CAMDEN, NJ — After a decade with the Toronto Raptors, Nick Nurse has been named the newest head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. As both an assistant and head coach, Nurse helped them grow into a champion. Now, he will take on the same challenge with the Sixers, building around Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey — and, maybe, James Harden.
While Harden's place on Nurse's Sixers is not yet certain — he said that he would like to have him stay — Nurse discussed his primary outlooks for Embiid and Maxey. While he did indicate that the blueprint for the team and its key players is still in the works, he will begin his partnerships with each star with ideas of what they need to do.
At his introductory press conference at the Sixers' practice facility, Nurse was asked about how Nikola Jokic and Jimmy Butler, the stars headlining the 2023 NBA Finals, both being good playmakers can set an example for Embiid. Nurse said that he traditionally likes having offense with motion, saying that he wants to have Embiid ready for whatever defenses do against him.
“The short answer to that is yes. I think he's got the ability to do that,” Nurse said. “I think it's part of what I historically like to do, as well. I also think that there's a lot of change in defenses now — a lot more than you've probably seen, I don't know, six or seven years ago. So, you've got to be able to combat and be ready for all those. There’s a lot more switching, all those things going on. We just gotta be ready for all of it.”
Embiid's individual brilliance has been halted in the playoffs repeatedly over the years. Making him initiate things more and putting more movement around him should make it harder for defenses to key in on him. Nurse said that Embiid “has a lot of attributes defensively — very, very good. And offensively, he’s very very skilled.” His plan is to “max out” what he can do.
As for the Sixers' other star (that's currently on the roster), Nurse said that planning for Maxey has gotten tougher due to the steps he has taken as a scorer. He said that his speed sometimes left the Raptors without many options, especially when he began shooting the ball so well.
“He's got a tremendous chance to improve and take a step forward — and from all indications, that he's really hungry to do so. Good worker, good person, really wants to get better,” Nurse said. “There's some specifics, I would say, make him be more of a creator. Well, what is creating? Creating is you're scoring or you're drawing more people than one. Then, you're creating for others. Can you make reads, all the reads? I think that's the first place I would start offensively — getting him to know more reps in the pick-and-roll so he can make the reads to all the other players on the floor, depending on what he sees.”
Away from the ball, Maxey is a lethal scorer. He commands hard close-outs because he's a great shooter, which only gives him room to attack the basket with his lighting-quick first step. But what he lacks is the ability to consistently break down a defense himself. Whether Harden stays or not, it's something that he has to improve at in order for the Sixers to take the next step.
Defensively, Nurse wants to help Maxey get better at pressuring the ball and getting around screens. Someone as slender as Maxey has make plays near the top of the key and outside the perimeter. In Toronto, Nurse helped develop Fred VanVleet into a good defender despite his small stature. The vetern guard may end up landing in Philly if Harden leaves, offering another person who can help Maxey develop on defense.
It'll be the responsibility of Daryl Morey to get the right players around Embiid and Maxey and give Nurse a roster he can turn into a legitimate title contender.