Doc Rivers’ ‘Lob City Clippers’ success is why he was right hire for 76ers

0 Comments

Seven years ago, Doc Rivers took over a team in Los Angeles that had star talent — Blake Griffin and Chris Paul — plus some quality role players, such as DeAndre Jordan, and got them to mesh together in a way the previous coach (Vinny Del Negro) could not.

Rivers transformed how those Clippers played on the court — Los Angeles had the best offense in the league for a couple of years early on — but also how they thought of themselves off it. He expanded roles and got guys to trust parts of their game that better fit the team. Griffin was dishing from the elbow and trusting his passing, those Clippers were beasts in transition, and their pick-and-roll combos could target any defense. Those Clippers were winning, they were fun to watch, and there was buy-in from the players in the coach and his system.

Some fans will look back on those “Lob City” Clippers and note they never got past the second round of the playoffs, which is true. However, those teams helped transform the Clippers organization. This was a team that won 50+ games year after year for Rivers, was dynamic on the court, and a real draw at the gate, plus a true playoff threat. Rivers took a franchise that was a laughing stock during the Donald Sterling era and helped bring it to respectability — the kind of franchise that could land a free agent like Kawhi Leonard or draw Paul George. That evolution of the Clippers would not have been possible without the foundation Rivers helped lay.

All of that is why Doc Rivers was the best hire for the 76ers.

He’s not the answer to all their problems, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The 76ers have never been Sterling-level bad as an organization, but in recent years they have gone from “The Process” through Bryan Colangelo and “burnergate” to their current search for how to turn Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons into a duo that can be at the top of the East.

Fans can forget how Rivers helped transformed the Clippers when he arrived. He moved Griffin out of the post (often to the elbow), took advantage of his passing, and got Griffin to trust parts of his game the forward had been reluctant to show before. Rivers got Jordan to buy into a role as a defensive stopper (two-time All-Defense) and a dangerous rim-runner on offense that could finish any lob. Jordan made three All-NBA teams. Rivers got those Clippers to run a little, but more than that they were a force in the halfcourt.

Rivers did all that by figuring out a style of play, then getting guys to accept roles and opportunities within that style. Jordan had wanted more of the offense run more through him, Rivers convinced Jordan to let the offense come to him. Rivers took advantage of the strength of Griffin’s game beyond his pure athleticism. He did the same with Tobias Harris, who is in Philly now but played his best basketball under Rivers in Los Angeles — Harris averaged 20.3 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, shooting better than 40% from three, as a Clipper.

Those Clippers also had an unmatched floor general and on-court chess player in Chris Paul. With all due respect to Simmons’ passing skills, Philadelphia does not have a playmaker of that caliber. Roster changes will need to be made in Philly.

What Doc Rivers brings to the 76ers is not simply the potential to come up with the Xs and Os of a system where Embiid and Simmons can fit together — there are a lot of coaches with those skills — but also to get the All-Stars to buy into that system. He can get the commitment from the players needed to make it all work. Brett Brown could not. Rivers has done this before.

Doc Rivers was the right hire for the 76ers. Ownership may have been starstruck by Mike D’Antoni, but bringing him in would have also required a massive roster overhaul to fit his preferred style of play. Rivers is better suited to coach and win with the roster the Sixers have.

Maybe, in the end, an overhaul is needed. However, landing All-NBA level talents like Embiid and Simmons is too difficult in the NBA to just move on, and the Sixers would never get equal value back in a trade. Philadelphia needs to take another shot with making this roster work.

Rivers is the best coach to do that.

If it doesn’t work this time, then it’s time to talk about an overhaul.

Wembanyama scores 37 Scoot Henderson 28, both make case to go No.1

0 Comments

The NBA league office hates tanking — the action, the word, the mere suggestion of it.

But there is going to be some serious tanking in the NBA this season, and anybody who watched the Victor Wembanyama vs. Scoot Henderson game Tuesday (also known as the G-league Ignite vs.  Metropolitans 92 from France) knows exactly why.

What. A. Show.

Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, showed why he is a true 7’4″ unicorn who can do seemingly anything. He finished the game with 37 points, hitting 7-of-11 from 3, with five blocks, showed off some handles and even brought the ball up court a couple of times.

