What's most intriguing about Blue Coats' season in Disney bubble

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Bubble basketball is back at Disney World.

The Delaware Blue Coats, the Sixers’ G League affiliate, are one of 18 teams participating in the 2021 G League season in Orlando, Florida. Delaware’s first game is Thursday morning at 11 a.m. against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. You can find the team’s full 15-game regular-season schedule here, including broadcast information. 

In our view, these are a few intriguing aspects of the Blue Coats’ upcoming, unconventional season:

Ready to run 

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers has his team playing at the NBA’s fourth-fastest pace. The Blue Coats want to mirror the Sixers’ style of play, and that won’t require any dramatic adjustments in terms of tempo. They were third in the G League last year in pace. 

“Coming from the way Coach Rivers wants us to play, that’s something that we’ll try to continue on," Blue Coats head coach Connor Johnson said. "I also think a lot of teams these days want to play with pace, because you get an advantage — you can play in situations where you’re playing 4-on-3, you’re playing 5-on-4. It’s just inherently easier to score. You look at the playoff games in the NBA, the teams that can push it and get six or free eight points because they’re playing 2-on-1, that really helps. 

“... I’d say the new emphasis for us is playing in the corners and getting our guys to the corners as fast as possible, which ties in with the pace portion, but also space. We want our guys to play fast because playing fast allows them to play in more space. ... The Sixers, we’ve been watching a ton of them and they’ve done a great job with it."

Of course, there’s no player remotely comparable to Ben Simmons on Delaware’s roster to instill Johnson’s preferred tempo. Reigning G League MVP Frank Mason likely would’ve been running the show, but he signed a two-way contract with the Magic last week. Returning lead guard Justin Robinson should be an important piece. Sharpshooter Jared Brownridge is another player with institutional knowledge that could prove helpful in an abbreviated season. He’s played 81 games for Delaware over the last two years and averaged 15.3 points last season, shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range on 8.5 attempts per game. 

Downsizing and defending differently 

Much like the Sixers, the Blue Coats decided they weren’t going to lose games during the 2019-20 season because they lacked size. Christ Koumadje, a 7-foot-3 player who won G League Defensive Player of the Year and recorded the first triple-double of his life, is no longer with the organization. Neither is 7-foot-1 Doral Moore.

“I think more than anything, we wanted to go into this season and be a little more versatile in the way we’re doing things,” Blue Coats general manager Matt Lilly said. “With Doc coming in, obviously there’s some new philosophies in our organization defensively, so just having the personnel that can play in multiple ways and execute different schemes.

"I think we put a big premium on versatility. With some of the guys, they’re not 7-3, 7-2 like they were last year, but I think they can still anchor a defense in their own way and I think give us a little more flexibility on that end.”

Indeed, the Blue Coats don't have players suited to dropping deep every time in pick-and-roll coverage. Rim protection will have to be a group effort, with players such as 6-foot-10 Ivan Rabb and 6-foot-8 Paul Reed contributing. 

“I think last year we had Christ and D-Mo back there, who were two big trees,” Robinson said. “This year it’s a little bit slimmed down … more icing ball screens rather than sending everything over top.”

Johnson asked his players to fight over every ball screen last year, but it sounds like we should see more defensive variety, as we have from the Sixers

Players worth watching 

Both of the Sixers’ two-way contract players, Reed and Rayjon Tucker, will play with the Blue Coats. They'll almost certainly receive a lot of minutes, too.

Rivers and the Sixers got a taste of Reed’s versatile, high-energy and sometimes chaotic game when the team was shorthanded last month because of health and safety protocols. The 58th pick in this year’s draft grabbed six offensive rebounds during the seven-man Sixers’ loss to the Nuggets on Jan. 9. 

“I just think Paul is a raw athlete and I just want him to play,” Rivers said Tuesday night. “Just go play basketball. I think we need to watch Paul a lot more before we decide on what he needs to do. So, for us, what we told Connor is do what you see. Let him play. Coach him; make sure he understands the discipline of execution on both ends of the floor, because a lot of the raw athletes, they come in and they’re just running wild. We don’t want that; we want him to understand the discipline of execution, and that’s what we expect.”

“Explosive” athleticism is usually a hyperbolic phrase, but Tucker sure has it. As long as he stays healthy, the 23-year-old guard is a safe bet for a couple of highlight dunks. 

He appeared in 20 games last year for the Jazz and was a Midseason All-NBA G League selection before that, averaging 23.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 rebounds in 16 games for the Wisconsin Herd. 

Tucker said he’d like to eventually develop into “a player like Victor Oladipo — a player who kind of came out of nowhere, proved himself time and time again and became the player that he is when everybody doubted him.”

A teammate of Tucker’s on the Herd, Jemerrio Jones has an interesting mix of skills. Delaware selected him 18th overall in the G League draft, and Lilly said he was “pretty surprised” Jones was available. 

“I think Jemerrio is a very unique player,” Lilly said. “He’s 6-5, 6-6, one of the best rebounders in the league, super smart, great passer, versatile defensively, unbelievably high motor. Now that we’ve gotten to be down here with him in person, we’re starting to see more of the intangibles and other things he brings to the table. I think we were thrilled to get him. He’s going to be a big part of what we do this year.”

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