Via the NBA app, the league provided a televised look at the vast majority of the Sixers’ practice Thursday in Charleston, a unique bit of coverage for the Association in this day and age. While getting to watch the drills and live action was interesting in a lot of different ways, we’re going to focus here on the post-practice conversation between head coach Doc Rivers and veteran star James Harden.
Videos, transcriptions of select segments, and some commentary are posted below, although I would recommend listening to the conversation in full when you have the chance. All posted dialogue is from Doc, with the exception of the brief responses in parentheses from James.
Doc Rivers talks with James Harden following practice pic.twitter.com/hsmYReiCsb— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) September 29, 2022
“I’m just gonna stay on you, because I get what you’re saying. Alright, I want you to hear me first. I get it 100 percent. But what I’m trying to get Joel first is to establish himself, be a better post player. We were a horrible, would you agree, a horrible post passing team last year. (Yes.) Horrible. Alright, so, our objective is getting that first. And that’s why you gotta have the right spirit about it. And you gotta be a leader...”
As someone who has repeatedly watched the Sixers try and fail to get Joel the ball in the paint in a timely manner ever since he first stepped on an NBA court, I was nodding right along with Doc here. It’s obviously been a huge problem for years, which gets exacerbated in late-game offense when the team has either not been able to go through their best player, or had to bring him out 20-plus feet from the basket. So I like that this is clearly a point of emphasis for the team heading into the season, and Doc’s right to get Harden on board from the jump, as he’ll have the ball in his hands more than anyone.
“You and him [Joel], y’all gotta get a communication, where y’all listen to each other. Right. If you want it, I thought that last three or four times you wanted it. We gotta get you in what you want. Like you can’t just say you’re a facilitator. I need you to be a scorer and a facilitator. And that’s gonna take time figuring it out. But we need you to be the aggressive James that you were those last five minutes. And it’s gonna come, it’s gonna take a while. But when it clicks, James, we’re gonna be unbeatable. Unbeatable...”
How good was the Joel Embiid-James Harden pick-and-roll last season? Let’s reference an article from The Ringer by Kevin O’Connor in May:
“Harden and Embiid generated 1.15 points per pick-and-roll, an incredible mark this season. Of the 35 combos who ran at least 500 pick-and-rolls, they were first in the NBA in efficiency, according to Second Spectrum.”
First in the NBA in efficiency. And that was with the two guys learning to play with each other on the fly. Now they’ve had a full offseason together, training and hanging out together in Los Angeles and wherever else, and with a training camp soon to be under their belts. Unbeatable doesn’t sound quite that hyperbolic.
“We got to establish Jo and you. It’s pecking order, this ain’t a democracy.”
I mean, we all know Embiid and Harden are the top two options on this team, but that’s a fun, succinct way to put it.
“The only thing I will say with Tyrese, we got to get him the ball in the open court more. There’s not a guy in the league that’s gonna stop him when he gets it uphill. And then we got to get Tobias to run more, because if he’s running to space, we got Tuck that doesn’t miss in the corner, we got Tobias doesn’t miss in the corner. If you can throw it ahead to Tyrese, doesn’t matter, it’s over. (It’s space.) Right. But y’all gonna get it. Just keep y’all’s spirit right...It’s a process, bro.”
Doc actually used the word spirit a handful of times in this brief conversation, which is funny given how that was kind of a buzz word for former head coach Brett Brown. And then to end by saying it’s a process. I mean, time really is a flat circle, folks.
This experience was certainly a fun, novel one for NBA fans. Hope to see more like it in the future.