Sixers: Doc Rivers hammers home pecking order with James Harden

Doc Rivers, James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Doc Rivers, James Harden, Sixers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

The Sixers are expected to contend for the NBA championship next season. In order to accomplish that, James Harden will have to exert significant influence over the offense. Last season, he thrived as a facilitator. In 2022-23, he has to strike a better balance between creating for others and creating for himself.

Doc Rivers said as much at Sixers practice on Thursday. NBA TV went live from Sixers training camp in South Carolina, featuring multiple mic’d up moments. None was more illuminating than an extended sidebar conversation between Rivers and his star point guard.

Listen for yourself.

Doc Rivers and James Harden discuss offensive hierarchy at Sixers practice

The first thing Rivers established with Harden is the Sixers’ primary offensive motive: get Joel Embiid the ball. That’s a good guiding principle. Embiid is arguably the best individual scorer in the NBA. If he’s not pirouetting to the rim for two points, Embiid is more likely than not heading to the free throw line because his defender couldn’t guard him straight up.

That said, Rivers also made it clear that Philly shouldn’t force the ball to Embiid. If the defense is crowding him early, then it falls to Harden (and his teammates) to get the offense humming. In fact, Rivers hammered home the importance of Harden establishing a pecking order — one in which Embiid and him are the definitive No. 1 and No. 2 options. To quote Rivers: “It’s not a democracy.”

Harden was far too passive last season, even when one considers his diminished athleticism. He made a real effort to fit in and elevate teammates, with great success. But there are times when Harden needs to stand out and take matters into his own hands. Rivers clearly agrees.

“We gotta get in what you want,” Rivers said to Harden. It’s clear the Sixers will make an effort to get Harden rolling as both a scorer and a facilitator. As Harden went on to say, Philly’s other players will feed off of Embiid and Harden. They are the two players who should be running the show and forcing the issue. Everything stems from those two.

Rivers also mentioned Tyrese Maxey, the clear No. 3 in any unofficial Sixers pecking order. More specifically, Rivers mentioned getting Maxey the ball in the open court, where his speed makes him practically unstoppable. He also mentioned getting Tobias Harris to run more: if Maxey is sprinting up the court with Harris and Tucker sprinting to the corners (and Harden and Embiid trailing), the Sixers will be in the driver’s seat. That’s too much speed and space for opposing defenses to deal with.

If you can, find the segment on NBA League Pass and listen to the whole conversation: it’s quite illuminating and speaks well of Rivers’ leadership in practice. He addresses Harden’s body language and leadership, as well as the importance of having better communication with Embiid. Once those two figure it out, Rivers says, the Sixers will be unstoppable.

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