Sixers Preseason Evaluation: The Starting Five
The Philadelphia 76ers finished up their preseason schedule on Monday in China. They posted a 3-1 record and we learned a lot about a team coming off of an impressive 52-win campaign in 2017-18.
In a general sense, the Sixers looked good during preseason play, but there are signs of last season's issues still lingering from time-to-time, whether it be turnovers, committing too many fouls or missed defensive assignments.
On the positive end, Sixers big man Joel Embiid looks poised for another big season, we got to see some impressive performances from rookie Landry Shamet and second-year guard Markelle Fultz displayed some very encouraging signs on the road back from his rebuilt shot.
Let's take a look at how the starting lineup fared through the four preseason games. We'll continue with the bench guys on Tuesday:
Ben Simmons: While Simmons didn't put up big offensive numbers during the preseason (9.0 ppg, 9.3 apg, 7.8 rpg), one of his big offseason focuses was getting to the line more and becoming one of the NBA's top defenders. If you saw any of Simmons' floor time (26.7 mpg) in the preseason, it is easy to see his work is paying off on the defensive end. It was really on display during Friday's match-up against Dallas with Ben's open floor defense of Luca Doncic.
As for getting to the line, Simmons made 8-for-14 from the stripe. His 14 free throw attempts were second on the team to Joel Embiid, who had 28. Ben didn't really take too many jumpers, heck there is only one that comes to mind that went in, so going into the season we may not see him spot up for too many after all. The Sixers, now with Markelle Fultz healthy, are still working on Simmons operating out of the post, so that might be one reason for his lack of offensive production. That being said, he still has tremendous ability to find open teammates and be the team's floor general out of the gates.
Markelle Fultz: The preseason was a tale of two Markelle Fultz's. The United States version of Fultz looked good, scoring 26 points on 11-for-23 shooting in the team's first two preseason games. Fultz regressed during their trip to China, scoring just 10 points on 5-for-14 shooting. Markelle ran into foul trouble in both games against Dallas, fouling out on Monday with a good chunk of game left in the fourth.
Overall, Fultz's jumper looks a whole lot better than it was. It's smooth, there's no hitch and he seems to have no hesitation to take it either. He went 1-for-5 on three-point attempts, but should get a lot more opportunities to shoot the long ball with Simmons operating the point. Markelle has numerous strengths on the defensive side of the ball, but he needs to remained disciplined and not commit sloppy fouls.
Fultz's underwhelming performances in China likely had more to do with the travel than it does skill. The former Washington product will remain a starter heading into the regular season.
Robert Covington: The main things Robert Covington worked on during the offseason were ball-handling and finishing at the rim. We didn't see a whole lot of this, but RoCo sure looked a lot more comfortable driving into the paint than he did at any point last year. It's still a work in progress, but good to see nonetheless. Defensively, Cov looked solid like he normally does.
Offensively, Covington isn't relied on as much now with Fultz also in the mix as a starter. He had just one point in the preseason opener, 14 in the next two games combined and 18 in the finale. He tallied six steals again Dallas on Monday, but shot just 2-for-9 in an atrocious shooting day from the Sixers as a team from three.
Dario Saric: If there is anyone from the starting lineup that there's any concern about, it is probably Dario. The guy plays basketball in what seems like every month of the year, so perhaps the preseason is just a burnout phase for The Homie. He sat out the final game due to lower back soreness, so maybe that explains why he looked off in the first three games. Dario shot just 36 percent from the floor and 10 percent from three. Defensively, he looked a little sloppy, but once the regular season rolls around, that rust should wear off.
Like with Covington, the Sixers rotation boasts more scorers, so Dario may also not be relied to score as much as he has in the past. That being said, his three-point shooting provides a big punch on the starting five, so ideally he finds that stroke sooner rather than later.
Joel Embiid: Gosh, if the preseason was any indication as to what we should expect from Embiid (24.5 mpg, 23.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.5 apg) this year, we're in for a treat. He was a dominant force, scoring 20+ points in each of the Sixers' four preseason games. One thing that Embiid is really starting to show more and more is his leadership on and off the court. When the team plays bad, he says it. He holds himself and his teammates accountable in all aspects of the game and strives to be one of the best players in the league.
Embiid looked a lot more sure-footed in the post, he fared better when double-teamed and showed the ability to enact some bully ball from time to time. One of Brett Brown's focuses for Joel over the offseason was to be more physical in the post and get to the line more. He did just that, going to the free throw line 28 times and hitting 20 of the shots.
In the four preseason games, Joel Embiid played 98 minutes and finished with 92 points, 34 rebounds, 10 assists, four steals and two blocks. He shot 53.8 percent from the floor. Pretty strong numbers there. Have to feel confident going into the season with him.
Overall, the starting five took some positive steps forward. Embiid and Simmons look ready to go while their supporting cast continues to take shape. We'll take a look at the bench players for the Sixers tomorrow, so stay tuned.
Brandon Apter is a Sixers contributor to 97.3 ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @bapter23.