Can Doc Rivers solve 76ers’ biggest problems? Fixes, predictions for Philadelphia’s coach hot seat dilemma

By | October 28, 2022

The 76ers haven’t exactly gotten off to a hot start.

Coming into Friday’s matchup against the Raptors, Philadelphia sports a 1-4 record and is stuck looking up at teams in the East that many thought would be lottery bound.

The good news for 76ers fans is it’s early. The bad news is that after each loss, fans have been left wondering why one of the league’s most talented teams on paper has looked so … off.

Three of The Sporting News’ NBA writers took a look at what’s wrong with the 76ers after the first two weeks of the season. 

On a scale of 1-10, how much blame does Doc Rivers deserve?

Micah Adams (@micahadams13): 7. Generally, I’m in the camp that this is a players’ league where coaching only matters so much. That said, this team is far too talented to start 1-4 and while Rivers himself isn’t on the floor, he isn’t doing much early on to help the situation.

Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): 8. On paper this is a team title contender team. This was also the team many picked to finish with the best record in the conference. We know it’s early, but this looks like a team that has tuned the coach out.

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): 7. Evaluating coaching in the NBA is difficult when you’re not around the team every day, but like Carlan said, this team is too talented to have gotten off to this slow of a start.

What is the biggest problem causing 76ers’ slow start?

Micah Adams: This team is starting to look like Harden’s Houston Rockets.

To be clear, Harden is playing really well, just as he did in Houston en route to winning MVPs and scoring titles. He looks refreshed and reinvigorated following the underwhelming end to last season. But right now, he’s dominating the ball at essentially the same rates he did in Houston. He’s possessing the ball for about 9 minutes per game, which is actually more than in his final season with the Rockets. We’ve seen this movie before.

The solution: Feature more Embiid. Right now, the NBA’s most dominant center is averaging fewer post touches per game than Usman Garubea, Goga Bitadze and Mason Plumlee. That’s not good. Embiid post-ups are among the most dominant play types in the entire league, the 76ers need to lean into their MVP candidate.

He hasn’t been good enough yet and sure, his shots and usage aren’t far off. But just watch the 76ers on offense and he looks far more like a second fiddle and co-star than the unquestioned alpha in his prime. For the 76ers to reach their potential, that’s the version they need.

Carlan Gay: Effort.

No team is giving up more fast break points than the 76ers.

Philly is allowing teams to score 21.2 fast break points per game. According to NBA Stats, which data only goes back as far as the 1996-97 season, only the 1997-98 Raptors have given up more fast break points per game throughout an entire season at 22.5.

If you’re wondering, that Raptors team finished with a 16-66 record, not exactly the company this 76ers team wants to keep.

Look, it would be one thing if Philly was committing a ton of turnovers and teams were feasting off of them, but the 76ers are giving up the ball just 11.4 times per game, the third least in the league. The problem is simply effort. Teams are taking the ball off defensive rebounds and just beating them down the floor. On Wednesday, Toronto had 29 (!) fast break points in its win over the 76ers.

And it was a lot of this:

And this: 

According to Cleaning the Glass, teams are scoring 7.1 points per 100 possession off of live ball rebounds, good for — you guessed it — dead last in the league.

The Raptors are an elite transition offensive team. They finished top three in fast break points last season and in the small sample size, they lead the league right now. Which is why this is worrisome for the 76ers.

Limiting Toronto’s fast break points would’ve been at or near the top of the scout. They still gave up 29 points and a lot of it would’ve been preventable if they simply exuded some effort. 

The solution: Effort. This comes down to effort. Not scheme, not game planning, effort. If Doc can’t get these guys to simply give effort and take pride in their defense this team will vastly underachieve.

Scott Rafferty: Joel Embiid hasn’t been himself.

Micah mentioned the post touches, but Embiid is averaging close to as many shot attempts as he was last season (18.8 to 19.6) while sporting one of the highest usage rates in the league. He’s been much better offensively over the last three games, but his defense remains a problem. He hasn’t been as active as in previous seasons and opponents are shooting 72.9 percent against him within five feet of the basket.

That’s … not good.

Remember, Embiid said he wanted the 76ers to be one of the best defensive teams in the league this season. Right now, they rank 25th in defensive efficiency. He’s not the only reason for that, of course, but he hasn’t helped.

The solution: Time. Embiid finished runner-up in MVP in each of the last two seasons and has Defensive Player of the Year potential. I’m going to blame his slow start — by his standards, at least — on him dealing with plantar fasciitis in the summer because he’s still clearly working his way back. There’s a good chance that we’ll have forgotten about all this by the end of the season.

76ers predictions: Record, coaching future and more

Micah Adams: Barring a quick turnaround, I think Rivers is toast. The East is simply too deep for this team to take half of the season to find its footing. I think the destiny of this team is hiring Mike D’Antoni before New Years, finishing 4th or 5th in the East then bowing out unceremoniously to a hungrier team in the first or second round. To be sure, the same thing was said last year about the Celtics who looked sluggish before turning their season around and reaching the Finals. So maybe come June I’ll look ridiculous while Rivers is hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy. 

Carlan Gay: Right now, this team looks more like a 45-win team than a team that’s looking to lock up homecourt advantage through the playoffs. Doc might be the first coach out of a job if the 76ers can’t turn it around quickly. If this continues, I can’t see Doc hanging around on the 76ers bench come December.

Scott Rafferty: There’s no question that the 76ers are in win-now mode, so I have a hard time seeing them sticking with Rivers if they’re playing, say, .500 ball by December. D’Antoni would make for the most natural replacement, but I’m not sure if that would change my feelings about this team going into the season. As much as I want to believe in him, it’s hard to trust Harden in the playoffs until he proves otherwise.