Last night the Sixers announced the finalized assistant coaching staff for Doc Rivers, and while most of the names have been confirmed for a while, here’s a breakdown of each coach and where they’ll likely fit into Rivers plans.
Dave Joerger, assistant coach
Joerger is the only assistant with previous head coaching experience, having stops in Memphis and Sacramento. Though his days with the Grizzlies were no doubt more successful than with the Kings, both were generally considered good-to-ok tenures relative to their circumstance.
Joerger is a well-regarded basketball mind, and is considered, “one of the best X and O’s coaches in the league,” according the Chris Haynes of Yahoo sports. As a head coach in Memphis and Sacramento he ran into trouble with regard to his minutes distribution, rotations, and overall poor relationship with the front office, but fortunately those are areas that he won’t be concerned with as an assistant.
While it would be reductive to pigeon-hole Joerger as a defense-first coach—his overall basketball acumen is strong—it’s fair to assume he’ll be the defensive coordinator on Rivers’ staff. Defense is the strongest mark on Joerger’s resume, and we know his pack-line/help defense philosophy fits well with how we know Rivers has schemed his championship defenses of the past. One look at the Sixers personnel (Embiid) and it’s easy to assume Joerger was brought in specifically to engineer what could easily be the best defense in the NBA.
Long before Joerger entered the pro ranks he was an accomplished D-league coach with a penchant for developing young talent, and the hope is that he’ll be able to tap into those roots more in this role than he would as head coach. Prior to accepting this position he was being considered for the Pacers head coaching job, but was ultimately denied a third opportunity to lead his own team. While the jury may be out on Joerger’s competence as the top man on a bench, there should be no doubt that he’s a real asset as an assistant.
Sam Cassell, assistant coach
Cassell is a name most fans are familiar with from his playing days, having won two Finals with Houston in ‘94/95 and then later in his career with Rivers in Boston (‘08). Upon retiring Cassell spent 5 seasons coaching in Washington before re-joining Doc as an assistant in LA.
Cassell isn’t exactly known for handling one specific side of the ball, but he does have a strong reputation developing and working with guards—as you might expect. We can expect him to work a lot with Ben Simmons on the art of attacking a defense; and it’s fair to assume he can impart some knowledge on how to play with an All-World center in Embiid, having played with Olajuwon himself.
Cassell was a dark horse for head coaching opportunities around the league this offseason, so he’s obviously a well-regarded basketball mind, and the championship experience he brings to the team is invaluable. I look forward to hearing more about his exact role as the season progresses.
Dan Burke, assistant coach
Burke is actually well-known to some Sixers fans for his past comments on Embiid.
Joel Embiid did not forget soon-to-be Sixers assistant coach Dan Burke's comments from 2019. 😂 pic.twitter.com/xFHNN1n7Oh— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) October 28, 2020
Aside from that, he’s a coach with 30-year of experience in the NBA, having spent the past 22 seasons with the Pacers moving up from scouting/video coordinator to assistant coach. He’s well-regraded around the league for his defensive acumen—for more on that check out this piece from Kyle Neubeck—and it’s safe to assume he’ll be working with Joerger on that side of the ball to make the Sixers an elite defensive group.
Popeye Jones, assistant coach
Excellent name, therefore, excellent hire—at least in my opinion. Jones was an 11-year journeyman in the league during the 90’s and early 2000’s before transitioning to a player development role for various clubs. He’s spent the past seven seasons as an assistant coach in Indiana, and he brings extensive league experience to the job.
The Pacers have built an excellent organization over the years, and Jones being hired on top of Dan Burke and Peter Dinwiddie (front office) is proof of their reputation around the league.
Eric Hughes, assistant coach
Hughes was a player development coach for the Sixers last season, and has spent the past decade in similar positions around the NBA, with stops in Milwaukee, Toronto, and Brooklyn. It’s unclear if he’s remain in a similar role, or if he’ll move to a back-bench chair as a more general assistant.
Brian Adams, assistant coach
Adams has history with Rivers dating back to Boston, spending most of his time in the scouting and video department before re-joining Doc in LA where he advanced to coaching associate and eventually head coach of their G-league affiliate, the Agua Caliente Clippers, where he spent the past two seasons. It looks like he’ll take a back-bench role here.
Pete Dominguez, coaching associate
Dominguez has a history with Doc, having spent the past five season in the video department, with the final two as head video coordinator. It looks like he’ll take on a new role here.
Todor Pandov, assistant coach/performance director
Another great name here—Todor of House of Pandov has been with this Sixers since 2015, serving in various strength and conditioning roles in his time under Brett Brown. There’s not much else to say here other than that familiarity with Joel and Ben is probably ideal when it comes to this sort of position.