The Sixers have officially hired Doc Rivers to be their next head coach after a three week search led by Elton Brand. While a handful of names were connected to the team at some point, they appeared to key in on Ty Lue and Mike D’Antoni, with Rivers joining the fray earlier this week after he was somewhat surprisingly let go by the Clippers.
Personally, I was in the D’Antoni camp, but I’m pleased with Doc, just as I would have been with Ty Lue or even Billy Donovan (though both to a lesser degree). It was no secret that the Sixers had a luxury few teams get to experience in their search to replace Brett Brown—rare is the offseason that sees accomplished coaches such as Rivers, D’Antoni (1,606 wins between the two), and Lue (who own a Finals ring) all available at once; even Donovan has been a highly-regarded name in basketball for two decades running. We knew the organization would walk away with a top tier coaching talent, we just weren’t always sure who.
Rivers appeared to be the popular choice among the fan base and media, and understandably so, the resume speaks for itself. 943 wins, two Finals appearances, and one Finals win is hard to knock, and his experience coaching in 16 postseasons is what the Sixers were no-doubt attracted by.
Doc has always been known for two things: 1) having strong relationships with his players, and 2) running a tight ship in the sense that he commands a lot of discipline in his locker room. It’s a somewhat unique combination of traits—most “player coaches” tend to run a more loose environment as a virtue of needing to keep tension low, but Doc is able to thread that needle because his 13+ years experience playing in this league allows him to connect with players in a way that guys like Brett or D’Antoni are unable to.
The major concern with a tougher coach in the vein of Doc—who might be better described as a ‘motivator’—is that they can wear on a locker room when things go south, but thus far Rivers has avoided those pitfalls (even when things went bad at the end in LA he still hadn’t lost his players). It’s a slight overstatement to call him “tough,” he’s not some over the top hard-ass like his former assistant Tom Thibideau, but he’s not far off.
It’s possible that’s what Ben and Joel need, but it’s also possible that sort of style just doesn’t fit today’s young stars. If I have confidence in anyone garnering the respect to pull that tough-love off, however, it’s probably Rivers.
Like most NBA coaches, Rivers does a good job of adapting his offensive system to the strengths of his players. He’s not necessarily known as an offensive-guru like D’Antoni, but his playbook is deep and he’ll know exactly which sets to run for his personnel. While the league was admittedly different in the Lob City Clippers-era, Rivers made efficient low-post scorers out of both Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan, so if you wanted a coach who can confidently maximize Embiid’s post game then Doc should be your guy.
As far as whether he would utilize Ben in more of a point guard role or more as a complementary ball-handler is hard to get a read on—Rivers has for the most part had traditional point guards lead his more prolific offenses (CP3, Rondo) but has also found success featuring bigger wings with the ball in their hands (Gallinari, Tobias). Like I previously mentioned, Doc doesn’t have a one-size fits all offense, he’s shown that he can run offense through the team’s best players regardless of position, so we can expect him to know how to properly feature Simmons as a ball-handler, regardless of if he holds the point guard title.
Rivers defensive style has shifted through his career, often as a result of changing personnel. In Boston he was well-know for featuring Thibideau’s strong-side, pack-line defense that required a lot of help (team) defense—a defense that would generally fit Embiid. But his most recent team in LA featured a switch-heavy defense, as that made more sense with Kawhi, Paul George, and a lack of true center.
As the roster is currently constructed you wouldn’t expect Doc to make big changes to Brett’s defense that tended to keep Embiid at the rim, but if the roster becomes more switchable then Rivers will certainly be willing to adapt. Odds are he’ll come in and add wrinkles to the existing defensive infrastructure in a way that will hopefully take an already elite group over the top.
All in all it’s impossible to be disappointed with this decision. Doc is a future Hall of Famer, he’s actually won an NBA Finals, and his reputation suggests he would instantly mature Ben and Joel—he’s exactly what the Sixers were looking for. I’ll pick apart his resume in the coming days with possible reasons to doubt Rivers, but in terms of big picture takeaways he will absolutely be a stable, legitimizing presence for an organization that desperately needs someone like him.
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