Doc Rivers Teases Sixers Rotation, ‘Fluid’ Situation Behind Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid, James Harden

Getty Sixers star Joel Embiid and James Harden joke around during a preseason game against Charlotte.

De’Anthony Melton was the first sub off the Philadelphia 76ers bench in the final preseason game. He checked in for Tyrese Maxey at the 5:34 mark of the first quarter. That move was expedited after Maxey absorbed a hard slap to the face on a drive to the basket. Don’t worry, he’s fine.

Head coach Doc Rivers was tinkering with his guard rotation, although all eyes were on another position. Who was going to be the first big man up? That question was answered when Montrezl Harrell entered the game (3:32), along with Georges Niang.

Rivers went with a 9-man rotation against Charlotte, one that didn’t include Matisse Thybulle. The Sixers are still in the experimental phase of figuring out how they want to spread the minutes out. This is a deep and talented roster.

“I just wanted to go short today with a 9-man rotation,” Rivers said. “We wanted Trez [Harrell] to play because he didn’t play last game, that was important for us. That’s fluid as well. That’ll take awhile before we figure out who should come out first, Tyrese [Maxey] or James [Harden] — and who to play with what group, who plays better with what group … that’ll take a little time.”

The battle for the backup center spot has been a major talking point throughout the preseason. Paul Reed scored 4 points and grabbed 3 boards in 18 minutes against Cleveland (October 10) with Harrell nursing a rib injury. Two days later, Harrell returned and went off for 14 points and 6 boards in 16 minutes. It’s a “fluid” situation, according to Rivers.

“That will be fluid,” Rivers said. “There will be times when one will play. There will be times when both will play, one will play the 4 at times with Joel [Embiid], so it’s good to have them both.”

P.J. Tucker Getting Looks at Center

With Joel Embiid and Montrezl Harrell out last week versus Cleveland, P.J. Tucker drew a somewhat surprising start at center in a small-ball lineup. Rivers talked about inserting the 6-foot-5 veteran at the 5 during Sixers Media Day but this was the first time he put it into practice. Tucker finished with 6 points and 2 rebounds in 21 minutes during a 113-97 win.

“We’re going to do it this year because we’re small when Joel is off the floor regardless,” Rivers said. “Whether it’s Paul Reed, whether it’s Montrezl, whether it’s PJ … I really liked it [Tucker’s minutes]. The couple things we got to do was just sprint to the corners, let our guards penetrate, and just in transition, it creates such a problem.”

Rivers went on to praise the way opposing teams have to respect Tucker’s three-point shooting from the corner. He can camp out at the baseline and draw his defender away from the paint.

“I thought that took their big out of the play and I thought that was good,” Rivers said. “And then the picks that PJ can set, so liked it a lot.”

James Harden Getting More Comfortable

James Harden was thrown into the fire after last year’s trade deadline and experienced some growing pains. The pick-and-roll game with Joel Embiid was deadly but Harden’s aggressiveness sometimes suffered. Now the three-time scoring champ has had an entire offseason to learn Rivers’ system and his comfortability is showing up on film.

“I thought he got better each game. You could see him getting more comfortable, the last two [preseason games],” Rivers said. “I thought he played with more pace which is what he needs and I think he’s starting to find the balance now. It takes time with scoring and being a playmaker and I think he’s starting to do both now.”

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