20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Nurse is Unlikely to Cure What Ails 76ers Because Coaching is not the Team's Problem

The Philadelphia 76ers have hired Nick Nurse, who led the Toronto Raptors to the 2019 NBA title, to replace the fired Doc Rivers as their coach. Rivers inherited a Philadelphia 76ers team that went 43-30 (.589 winning percentage) in the COVID-19 shortened 2019-20 season, and the 76ers posted a better record than that in each of his three seasons: 49-23 (.681) in 2021, 51-31 (.622) in 2022, and 54-28 (.659) in 2023. The 76ers lost in the second round of the playoffs in each of Rivers' three seasons, so Rivers--the 2000 NBA Coach of the Year who led the 2008 Boston Celtics to the NBA title--took the fall.

Nurse is an excellent coach, but it is not clear what he can do to cure the team's three main problems:

1) Joel Embiid's propensity to be injured and ineffective in the playoffs, which may be connected with the fact that he rarely seems to be in tip top physical condition.

2) James Harden's propensity to disappear in elimination games, which he did again in 2023 with nine points on 3-11 field goal shooting as the Boston Celtics routed the 76ers, 112-88. In that game Harden produced yet another "Harden"--he had more turnovers (five) than field goals made. 

3) Philadelphia's President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey is delusional enough to assert that James Harden is a greater scorer than Michael Jordan, a stance that Morey has not renounced. Delusional thinking does not tend to lead to rational decisions. Morey has claimed for two decades that his use of "advanced basketball statistics" provides a tangible advantage, a claim that is belied by his record in Houston and Philadelphia.

The main image/sound bite that I will remember from Rivers' Philadelphia tenure is his annual sideline pleas to his team during playoff timeouts to play hard, a plea that fell on deaf ears. Are we supposed to believe that when Nurse begs Embiid, Harden, and company to play hard the players will comply?

The 76ers are built on a faulty foundation of tanking despite the reality that tanking does not work. A large body of evidence indicates that a team run by Daryl Morey that relies on Joel Embiid and James Harden will max out by losing in the second round, and there is no reason to believe that Nurse will change that.

Labels: , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 9:55 PM



At Friday, June 02, 2023 12:36:00 AM, Anonymous Michael said...

I agree that the Rivers to Nurse coaching change will prove to be a lateral move and what the 76ers really need is a complete organizational overhaul: get rid of Morey, get a team to overtrade for Embiid, do not even attempt to re-sign Harden, and really just get rid of any traces of "the process". Most of those things won't happen but the 76ers need a complete reset in team philosophy and their roster if they actually want to find a path that leads to a championship.

At Friday, June 02, 2023 12:41:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I agree with all your points but do you think you are being slightly unfair to Morey by not recognising that both the Rockets and 76ers have been very successful despite not winning a championship? Honest question, because while I agree with you they are both winning franchises.

At Friday, June 02, 2023 10:41:00 AM, Anonymous Kevin said...

It's interesting how the Nuggets never really tanked and yet were able to acquire some very talented players and develop a culture that could potentially enable a dynasty down the road. There are a ton of contrasts between the Nuggets and 76ers

Maybe some luck was involved, Jokic being available in the 2nd round will always be a mystery to me because a playmaking center that can shoot is usually very coveted even if his athleticism is lacking. I do know he stayed in Europe for another season where he won his league's MVP award, had he declared after that and I doubt he would have been taken after the 10th pick in the 2015 draft. I mean even back then he should have been seen as a unicorn, the Nuggets still ultimately drafted him so kudos to them

Anyway, MPJ had a injury history that allowed the Nuggets to draft him where they did. Talent wise he was definitely top 5 from his draft class

But drafting Murray and acquiring Gordon/KCP I could attribute more to shrewd decision making on their part. Gordon reminds me a little of Shawn Marion who would cover up for Amare's defense with his defensive versatility but there's the added bonus of benefiting off of Jokic's defensive attention and passing that Marion only received from Nash; having Murray being capable of high level shot making and secondary playmaking functions and KCP's veteran experience as a championship 3&D wing creates an extremely potent starting 5. I love the way the Nuggets built this squad

And yet the 76ers went more off of tanking and name recognition to create their rosters in the Hinkie era onwards

I can't think of a dynasty that wasn't built through acquiring a generational talent (often later than they should have but outside of Jokic the latest I can recall was Kobe taken at 13th) and finding gems in late 1st round or 2nd round, usually players overlooked because of perceived injury (MPJ), off the court (Klay), size (Green), or lack of scouting resources (Manu/Parker). The 76ers found a cornerstone who can be that guy if he puts the work in (to be determined, he puts work in in the regular season that's for sure) but have struggled to find those gems. Generally you find those gems being a competitive regular season team, and from a culture standpoint those kind of players starting off on competitive teams is probably the best way to develop them

I don't know, just an interesting observation I've noticed regarding both teams

At Friday, June 02, 2023 11:10:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

to anon
technically he built playoff teams for 2nd round exit, does it qualify as winning program? not for me. It surely is better than bottom of the league, but he did get more time to build than most executives and has nothing to show

At Friday, June 02, 2023 8:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It will be interesting to see how many years of second round losses it will take for the owner to figure out that Morey and the "advanced basketball statistics" crew are the problem.

At Friday, June 02, 2023 8:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As Beep noted, and as I mentioned in my article about Daryl Morey's legacy in Houston, Morey has had over 15 years to utilize the advantages that he claims are provided by "advanced basketball statistics" in order to win a title and he has failed to do so. He is not the worst GM in the league, but he is far from the best.

At Friday, June 02, 2023 8:39:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Tanking never works. That is not a mantra, or an assertion unsupported by evidence; as I have pointed out in numerous articles, no NBA championship team has been built by tanking.

You are correct that it is very instructive to look at the differences between the Nuggets' culture and the Nuggets' roster construction philosophy compared to the 76ers' culture and roster construction philosophy.


Post a Comment

<< Home