Seemingly wherever he goes, Doc Rivers coaches star-laden teams. He's been a head coach for 20 years, with only two losing seasons -- the mediocre and bottomed-out Boston Celtics from 2005-07. He coached Tracy McGrady and (what was supposed to be) Grant Hill with the Magic, posting four winning years and a near first-round upset of the Detroit Pistons as the 8-seed in 2003. After two dismal years in Boston, Rivers was gifted the Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. In 2013, he left for greener pastures to join the upstart L.A. Clippers, coaching Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
That trio carried Rivers to his only NBA Championship and established his legacy as an elite head coach. It's a legacy that's been called into question of late. Poor tactics, the blowing of a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the 2020 NBA Playoffs and countless questionable substitutions made Doc expendable from a Clippers team with championship aspirations. The narrative had shifted on Rivers. Yes, a fantastic leader of men, but criticized for his in-game acumen.
Only a few months later, Rivers finds himself leading the Philadelphia 76ers, a team stuck on the cusp of playoff success. He's once again inherited an elite tandem of players with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Is Rivers the star whisperer? Can his credibility and revered nature around the league finally propel Philly's star combo to the next step in their careers?
The question is exactly what someone with Doc's pedigree was hired for. Philly has processed, they've rebuilt and (somehow) shed poor decision-making to field a group that is talented, balanced and ready to strike. Daryl Morey deserves endless credit for hitting "Undo All" on Elton Brand's 2019 offseason. He's drafted impactful guards and wings, he managed to dump Al Horford without giving up a bounty.
Perhaps the most important acquisition is another member of the Rivers family, though. Within the Rivers family Christmas Card is one of the premier sharpshooters across the NBA in Seth Curry. The younger Curry brother, Seth is statistically-speaking the more efficient of the two: he's second in NBA history with a career 3-point field goal percentage of 44.3% (only Steve Kerr is higher). This season, he shot 45.2% on five treys a night, a better percentage than Duncan Robinson or Davis Bertans.
Simmons and Embiid are well-known spacing challenges for whomever coaches them. Simmons doesn't shoot jumpers, and Embiid, a post-up maven who needs the ball on the block, loses spacing because of it. While Curry's fit in town is obvious next to those two, it's also integral to unlocking Rivers' playbook. As a tactician and X's and O's coach, he's at his very best when there's an elite shooter he can use to dart off screens.
Growing up in New Jersey as the son of a coach, Karl-Anthony Towns' favorite player was Len Bias. If the choice sounds odd, its because Towns was born nearly ten years after the hooper's tragic death.
A real student of the game, Towns has been miscast in the NBA as a carefree, stat-concerned talent. The lack of postseason success in Minnesota on his watch (one berth, a first-round exit in 2018) eats away at the narrative surrounding him. The centerpiece of the NBA team about to formally make the top pick in the 2020 Draft, Towns' time to lead is coming, and the excuses for lack of star power around him dissipating.
When Towns was ten years old, he was already 6'1". The Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs met in the NBA Finals where only one team scored 100 points in the seven-game series. Most telling, Brian Cook and Raef LaFrentz led the league in 3-point attempts for centers, with 2.8 a game. Only one other, Pedrag Drobnjak, was over one trey a night.
The game has changed a lot in the fifteen years since then. Spacing is sacrosanct. 3-point shooting is more of a first option than last resort. Most importantly for Towns, it has become an integral part of the offensive gameplan for big men.
A first-team All-NBA talent, Towns' stat line is certainly gaudy. He averaged 20 and 10 for the fourth consecutive season, connected on an absurd 41.2 percent of his treys, and took an even more impressive 7.9 a game. The change in shot selection has been dramatic since Ryan Saunders took over as coach. A year ago, Towns took a fair 27 percent of his field goal attempts from three.
That number ballooned up to 44.5 percent in 2020. Coincidentally, Towns' assist numbers also rose. He was the dimer on 22.8 percent of teammate baskets, tallied 4.4 dimes a night and had five nights with 8 or more assists.
There's no coincidence here. Towns' game is evolving not to keep up with the 3-point revolution for bigs, but to leap ahead of the curve. Saunders knows how unique a 40 percent 3-point shooter at the 5 can be and, just by designing an offense around that threat, the rest of the team can thrive. The student of the game, historian version of Towns knows just how revolutionary this role can be.
Only James Harden and Damian Lillard took more 3-point attempts per game in 2019-20 than Sacramento Kings sniper Buddy Hield. He shot a higher percentage from deep (39.4%) than Trae Young (36.1%), Bradley Beal (35.3%), Zach LaVine (38.0%) and Harden (35.5%). Only three players in NBA history have multiple seasons with over 270 3-point makes: Stephen Curry, Harden and Hield.
Hield, who will be 28-years-old in December, inked a 4-year extension with the Kings last October that will pay him until he's 31. The Kings front office certainly recognized the blistering pace Hield was setting as a shooter and the elite level of his play. But their coaching staff acts differently.
First-year head coach Luke Walton moved Hield to the bench on January 22nd, where he resided for the final 28 games of their season. It's hard to argue with the results: the Kings were 16-12 with their starting lineup, and Hield still hoisted 9.1 treys a game, making an absurd 45.1 percent of them. But Hield's minutes plummeted after January 22nd, down from 34.4 to 25.1.
The Bahamian sharpshooter has been openly disgruntled with this role in Sacramento and the demotion to the second unit. Issues with Walton aren't the first for Buddy; he clashed with prior coach Dave Joerger, reportedly about Hield's attention to detail on defense and his recall of important scouting points.
Herein lies the dilemma for the Kings. Hield is an elite shooter, a valuable commodity in the modern NBA and next to their franchise player, De'Aaron Fox. They've committed a near-max salary to him, but haven't committed a role in their starting (or finishing) groups on the floor. His skillset next to Fox is only valuable if they'll share the floor for meaningful minutes.
The cognitive dissonance is great here. The Kings are wishy-washy about when to play Hield and how to keep him satisfied, but Walton's offense seemed specifically catered to letting Buddy serve as the focal point in much of what they did.
Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).