have to take them. I have to be on the perimeter just getting guys open because of all the attention that sometimes it seems is presented to me. I don’t like shooting threes. I only do it because I got to make it work.”

Creating Chemistry On and Off the Court 

Now, with coach Doc Rivers at the helm, Embiid has been freed to roam in the paint, where the skilled big man can and has executed the “bully ball” brand of basketball he desired. En route to an MVP season, Embiid seemingly has no complaints about Rivers or his coaching style. Fortunately, the same can be said of Sixers star Ben Simmons. 

“Doc keeps it real with me,” Simmons said following a regular-season victory over Miami. “He keeps it straight. He wants to see me get better, improve, and stay in the gym, continue to work. So far, I’ve learned a lot.” 

As I mentioned before, Rivers’ best coaching trait may just be his ability to understand and connect with his players. The reason Rivers works so hard to generate improvement from his players stems from the fact that he genuinely wants them to succeed. Not only for the sake of the team or his coaching resume but for their own sake. 

Making various personalities and egos mesh is not a novel occurrence for Rivers, either. In Boston, with big personalities like Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo on tap, Rivers was able to keep the team focused and on one accord. With the bright, big-market spotlight of playing in Boston looming over them, Rivers and the Celtics nearly won back-to-back championships over Kobe’s Lakers(!). 

During his stint in LA, Doc was able to keep his team focused on the task at hand and away from the many allures of Los Angeles. Although he never won a ring in LA, his teams were consistently in the hunt and appeared to be completely bought into Rivers’ plan. 

Now, after year-long rumors of suspected Simmons and Embiid discord, the two appear to be in unison and meshing incredibly well both on and off the court. Not only them but the entire Sixers roster is bought in and playing at a high level.

Night in and night out, the East-leading Sixers can be found playing hard for Doc, executing his game plan to perfection on most nights. Every time one tunes in, it’s apparent that the Sixers bunch truly enjoys playing with and for one another and are in sync. Led by his veteran leadership and powered by the performance of the elite talent on the roster, the Sixers pose a serious threat to the reigning champion Lakers and anyone else with championship aspirations this season. 

With the first season of his Philly tenure nearly complete, Rivers and the Sixers hope to cap the inaugural campaign with a championship run. It won’t be easy, but Rivers is no stranger to adversity and will do his best to make sure his team is up to the challenge.