Doc Rivers has been coaching in the NBA too long to reveal information to reporters he’d prefer stayed private.
The Sixers’ head coach said after the team’s practice Thursday that he had “a good sense” who four of the five bench players in his rotation would be. He was then asked for names.
“I’ll let you know,” he said with a laugh. “You’re going to figure it out, I guarantee.”
The backcourt of Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz and backup center Dwight Howard are almost surely three of the four. Mike Scott and Matisse Thybulle were the ninth and 10th Sixers to appear in Tuesday night’s preseason game vs. the Celtics, respectively. Rookie Tyrese Maxey only played in the fourth quarter but, according to Rivers, will “push for minutes.”
Even after a rookie season in which he started a playoff game and was at times astounding on defense, might Thybulle be on the edge of the Sixers’ early-season rotation? He was limited during training camp by a left ankle sprain and did not play well vs. Boston. Meanwhile, Rivers on Monday classified Scott’s training camp as “phenomenal.” The 32-year-old is the only conventional backup power forward on the roster.
Though unwilling to divulge specifics of the internal competition, Rivers provided a general preview of what he’d like to see at the end of his rotation.
“Shooting is really important,” he said. “Defense is important. Who can get the team and run the stuff the best. There’s a lot of little things. We may need more size. We’ll see. We run out a lot of the groups in practice, and so we kind of get a (judgement) from that. Tomorrow we’ll try to run a lot of different groups out.”
Here are a few other notes before the Sixers’ preseason finale Friday night against the Pacers:
A new backup big man partner
Much of Korkmaz’s success last season came in tandem with Al Horford. The two enjoyed playing together and quickly developed chemistry on dribble handoffs and pick-and-pops. In 1,407 possessions with Korkmaz and Horford and without Joel Embiid, the Sixers had an excellent 117.3 offensive rating and 56.9 effective field goal percentage, per Cleaning the Glass.
Other than the fact that both are in their mid-30s, Howard and Horford don’t have a ton in common.
“Last year when I played with Al, it was different because he can shoot, too,” Korkmaz said. “He was popping back, and we were running a lot. With Dwight, it’s different. First of all, Dwight is really smart for a big guy. He makes a lot of good runs. He creates a lot of space for you, which I need on the court. He’s setting really good picks and he can roll, too. I can go downhill to my floater shots, pass to Dwight or find the open guy.
“I think, especially in the practices, we are working on that a lot. ... He’s trying to be helpful to everybody, especially with me — we are talking a lot. I think we’re going to be good.”
If Korkmaz does indeed handle the ball more this year as part of a second-unit backcourt with Milton, his pairing with Howard will be an important one. We’ll see how he adjusts to playing with a center who likes to roll hard to the rim and finish off lobs but is a non-threat as a shooter and rarely makes exceptional passes.
Advice for the ‘young fella’
There are no shortage of Sixers veterans happy to mentor Maxey.
Howard is among them, and he recalled counseling the rookie during his preseason NBA debut.
“I really like young fella,” Howard said. “When he first came in the game, I thought he was moving a little bit too fast, and they were pressuring him a lot. At a timeout I kind of just pulled him to the side. I just told him, ‘Hey, just slow down. It’s OK to be fast, but don’t be in a hurry. Don’t allow the defense to dictate where they want you to go. You’re the ball handler, you’re the point guard, you control everything on the floor. Just slow down and read the game.’
“And he went back out there, he slowed down, he started making plays. He got a couple floaters off, some good passes. He got the offense running smoothly. I really like where his head is at. He’s very eager to learn. Very disciplined — he’s always in the gym working on his game. Very happy to see the progress that he’s had in such a short training camp, and also with having no type of summer league or anything like that.”
Not the norm for Embiid
Embiid played the first 8 minutes and 47 seconds against the Celtics, well more than his typical stint to start a half last season.
It wasn’t preparation for a similar routine during the regular season.
“No, that was more reflective of that was our first exhibition game and I wanted to try to blow everybody’s lungs out,” Rivers said, chuckling. “That’s more of that. Joel handled it very well but that’s a lot of minutes in a row for him, especially at the pace that we were playing at. The good news is he’s in such better shape this year; he can handle that. There will be times where maybe he will.”
The all-bench lineups the Sixers showed Tuesday may very well be more common this regular season than extended stretches of minutes for Embiid. Rivers wants his second unit to establish an identity independent from his stars.
“Well, it’s going to happen,” Rivers said of using lineups without Embiid and Simmons. “There’s going to be times where one guy’s in foul trouble, the other guy needs to come out. I don’t need this team to be dependent on just if those two guys are on the floor. We have to be able to play when both are off the floor. That’s going to happen; that’s real. And so we have to work on it every day. We do it in practice quite a bit, and we’ll do it in the game early on, for sure.”
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