This play sums him up well: at 7’4″ Wembanyama is the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, looks smooth, and when the defender goes under the pick casually drains a 3.

Scoot Henderson, expected to go No.2 in the next draft, flashed his explosive athleticism to the tune of 28 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.

Ja Morant was impressed.

There was a lot for fans, scouts, and GMs to be impressed with.

For all his shooting an offensive game, Wembanyama was just as impressive on defense. His length and mobility forces players to change their driving angles to the rim. He also showed a fearlessness in going after the big block.

Henderson showed high-level athleticism and an ability to get to the rim at will, but he also set up teammates and an improving shot. Henderson is a dynamic athlete and a season playing against the men of the G League is only going to sharpen his skills.

Henderson made his case Tuesday to be the No.1 pick — scouts say he has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone point guard, a top-10 player in the league, and he looked it in this game. He showed no fear, even going at Wembanyama a few times.

However, Wembanyama will go No.1 because he just breaks the mold, there is nobody like him. Anywhere. He looks like a generational talent, even if there is some work to do to realize it. Wembanyama started to show that Tuesday night.

These two teams face off again on Thursday night in Henderson, Nevada.

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?

Collin Sexton expects to start for Jazz once he gets back to full speed

2022 NBA All-Star - NBA x HBCU Classic Presented by AT&T
Getty Photo
0 Comments

After the blockbuster trade that was centered around Donovan Mitchell sent Collin Sexton to Utah, the immediate expectation was that he would start for the Jazz and have the ultimate green light.

However, that wasn’t the case in their first preseason matchup with Toronto on Sunday. In 18 minutes off the bench, Sexton finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) to go along with one rebound, two assists, two steals, and two turnovers.

It came as a bit of a surprise to most viewers that Sexton didn’t get the starting nod, but he told Sarah Todd of Deseret News that he expected to come off the bench for this game. He acknowledged that it was because he hasn’t played much since his meniscus surgery, but he expects to start once he gets back to full speed.

Utah hit the reset button by dealing away four of their five starters from last season. They’ve ushered in a new era that is centered around Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Jarred Vanderbilt, and a ton of first round picks. Sexton has talked about wanting to improve on his assists numbers this season, which we should definitely see him get the opportunity to do.

The Jazz have cemented their place in the center of the Victor Wembanyama race, so they’ll have no problem letting their young guys learn through trial and error. Sexton averaged 4.4 assists per game for Cleveland just two years ago. However, he won’t be playing alongside another young guard like Darius Garland, so Sexton should have the ball in his hands more than he ever has in the NBA.

Ben Simmons looks fine in return, is ‘grateful just to be able to step on that floor’

0 Comments

Ben Simmons played in an actual, live basketball game on Monday night.

It’s preseason, sure, but the Nets rolled out their likely starting five — Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, and Nic Claxton — and had Simmons initiating a lot of the offense early.

The results were not bad. Fine. Good in flashes. Simmons ran the floor well and finished with six points on 3-of-6 shooting, five assists and four rebounds. He missed both free throws he took and all three of his makes were at the rim, his three missed shots were all in the paint and included an ugly skyhook-like thing and a turnaround that missed. There was clear rust.

The Nets got him a lot of touches, having him initiate the offense early. Whether that is something that carries over into the season remains to be seen, the offense moved better with the crisp passing and decisions of Kyrie Irving.

Simmons sounded comfortable after the game, quotes via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor,” Simmons said. “Step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

“That’s the one thing, I thought I was going to be nervous,” Simmons said. “But I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”

Simmons pushed for a trade off these 76ers a year ago, then sat out all last season due to mental health concerns. Having him back on the court for 19 minutes over a couple of shifts was enough for the Nets.

The 76ers sat Joel Embiid and James Harden for the night, but Tyrese Maxey was the best player on the floor with 20 points in 14 minutes and showing a confident 3-point stroke.

Furkan Korkmaz, another player coming off an injury, added 15 His play will add depth to the Sixers roster.

Claxton ran the floor hard and finished with 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting (all at the rim), while Durant led the way with 13 points.