All NBA teams are sprinting to the regular season, with little time in training camp, and virtually all will profess to not being close to a finished product on opening day. That is especially true for the 76ers, learning a new system under coach Doc Rivers.
The Sixers didn’t begin team workouts in training camp until Dec. 6 and open their 72-game schedule on Wednesday against the visiting Washington Wizards.
What type of team will take the court in the season opener?
In training camp, Rivers has said he wants his team to play fast. That doesn’t mean the Sixers will play a mile a minute, zooming up the court, but Rivers wants a faster pace. Even Rivers, now in his 22nd season as an NBA head coach after 13 years as a player, is a little surprised at the speed of the offensive conductor, point guard Ben Simmons.
“I knew he had speed, but didn’t know he had the afterburners, I guess,” Rivers said about Simmons after Monday’s practice. “When he puts his speed on, it’s unbelievable how fast he is.”
Playing fast isn’t just scoring in transition, it’s beating the defense down the floor, forcing different man-to-man matchups.
At the start of preseason, Rivers talked about the benefits of playing at a faster pace.
“Just the pace alone puts pressure on teams,” he said. “What I am trying to get our guys to understand, with our size, when we have size and pace that creates force, that makes us really tough to guard.”
Tobias Harris previously played for Rivers with the Los Angeles Clippers, but there are still things he is learning about this system and the fast pace that Rivers demands.
“It’s a pretty faster pace,” Harris said. “Anytime you have Ben with the ball, getting out running, that is a pretty good pace. ... I am not going to say we were super slow last year, but there is an emphasis of him getting the ball and getting out and running.”
Besides a new coach, the Sixers are working in two new starters: swingman Danny Green, who played last season for the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, and Seth Curry, who was acquired from the Dallas Mavericks.
For Curry, the biggest learning curve is understanding where on the court his new teammates are most comfortable getting the ball. Curry, now with his seventh NBA team, is used to adjusting but said there is a lot to learn and things are a work in progress.
“I’m getting better every day as we go along, and basically one of these days it will click for us and I think I will be playing with a little bit more instinct than thinking so much out there,” Curry said.
Knowing this has been a short preseason that included just two games, Rivers is honest when asked if his team is ready for its opening-day challenge.
“I think everyone is anxious, as far as that goes. How ready do I feel we are? That one I don’t know, I mean I really don’t,” Rivers said. “This is such a short court, two preseason games. We are what we are right now and we have to just accept that and be good enough to win the way we are right now.”