Storylines to Watch as Sixers Begin Camp
There’s optimism surrounding the Sixers heading into training camp Tuesday.
A new coaching staff headlined by Doc Rivers, a new-look front office with Daryl Morey in charge, and changes made to an ill-fitting roster provide hope for the 2020-21 season.
Here are four things to watch throughout camp.
A new starting five
There’s no debating how poorly the pieces fit offensively last season. Al Horford and Josh Richardson didn’t shoot well enough to space the floor for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. They’ve been moved for players that are tailored much better to this roster.
The simplest solution would be plugging Seth Curry and Danny Green into the two vacant spots to allow for maximum spacing. Curry does have experience as a point guard which could provide an interesting dynamic with Simmons in the pick-and-roll. Green’s career proficiency in transition and from the corner should translate well.
You could also look to split the two veterans up. You could pair Green with Shake Milton in the backcourt. Green is still a strong defender which could help as Milton still progresses on that end. Offensively, Green would get plenty of opportunities off Milton-Simmons pick-and-rolls with Simmons finding him in the corners on short rolls.
You could make Curry a starter next to defensive standout Matisse Thybulle. How Thybulle’s shot progresses may go a long way in determining his minutes this season. Playing next to Curry could help mitigate those concerns. Curry’s weakness comes on the defensive end where Thybulle can take on the tougher perimeter assignments.
We’ll see if Rivers gives us any inclination of where he will go with his starting unit or if we’ll have to wait until the games are played. Who closes games is of even more intrigue and importance.
Where does Maxey fit?
This is a question that’s come up a lot and nobody really knows the answer – not even the Sixers.
Maxey fell into the Sixers’ lap at No. 21. He seemed like an easy lottery pick after having success in his lone season at Kentucky. Other teams were perhaps scared off by his poor shooting numbers from three (29.2%).
While shooting is a necessity for the Sixers, they also lacked perimeter players that could create off the bounce and get to the rim. In watching Maxey with the Wildcats, those were the traits that were the most appealing. His ability to finish is already an NBA-level skill.
There’s also reason to believe his shot could improve. He did well from the line (83.3%) and flashes the ability to shoot off the dribble, a huge asset for an NBA guard.
You’d have to think camp would go a long way in determining Maxey’s role and minutes. Simmons’ versatility gives Rivers a lot of options. Maxey playing in lineups with Curry or Milton, two combo guards that can shoot, would seem to be ideal. Maxey’s defense, which has serious potential, will be a factor as well.
The players that seem to be a lock for the rotation are Embiid, Simmons, Tobias Harris, Green, Curry and Dwight Howard. While Rivers seems to be high on Milton and Thybulle, that doesn’t assure them minutes. With that said, they’re likely at the top of the line. Tony Bradley fits in as the team’s third-string center, not a rotational role but a fairly important role given Embiid’s history.
After those nine players, things get a little murky.
Furkan Korkmaz returns coming off a career year but is still a defensive liability. Mike Scott had a down year last season after being a key rotational piece for the team in the 2019 postseason.
Terrance Ferguson came over from Oklahoma City as part of the Horford trade. His shooting has been up and down, but he’s athletic, has shown defensive ability and is still just 22. Rookie second-rounder Isaiah Joe was given a multi-year NBA contract and was a proven shooter in college, but his lack of strength is a cause for concern.
Ryan Broekhoff and Derrick Walton are on non-guaranteed deals and likely face uphill battles in trying to make the roster. Two-way players Paul Reed and Dakota Mathias likely won’t get much NBA time.
The two players I have my eye on are Maxey and Justin Anderson. As stated above, Maxey offers a skillset the Sixers lack. If he can handle the leap to the NBA, there’s a chance he could be a factor.
The idea of Anderson, who returned on a two-year, partially guaranteed deal, is intriguing. While he didn’t stand out for the Nets in the bubble, he was on a tear for Brooklyn’s G-League affiliate prior to the stoppage. He was averaging over 20 points a game while shooting 37.1% from three on over seven attempts a game. If Anderson could just shoot league average, his toughness and physicality on defense could give the Sixers a boost. At the very least, he could push the younger wing players for minutes.
The evolution of Jo and Ben
The main thing everyone needs to remember is that this all still revolves around Embiid and Simmons. The Sixers will go as far as their All-Star duo will take them.
Embiid will face the typical questions about his fitness. Simmons will be grilled over his reluctance to shoot. If both players can change those narratives to some degree, it should help the Sixers. Morey surrounding them with players that better suit their skillsets should help immensely.
What Morey also did is create flexibility. The Sixers have several “tradeable" contracts that they could use in a deadline deal. How well Embiid and Simmons perform ahead of the deadline could determine how adventurous Morey is.
It’s worth noting that the East should be better. The Bucks have improved. The Heat and Celtics are just as dangerous as they were last season. The Nets will have Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. The Pacers could be better with a fully healthy Victor Oladipo and an emerging T.J. Warren. And you can never count out the Raptors.
All of this to say that Embiid and Simmons need to ascend to the next level if the Sixers are hoping to contend in the East.
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