First Three Games
The Philadelphia Sixers are only three games into the 2023-24 season and it is evident the effect that Nick Nurse’s coaching has already had on this team. The team started with two early road games and had their home opener on Sunday, but even in that limited sample size, it is obvious the team is playing differently. The differences are clear both offensively and defensively for individual players, and the team as a whole.
On the offensive end the Sixers have been known in the past for a lot of isolation and extended post up’s for Joel Embiid, but this year appears to be different. Embiid will always be the focal point on offense for whatever team he is on because of how dominant he is, but the way Nick Nurse is using him and others is where you can see the differences. Right away it has been clear that not only is Embiid going to be given the ball to score, but is also being used in a playmaking capacity for a change.
Nick Nurse is allowing him to initiate the offense and draw doubles, which creates much more open opportunities for others and also keeps the pressure off Embiid to lead the team in scoring every night. Allowing others to get more involved offensively instead of just standing in the corners like they have in years past, keeps the defense guessing and allows others to stay in a rhythm. This keeps everyone involved and doesn’t have players like Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris waiting around for catch and shoot opportunities, when they can do so much more offensively.
Tyrese Maxey has been incredible with the ball in his hands so far this season and he looks every bit of a second star to pair with Embiid. In past years Doc Rivers has limited his opportunities, whether it has been play time or deferring to James Harden too much, but now he is unleashed and is wreaking havoc. Maxey’s energy and aggression so far this season has been incredible, not only with is scoring but also his playmaking. Nurse has turned the keys over to him and really allowed him to begin to tap into his full potential.
Last season, there were so many times where the Sixers were constantly giving up open opportunities from three and basically just praying teams don’t have a hot shooting night. Lazy defensive rotations and poor communication allowed for uncontested threes and open driving lines in the regular season, but especially in the playoffs as well. In three games, Nick Nurse has fans fully believing that will not be the case this season.
The Sixers have been flying around defensively, making every possession tough, and also has demanded more from Embiid on the defensive end. Players like Patrick Beverly, PJ Tucker, De’Anthony Melton have always been known for their defensive abilities, but Nurse now has the others playing with that same level of energy and effort. After years of seeing how the Raptors would accept the challenge defensively, it is incredible to finally see the Sixers play with that level of intensity.
Not only has Nurse gotten the team to play harder defensively, but he has demanded more out of Joel Embiid defensively than any other coach in his career. Embiid has always been a great defender and typically increases his effort especially in the playoffs every year, but now Nurse has him showing up with that mentality for regular season games. Embiid has 6 blocks in the home opener, but blocks are an incomplete stat because it does not track all of the shots he affects and changes throughout the game. Having a real rim protector and defensive anchor throughout the season will make a major impact on the team and also make Embiid an even more dominant presence which is hard to believe.
The first three games have been extremely positive for Nurse and the Sixers so far, even with the cloud of the James Harden situation hanging over the team. Once that situation is settled, this Sixers team will have a real opportunity to compete if they keep playing like this throughout the year. Nurse has provided this team with the toughness and intensity they have been missing over the years and it is extremely refreshing to see, after years of inconsistent effort. Fans should be excited what they are seeing so far and the Sixers have definitely shocked people around the league with how they look even with Harden no-showing.