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Moore: Doc Rivers looking to increase Sixers' scoring, bench production

Tom Moore
Bucks County Courier Times
Clippers coach Doc Rivers congratulates Patrick Beverley as Kawhi Leonard walks past after a playoff win.

Doc Rivers’ Los Angeles Clippers teams lit up the scoreboard.

The Clippers ranked from first (2013-14, 107.9 points) to ninth (2017-18, 109.0) in scoring during Rivers’ seven seasons as coach, highlighted by a 116.3-point average (fourth) during the 2019-20 season (the 76ers were 20th at 110.7).

“My teams have always been very good offensively – top 5 overall,” said Rivers during his introductory Zoom call as Sixers coach on Monday.

If the Sixers are going to score at the high rate Rivers’ Clippers squads did, stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will figure prominently in his plans.

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Another Rivers’ hallmark in L.A. was getting to the foul line — the Clippers ranked no lower than fourth in any of his seven seasons. They led the league in free throw attempts in each of the past two years, highlighted by 28.5 foul shots in 2018-19. That usually means a team is attacking the rim.

Embiid was No. 1 on the Sixers with 8.8 free throw attempts last year, with Simmons next at 5.3. No other Sixer went to the line more than four times, while the Clippers had four players with at least that many foul shots.

If Rivers can convince Embiid to come to training camp lighter, in better shape and spend more time close to the basket, Embiid should be able to reach double figures next season (only the Rockets’ James Harden surpassed that amount last year with 11.45).

“I think he is a dominant big man and will be a dominant big man for me,” said Rivers of Embiid.

Simmons can get into the lane and create opportunities for his teammates and himself.

Tobias Harris averaged 20.9 points and shot .434 on 3-pointers in 55 games with Rivers and the Clippers in 2018-19 before being dealt to the Sixers. He flourished by moving back and forth between the two forward positions and with a heavy diet of pick-and-roll sets and motion offense. While he averaged 19.6 points last season, he shot just .367 behind the arc.

“I loved coaching him,” Rivers said. “I like that he’s a multi-positional player.”

Pencil in Simmons, Harris, Embiid and shooting guard Josh Richardson, who is under contract for $10.9 million next season, for starting spots – assuming Richardson isn’t traded.

Asked if he sees Al Horford starting opposite Embiid, Rivers replied, “Can’t say, but they’re going to have to play together.”

My sense is it’s more likely Horford backs up Embiid at center.

“We can score points in a lot of ways,” he said. “We have tons of talent. We just have to figure out how to make it work best.”

Rivers' Clippers teams consistently allowed more points than the Sixers, which tends to become especially important in the playoffs when getting a stop is essential. The Sixers were sixth in fewest points allowed last season (108.4), compared to the Clippers' 109.9. (13th). L.A. ranked 25th and 24th in the two previous campaigns.

The Sixers probably need to upgrade the bench for it to match the on-court impact of the Clippers’ productive reserves.

Rivers’ teams earned five of the last seven Sixth Man of the Year awards, thanks to Jamal Crawford (2013-14, 2015-16), Lou Williams (2017-18, 18-19) and Montrezl Harrell (2019-20).

The Sixers, whose last top sixth man was Aaron McKie in 2000-01, have relied much more on the starting five than Rivers’ Clippers did.

Last season, the Clippers had two reserves – Harrell, 18.6, and Williams, 18.2 – average at least 18 points a game on the way to L.A. finishing second in bench scoring (48.1). The Sixers ended up 26th (32.0).

Alec Burks (12) was Philly’s top bench scorer, but didn’t arrive until the February trade deadline. Furkan Korkmaz’s 9.8 points were the most by a full-season Sixer backup.

The year before, L.A. led the league with 53.4 bench points, while the Sixers were 27th at 31.1.

Sixers starters averaged 10.4 more points per game than the Clippers' starters last season but played 4.4 more minutes.

With no cap space, GM Elton Brand and Rivers would have to either develop a bench scorer from the internal roster, trade for somebody or get a veteran to sign for less than market value.

Rivers raved about combo guard Shake Milton, who torched the Clippers for a career-high 39 points on 14-for-20 shooting (7 of 9 from 3-point land) in a March 1 Sixers’ six-point road loss without Embiid or Simmons.

“The only thing I told Shake is if he can play like he did against us in L.A., he’ll be phenomenal,” Rivers said. “He’s not scared to take the shot. I love players like that.”

Milton could be a sixth-man candidate here, though he is also a viable option to start.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers talks with guard Lou Williams, 23, during a playoff game against the Mavericks.

Burks would be a possibility, too, if he’s willing to play for the league minimum.

Korkmaz wasn’t nearly as effective in the playoffs as the regular season, but has an opportunity to add perimeter shooting with the second unit.

It’ll be interesting to watch the changes Rivers implements in Philadelphia and see if the offense can approach the level of the Clippers.

Tom Moore: tmoore@couriertimes.com; @TomMoorePhilly