This is the 32nd edition of the weekly 76ers mailbag.
Each week, Inquirer.com followers may submit questions to be answered.
Missed out on the party this week? No worries. Submit question(s) for next time by following me on Twitter @PompeyOnSixers and tweeting your inquiry with the hashtag #PompeysMailbagFlow.
Question: Will we see the best version of Tobias Harris under Doc Rivers? He had his best year under Doc before getting traded here. — @coachskipbball
Answer: What’s up, Skip? It’s been a while since we last chatted. I hope you and the family are well, man. Thanks for the question. Yes, I do envision us seeing the best version of Harris under Rivers. I’ve been saying this for more than a year, and I’ll say it again: Harris wasn’t used properly in former coach Brett Brown’s system. A lot of times, the forward was stationed in a corner, waiting to shoot threes. He had an opportunity to display his overall game only when the Sixers were undermanned and they needed him to help pick up the slack.
A prime example came on Feb. 28, 2019 in a 108-104 road win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The power forward finished with 32 points, making 5 of 7 three-pointers and 11 of 19 shots overall, on a night the Sixers were without Joel Embiid and backup Boban Marjanovic.
But he was instructed to always be in attack mode while playing for Rivers as a Los Angeles Clipper. In fact, the coach was demanding of Harris to the point that he would fuss at him for passing up shots. He saw something in the forward and always wanted him to be in attack mode.
His approach worked. Harris averaged a career-best 20.9 points and shot a career-best 43.4% on three-pointers in 55 games with the Clippers during the 2018-19 season, before being traded to the Sixers.
Q: With the Sixers bringing in Doc Rivers, what needs to be done to make them a Top 5 team in the NBA? What changes in team philosophy should we expect on offense, defense and the roster? — @Mal3230jr
A: What’s up, Malachi? I hope you are well, bruh. I expect the Sixers will run a lot of pick-and-rolls under Rivers. Assistant coach Dave Joerger will provide a gritty defensive mindset that hasn’t been present since Lloyd Pierce left to accept the Atlanta Hawks' head-coaching job in 2018.
But Rivers' strength has been extracting the maximum amount of mojo from his players, no matter their skills. He also puts players in different schemes and rotations and finds ways to make everyone contribute. However, they’ll have to make some adjustments to this roster for the Sixers to be considered a Top 5 team. And making those necessary adjustments will be tough because of a couple of hard-to-trade contracts and not having the cap space to obtain an A-List free agent to provide much-needed secondary ballhandling and clutch shooting.
Rivers is one of the league’s all-time winningest coaches. However, the current roster construction is the reason the Sixers are expected to finish behind the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference next season.
Q: When do you think the season starts? — @cbteach64
A: What’s up, Chris? I hope you have a great weekend. You just asked what appears to be arguably the NBA’s biggest question. League commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t expect next season to begin until 2021.
Silver told CNN on Sept. 22 that his “best guess” is the coming NBA season will start in January at the earliest. However, you are starting to hear whispers that the season might not start until March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, that’s not official. It’s a just what some people in NBA circles are thinking with an expected second wave of the pandemic this winter.
The league wants to play a standard season: an 82-game regular season and full postseason. The goal is to play games in teams' arenas in front of fans. It will be hard to do that in the midst of a second wave. That’s why people think March could be a more realistic start time.
Let’s face it: Fans make up 40% of the NBA’s revenue. The owners don’t want to take another financial hit like they did this past season.
“But there’s still a lot that we need to learn in terms of rapid testing, for example,” Silver told CNN. “Would that be a means of getting fans into our buildings? Will there be other protections?”
As you know, the NBA season usually begins in October, but it had been rescheduled for Dec. 1 because of the shutdown this past March before being pushed back again because of the pandemic. A Christmas start date had been the ideal scenario, but that became unlikely.
Q: How many players are under contract and who are free agents Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks, etc? — @Rcrooks72
A: What’s up, Rob? How have you been? The Sixers have 11 players under contract for next season. Harris, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Mike Scott, Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton have guaranteed deals. Norvel Pelle’s and Furkan Korkmaz’s deals are non-guaranteed.
Burks, Robinson, Kyle O’Quinn, Raul Neto and Ryan Broekoff are free agents.