It has been an eventful year for the 76ers organization so far. Starting with the drama-filled holdout of Ben Simmons and highlighted by the MVP caliber season of Joel Embiid, there have been plenty of storylines to follow this season. Perhaps the biggest thing noted nationally was the need for Daryl Morey to get the proper supporting cast around Embiid to give the Sixers a proper chance at a championship.
Just hours before the trade deadline, Daryl Morey succeeded in this goal by finding a way to add the top guy on his list and land James Harden in Philly. For the affordable price of Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, Ben Simmons, and two first-round picks, the Sixers managed to land a legitimate top-15 NBA star. Harden instantly is also the best perimeter partner that Joel Embiid has ever played with by a pretty large margin. With the top-end talent on the Sixers roster now ready to go toe-to-toe with any team in the league, the pressure shifts to Doc Rivers’ shoulders for how he manages the team.
Doc Rivers’ Rotations
Perhaps the most maddening area of Rivers coaching over the past two seasons with the Sixers has been the stubbornness to stick to his structured rotations. Regardless of the ebbs and flow of the game, it is tough to get Doc to shake from his pre-game script. Rivers swears by the old-fashioned thought process of rotating by units rather than spelling guys for minutes and keeping as much of the top-end talent on the court for as many minutes as possible. While there are pros and cons to both methods, this new trade absolutely calls for a shake-up in logic.
With Joel Embiid, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris all capable of serving as the primary option in the offense for stretches of time- there are ZERO reasons that at least one of these guys is not on the court at all times. It shouldn’t be unreasonable to hope for at least two, but having this flexibility to change the focal point of the offense throughout the game is a major weapon for the Sixers.
The Embiid-less Minutes
The issue that has plagued the Sixers for the entirety of his six-year career has been surviving the minutes in which Joel Embiid is not on the floor. This is somewhat an indictment on Ben Simmons‘ inability to serve as the alpha in the offense and also a compliment to just how impactful Embiid has been throughout his career. With James Harden now on the roster, the problem of winning these non-Embiid minutes should be one that is minimized a great deal.
While there obviously must be a large portion of minutes that Harden and Embiid must share the floor together, Rivers’ tendency to pair his top players in their minutes must not apply to these two. James Harden’s ability to run an offense and his high IQ as a passer is perhaps his most appealing trait as a basketball player. He is incredibly effective at raising the ability of players around him, and this should be put on display with the Sixers bench unit.
Pairing Harden’s ability to read pick-and-rollers and find cutters would immediately raise the effectiveness of the bench unit. This has some exciting potential with the cutting ability of Matisse Thybulle and the potential to build a relationship in the pick-and-roll with Charles Bassey or Paul Reed. Harden is on the small list of players in the NBA who can keep just about any lineup around him at a positive. Given what an Achilles heel the minutes have been with Joel Embiid off the court, James Harden is just about as perfect of a solution to this that there could be.
In general, I would argue that the impact of a coach in the NBA is overrated as it is such a player-driven league. Even so, Doc Rivers will absolutely have an impact on the Sixers’ chances of winning based on how he manipulates the rotation of substitutions moving forward. There also has been a little too much stagnation in the Sixers’ offense this season which at times turns into “Give the ball to Joel and watch.” It will take some time for everything to click, but with James Harden as a legitimate point guard on the roster, it would be nice to see some more motion and well-run plays, which he will be a major asset in helping things click in a smoother fashion.
My largest defense of Doc Rivers has been that there were too many holes in the Sixers roster for any coach to shape it into an NBA champion, but this is no longer the case. Added talent comes with added pressure, and it is now on Doc Rivers to pull the proper strings on this Sixers team. Rivers is surely not without his haters in Philadelphia, but now with a massive amount of talent and a complete championship roster, Doc has a prime chance to prove these people wrong and lead this Sixers team to a successful playoff run.