Sixers training camp observations: Tyrese Maxey and Rajon Rondo, Iverson cuts and more

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Maxey and Rondo, Iverson cuts and more in Sixers camp observations originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers returned to Camden, New Jersey, on Saturday after a day off for their first weekend practice of the season.

Here are three observations on Day 4 of training camp: 

Maxey and Rondo 

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers called Saturday’s practice the best of Tyrese Maxey’s camp.

As a longtime NBA point guard, Rivers intimately understands the challenges and nuances of the position.

“I don’t think he’s had necessarily a great camp thus far,” Rivers said of Maxey. “But he hasn’t had a bad one either. He’s just trying to find his way, trying to find where to be aggressive. I want him to continue to be aggressive as a scorer but now he has to run the team, too. 

“Every shot he takes — we used to tell (Rajon) Rondo and other point guards, that’s a shot Paul (Pierce), Ray (Allen) didn’t take and Kevin (Garnett) didn’t take. So when you do take it, it better be a good one. So you kind of have to learn the feel of that. That’s a tough spot, because you’ve got to stay aggressive but you’ve also got to get everyone else involved. It’s why it’s a hard position.”

Maxey was in elementary school when fellow Kentucky product Rondo won an NBA title with the 2007-08 Celtics. 

“I see what he’s saying,” Maxey said. “I think Rondo, that was maybe his second year when he was with Paul Pierce and KG and them. And it’s kind of similar.

“I’m a young guy, and then you have superstars like Joel (Embiid) and Tobias (Harris), and guys who have played really well in Seth (Curry) and Danny (Curry) — experienced guys. I’m just trying to figure out how to distribute the ball the right way, how to make the right passes, make the right reads and still find a way to be myself within the offense.”

Rivers noted he plans to play Maxey throughout the preseason but that will not be the case for veteran starters Embiid, Harris, Curry and Green, all of whom “won’t play in every preseason game.” 

The Sixers will practice Sunday morning and play their exhibition opener Monday in Toronto. Barring any dramatic shifts on the Ben Simmons holdout front, we’ll get a better sense soon of how Maxey’s progressing as the Sixers’ lead ball handler. 

Ball movement, paint touches and Iverson cuts 

The Sixers’ bench’s dominance was bound to end at some point. Saturday was that day, according to Rivers.

“White was happy today because they finally won a game — the starters,” he said. “I think it’s hilarious the starters were happy that they finally won a game … it’s interesting, to me. … But the ball movement was phenomenal.

“We showed them film today of the first three days of practice. It was clear what one team was doing. They lived in the paint. Every time they drove the paint, the ball kept going out for threes. The guys who are playing on the first five right now got to the paint and shot over contested, big arms. And today they pledged they would play right, and they did. They won every game, so it was a good lesson for them.”

One difficult aspect of playing without Simmons, at least on paper, is the increased likelihood of fewer transition possessions. Simmons ranked in the 99th or 100th percentile the last three seasons in on/off transition frequency, per Cleaning the Glass

And, though he’s sometimes been unselfish to a fault, Simmons' pass-first instincts often contributed to high-quality ball movement and open three-pointers when the Sixers were at their best during the regular season. Those qualities can’t be replaced by one player alone. 

To wrap up practice, Rivers ran the Sixers through 5-on-0 actions. Most of the sets looked familiar, although it was interesting to see Curry wasn’t the only player making Iverson cuts (sprinting across two men at the elbows to catch the ball on the opposite wing). 

Curry had success with that look last season, but Harris, Shake Milton and Georges Niang also ran Iverson cuts on Saturday during the few minutes reporters were allowed to observe. The Sixers had a variety of second-side motion and dribble handoffs on those actions, too. There likely won’t be any seismic offensive changes in store, but that’s something to keep an eye on this preseason. 

Rivers working with a Karl 

New Delaware Blue Coats head coach Coby Karl is the son of George Karl, owner of 1,175 NBA regular-season head coaching wins.

“I’ve known George for a long time — really never liked George a lot,” Rivers said with a laugh. “That’s not true. These days I’ve got to make sure you guys understand exactly what I’m saying; that was a joke. But I do like the lineage. I’ve known Coby for a long time. I always thought he was a very high-IQ player. 

“There’s certain guys that you know, he’s going to be a coach. You knew where he was going with it. I like some of the stuff he ran in L.A. with the G League team. Once the job became available and (Sixers vice president of basketball operations Prosper Karangwa) and (president of basketball operations Daryl Morey) and them had a list of guys, I thought he was the right choice for us. We’ll see.”

We certainly won’t misconstrue Rivers’ humor about George Karl here. The two do have a history, though. Rivers and Karl had a “silly, petty feud,” David Aldridge wrote for ESPN in 2002. Karl told Esquire that Rivers had been “anointed” as a good coach, suggesting that was the case because of his race. 

Coby Karl had nothing to do with any of that, of course, and is grateful to have another coaching opportunity. 

The former head coach of the South Bay Lakers has been at Sixers training camp and will coach his first game for Delaware next month. 

“I haven’t coached in 18 months,” he said. “The Lakers organization decided not to go to the G League bubble, so my family and I, since the pandemic hit, we’ve been in Boise, Idaho, where we maintain a residence. It was really hard. I’ve just been around the game of basketball my whole life, so 18 months without basketball was really difficult for me. 

“And this business of coaching is really difficult. The opportunities are not always just thrown your way. I just got really lucky, to be honest. I wanted to coach and this situation presented itself. A couple of assistant coaches on the staff I knew and had a relationship with. And Doc knew me a little bit, and my interview went really well. I think sometimes in life it just works, and this to me seems like one of those times.”