Nick Nurse is empowering the Sixers to be themselves, and they love him for it
FORT COLLINS, CO - Danuel House Jr.'s smile and bouncing eyebrows said more than his words did.
Nick Nurse's ideas, in this early stage of organized team activities, appealed to the reserve three-and-D wing quite a bit. A lot more than Doc Rivers' concepts had, at least.
"Sh... it's not early, I can tell you the difference now. Sh...nah, I'm messin' with y'all. I ain't gonna get into all that. But, no, it's just a lot more selfless basketball," House said.
"It's not so much of two guys having the ball. Doc was two guys, ball-dominant. Nick Nurse is everybody play together. Everybody work for each other. Help, cut, get your brother an open shot. So, you can see the difference night and day."
House feels empowered, perhaps in a way he didn't last season. He and his teammates not named Joel Embiid, James Harden, or Tyrese Maxey feel valued for what they're capable of doing on the court, perhaps in a way they didn't last season.
Nurse wants them to play freely, not as mechanisms that operate strictly off of the team's star(s).
It sounds like Nurse's philosophies are paying dividends on both ends of the floor thus far.
"Like I said, he likes guys like us. Long, that can shoot, play defense. So, he's letting me play off my instinct. Any time a coach gives you, as a player, the freedom to be a player, it makes you want to give more defensively, more offensively. More cutting, more screens for your teammates," House explained.
"So, it's like you're more into the game, per se, than just the particular, 'Alright, just guard the best player and just shoot corner threes when you're open'. He makes it to where, like, yeah, it's three-and-D. But, sometimes you might have the ball coming off the pick-and-roll."
"You still got to know your reads, got to know when to pass the ball, when the slot cut is supposed to cut. When to throw the ball, when not to throw the ball. How to throw certain passes so to enter the ball. So, it's a lot of things that he put into it. He just calls it that, but we're basketball players. That's what he says."
The coaching staff communicates with the players extraordinarily well, according to Tobias Harris.
"Of all the coaches and staffs I've been a part of, this has been an easy system and easy environment to get adapted to," Harris said.
Nurse doesn't seem concerned about positions. He's not interested in debating the semantics of small forward versus power forward. So far, Harris has played both.
"A lot of the positions are kind of just players being versatile out there. Being in different spots. So, I would say it's a combination of both [playing small forward and power forward]. To be honest, it's kind of position-less basketball. It's more about the concepts of where we're at on the floor and the actions we're getting into," Harris explained.
The Sixers lost to the Celtics last season because their offense flamed out in Game 6. There was no ball movement, no creative actions to execute. As they ran out of gas, the well dried up. They couldn't score.
But, Nurse isn't here solely to be the architect of a cutting-edge offense. According to Patrick Beverley, the former Raptors head coach is installing a mixture of European and NBA concepts on defense.
"You know I played in Europe four or five years with some really good coaches. So, it's the right fit with the shoe. It's nothing that I haven't seen and I haven't preached, especially defensively. So, it's easy," Beverley said.
Harris sees it as a system rooted in heart and energy.
"Just the flexibility of being able to go outside the box and figure out different ways. But, he talks to the whole team just about being committed to that end and bringing it each and every night. We've been starting off training camp defending, working our tails off on that end. So, it's going to be great," the veteran forward said.
That flexibility is a requirement that Paul Reed meets with his body. In Reed's mind, he and Nurse are a good fit.
"I'm already the type of defensive player that he's used to coaching. So, for me, it's an easy transition. I can see myself just fitting right in and being super effective and productive out there on the defensive end for this upcoming season," the reserve big man said.
According to Reed, there is an emphasis on all the little things that go into a great team defense.
"The whole team has to focus on certain things, like getting back on defense. Showing our hands, crashing the glass. Just small things like any team works on. So, kind of been particular about that with the whole team," Reed said.
Maxey, in particular, is trying to hone in on the finer details on defense.
"Getting in my gaps, making sure I jump to the ball. Making sure I'm back-side rebounding. They want me to rebound so I can better push the ball. I feel like I can do that well. Picking the ball up the court always. We didn't do much of that today because we did a lot of half-court stuff," he explained.
"But, spinning the gaps, being ready, being a communicating and vocal leader out there. We have guys like PJ, but sometimes when I'm at the point, trying to be the point of the spear up there."
If there's anyone who can bring the energy to remember and execute on all of those things, it's the Sixers' budding star.
'Energy' has been a buzz word of sorts throughout this week in Fort Collins. Nurse has been very complimentary of the energy and effort his players have given.
There's been a lot of trash-talking. The intensity has been high.
Maxey says Nurse has matched the intensity. The team loves him.
The young guard credited the coaching staff with hitting the ground running as far as implementing new philosophies and systems. It's a teaching pace that contrasts with what Maxey has experienced in the past.
He thinks it's good that they're making the players pick things up on the fly.
It prepares them for games, settings that will also challenge them to pick things up on the fly.
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