At the conclusion of training camp on Sunday, the Philadelphia 76ers embarked on a trip to Toronto for a preseason affair with the Raptors on Monday. It marks the beginning of a bizarre season for both franchises, quite frankly. On one hand, the Raptors are returning to Toronto for the first time since before the pandemic. On the other hand, the Sixers find themselves in a position where they must grow comfortable without Ben Simmons.
Shaking out those kinks and building upon some sort of foundation in a low-stake environment is what the preseason is for, though. So Monday marks an opportunity for growth. That is especially the case for a team like Philadelphia. After each of the last two tune-ups before the preseason opener, head coach Doc Rivers let reporters in on what he’s looking to get out of these games.
Defensive Terminology And Spacing
“Defensively, obviously, just getting the terminology,” Rivers said on Saturday. “Kind of understanding it gets easier, for the most part, because just picking up where we left off last year. Offensively, our spacing; getting into the paint.”
‘Continuity’ is a theme that Rivers has echoed throughout camp. He and his staff feel as though the team is ahead of where they were at the same time last year because of the fact that there isn’t significant turnover. There’s less of a need to assemble a machine and more of a focus on tightening screws.
Still, Rivers will use Monday’s matchup with the Raptors to gauge his group’s understanding of tactical principles.
“I don’t actually know the answer [to what he’s looking for in the preseason opener on Monday], really. Just, I want them to play,” Rivers told reporters on Sunday. “And you kind of judge where you’re at. Conditioning is part of it; timing. What can you put in after the game? They’ll tell you if you have too much in — if they don’t run anything well and they’re confused a little bit. And then defensively, will be a real good thing. I love that we’re playing Toronto because they do a lot of dribble attacks, attacks off the dribble, spacing the floor, draw-and-kick basketball. At least, that’s what they used to do. I’m assuming they’re going to keep doing it. So I think as far as that goes, it’s a really good team to play.”
“With this team, there are still spots available — rotational spots.”
With the Simmons situation still up in the air, there’s a degree of uncertainty in which players will fill which roles in the rotation. Second-year guard Tyrese Maxey has assumed Simmons’ position in the starting unit during practice situations. The seeming insertion of the speedy, young guard into the starting lineup personifies Rivers’ acknowledgement that he might have to rely more upon his younger players this season.
“We have guys coming back, but we’re not a veteran team. You really look, for those teams, at conditioning, timing, and getting them out of the game,” Rivers said on Sunday. “With this team, there are still spots available — rotational spots. Who’s going to come in? Who plays well with each group? So I think with this group, it’s a big difference.”
“On top of all that, Tyrese is a hooper.”
With Simmons absent and the team projecting an external expectation that they can contend, Tyrese Maxey will need to make a bigger jump than perhaps anyone is comfortable expecting. On Saturday, Rivers admitted that the guard has had an up and down training camp. Tobias Harris indicated a similar sentiment on Sunday. But, he made a point to build up his young teammate, too.
“I think he’s doing good. I think it’s a new position for him. And I don’t mean that in the sense of playing the point guard. I mean in new position with the four other guys out there on the floor. So, it’s just picking and choosing where we can help him on the floor, and where we can allow Tyrese to be Tyrese,” the forward said of Maxey.
“And that takes time. When you’re thrown out there in training camp and we’re playing five-minute games and another team makes a run or we make a run or somebody on our team has it going, you get lost in the shuffle a little bit,” Harris added. “I think he’s done a very good job with his energy, with his positivity, and with coming out there and just trying to learn and soak up the position. On top of all that, Tyrese is a hooper. So he may not have the greatest of practice days. But we know when the lights turn on, Tyrese can go out there and get to that rim. And a lot of guys who aren’t playing versus him in practice every day and know the plays that we’re running, they can’t stop that speed. So, we know what he brings to the table. It’s just allowing him and figuring out ways myself and Joel to allow him to use his speed on the court to help us and to help our team.”
The Sixers have four opportunities to smoothen those rough edges before winning rules the day.