The X-Factor Hire of the Sixers’ Offseason
We have now hit the halfway point of the NBA season, and things couldn't be looking better for the Sixers. Through 36 games, they sit atop the Eastern Conference with a record of 24-12. After going through a complete organizational overhaul in the short offseason, the Sixers finally look ready to take the next step.
Between bringing Daryl Morey to oversee basketball operations or hiring Doc Rivers to be the new head coach, multiple things could be attributed to the Sixers' success through the first half of the season. But there has been one hire that also deserves high praise for the work they have done.
When Rivers arrived in Philadelphia, he did a phenomenal job assembling a coaching staff to work with him. Between adding a former head coach in Dave Joerger and a defensive specialist in Dan Burke, Rivers arguably has a top coaching staff in the league currently.
One of the final moves he made to round out his staff was bringing in Sam Cassell to focus on player development. This did not come as much surprise as he played under Rivers as a player, and was on his staff during his tenure as the head coach of the Clippers.
The addition of Cassell has already paid huge dividends for this team. One player in particular who has benefited the most from this hire is Ben Simmons, who has developed a strong relationship with him.
Before the season began, Simmons told the media that he had spent a lot of time working on his mid-range shot and corner three with Cassell. Shortly after the season began, Rivers would say that Cassell had been "assigned" to Simmons. Also mentioning that he feels Cassell is one of the best player development coaches in the league right now.
Simmons would have a slow start to the season statically, but over the past month has developed into something we have never seen from him before. He has become much aggressive as a scorer, getting downhill in transition, and has been developing a post presence.
One area that has stood out the most is his free-throw shooting. Simmons is currently shooting a career-high 67.1% from the line and has shown a great willingness to absorb contact and draw fouls.
After an impressive showing in a win against the Dallas Mavericks two weeks ago, Simmons was asked about what Cassell has done for him this season. He would be very open on the impact he has had with his game.
I can relate to him, we talk every day. We have a great relationship, he's helped me a lot with my game and running this team.
Before their game against the Cavaliers last weekend, I asked Doc Rivers about the relationship Cassell has developed with Simmons. He was not hesitant to dive into what makes him so good as a coach.
I think Sam's been amazing, he's done it everywhere he's gone. He has a great ability to communicate. I think he's one of those guys around the league that have a way of telling you the truth, and not offending you. Sam does a great job of that.
Another thing that Rivers would bring up is Cassell's work with Simmons as a post player. Saying that he has been good in the post this season, but by the end of the year they want him to be almost unstoppable down there.
When Simmons does his pregame routine with Cassell, post work is something they spend a good deal of time on.
After seeing what Cassell has already done for Simmons' game in just half a season, the sky is limit for what he can do for the 24-year-old All-Star moving forward.
Kevin McCormick is the 76ers beat writer for 97.3 ESPN and 76ers editor for Sportstalkphilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinMcC973.