Sixers preseason a preview of key schematic differences for this year


Different players are best suited to different schemes. 

The Sixers’ initial hope — and not a delusional one, it appears — is their offseason pickups will allow the team to care more this season about emphasizing strengths and less about minimizing weaknesses.

The Sixers’ 4-0 preseason suggested the team will have greater willingness to switch on defense.

“Yeah, we just have better personnel to do it,” head coach Doc Rivers said following practice Friday. “And we’re trying to do it with certain guys. The difference is you can do it with (P.J. Tucker), Tobias (Harris), Danuel House, De’Anthony Melton, Matisse (Thybulle). 

“You’ve just got more names that you feel very comfortable with doing it — and not having to trap after you do it. So that’s been good for us. Paul Reed can switch a lot of guys. I told him the other day he has not guarded the ball well this (preseason), whereas I thought last year he did, so that’s an area he needs to work on. But he’ll get that, too.”

The essence of Rivers’ answer was similar Wednesday on the topic of blitzing and scrambling. 

He’d expressed reluctance about blitzing last year because of how it placed his big men far from the hoop and exacerbated rebounding concerns. 

“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “First of all, they’ve just got great hands, so a lot of the passes are (deflected). I think we’re a better rebounding team. We’ll find that out, but I think we are. Again, the three guys that we’ve (added), two of them are guards but very good rebounders. And Tuck just kills the glass. I think that should make us a better rebounding team.”

One personnel change Rivers addressed Friday is that Isaiah Joe and Charles Bassey are no longer on his roster. The Sixers officially waived both players Thursday night. 

“Tough one for me, just personally, because I really like the kid and I really believe he’s an NBA player,” Rivers said of Joe. “He was just caught behind so many guys that it was very difficult. We had a long talk. And Charles, I believe he’s an NBA player, too. He’s got a long way to go, but he can get there. So we released two guys yesterday who I believe someday will be in the NBA and hopefully play well.”

As for the Sixers, they’ll hope to begin their season well against the two teams that also finished the 2021-22 campaign with 51-31 records. 

They’ll visit the Celtics on Tuesday and host the Bucks on Thursday.  

“They both switch a lot, so how well we attack their switches,” Rivers said of offensive keys for those matchups. “They will trap some, and how well we attack the traps. We can’t become stagnant. Both teams are long, so they’re very switchable teams. We don’t want to just stand there with the ball outside the (three-point line) the whole game. We’ve got to pass and move.”

A broad offensive goal for the Sixers is making crisper entry passes to Joel Embiid in the post and at the elbows. 

Based on the preseason, it also seems they’ll use a decent amount of three-man screening actions. Double drags and Spain pick-and-rolls prevent opponents from focusing entirely on one screener and one roller. Ideally, they also force hard decisions about how to handle rapidly shifting, skilled moving parts. 

What is Rivers looking for in those actions? 

“One, getting to the paint, getting downhill,” he said. “The big’s reading; if they’re switching, you roll. If not, you set the pick. And also, getting the ball up and into our stuff. Last year I thought we came down and wanted to run a play every time they made a shot. And what we’re trying to get our guys to do is we’re going to play the same make or miss — the same pace. 

“And so we’ve got to get used to doing that. Even our guards have to slow down. Like today, they wanted a double drag. One guy was down and the other big was still running down, and (the guard) came off. But the big was still running down the floor. So that’s where we try to figure out our timing.”

Every team the Sixers face will understand that James Harden and Embiid in tandem should still be a go-to. 

Rivers has been preaching simplicity to his two All-Stars.

“If it’s not broke, why are we trying other crap? Run it, get it, swing it, play,” he said. “So the last two days they really have done that well, and that’s been good.”

Tyrese Maxey gave a positive review of the Harden-Embiid two-man game’s evolution while acknowledging he’s not a true spectator. 

Even with a 3-for-13 outing Wednesday against Charlotte, Maxey averaged a team-high 17.3 points in the preseason, shooting 52.2 percent from the floor and 55.6 percent from three-point range. 

“It’s cool to watch,” Maxey said, “but also I’ve got to be engaged because I know for a fact if (Harden) comes off and he throws the pocket pass to the big fella — and my man steps up and tries to take it away — I know that next pass is flying towards my way. The training camp and all we’ve been doing leading up to this, the communication with them on and off the court with each other, it’s going to show up on Tuesday and for the rest of the year. 

“It’s going to be huge. … Those are our stars. Those are our big-time players. Their connectivity has been really (good), and them in the pick-and-roll and their two-man game, I think they’re progressing really fine, so it’s going to be great.”

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