Things to Watch in the Sixers’ Preseason Opener
The Sixers will play their first of two preseason games on Tuesday against the Boston Celtics. With all the buzz surround this team after a complete makeover in the offseason, here are five things to keep an eye on in the preseason debut.
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in a new offensive system
Despite how long they have been playing together, this year will be the first time we see the All-Star duo in a new system. How the two will look in Doc Rivers’ offensive system should be one of the biggest things to watch heading into this game.
All signs point to the two playing well in the new offensive makeup. Rivers has mentioned that he wants to increase the pace of the offense, and implement a lot more pick-and-roll play with this team. Playing faster should allow Simmons to thrive more, and using Embiid as a roller should create easy looks at the rim.
Daryl Morey did an amazing job improving the supporting cast around the two franchise cornerstones, now it will be interesting to see if a new system will up their games.
Shake Milton running the second unit
Although there is a case for Shake Milton to be a starter, Doc Rivers seems focused on using Milton as the team’s sixth man. Based on his track record, it feels like Rivers is going to attempt to turn Milton into a Lou Williams-Esq player.
Despite it being a small sample size, Milton showed that he can be a solid rotation player at the NBA level. Milton’s game draws a lot of comparisons to reserve guards that Rivers have had a lot of success with in the past.
Seeing if Milton can lead the second unit and be a super-sub type of role player is something to watch as this season kicks off.
Tobias Harris back in a comfortable offensive setting
After Daryl Morey went and acquired multiple outside shooters through the draft and trades, many people brought up what the improved spacing will do for Simmons and Embiid on the floor. But another player who should benefit from these moves is Tobias Harris.
These personnel changes will allow Harris to slide back to his natural position at the four, which should allow him to create mismatches on the offensive end. Not to mention Harris is now playing under Doc Rivers again, who had him playing at an All-Star level during their time together in LA.
Rivers has spoken a lot about Harris and wanting to get him back to the type of player he was in LA. Two key things that he has brought up is that he wants Harris to get back to being a quick decision-maker with the ball and wants to get him going downhill more on offense.
With the implementation of more pick-and-rolls, Harris should be able to attack mismatches more and generate similar looks he had with the Clippers. Before being traded to the Sixers, Harris was a +20 PPG player on strong efficiency. If he can get back to that level, he will make the Sixers’ offense even more dangerous.
Tyrese Maxey will make his NBA preseason debut Tuesday. The Sixers hope it’s the first step to Maxey looking like a steal at pick No. 21.
The praise for Maxey during camp has been effusive. On Monday, both head coach Doc Rivers and veteran Mike Scott lauded the rookie, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
Rivers said that he sees Maxey more as an on-the-ball player to start his career but that the Sixers’ new offense will be predicated more on movement instead of a traditional point guard dominating the ball. Maxey’s ability to create off the dribble and get to the rim could give the second unit a huge boost.
The biggest question surrounding Maxey will be how his shot translates at the NBA level. He shot below 30% in his lone season at Kentucky. There are things that back up Maxey potentially being a better shooter than it appears.
His home/road shooting splits are bizarre. Maxey hit 37.5% of his threes on the road but shot just 26.6% percent from distance at home. He also made over 83% of his free throws, an indicator that his form is far from broken. His ability to shoot off the dribble is encouraging and an elite trait for an NBA guard.
New-look starting five
The Sixers traded two of their primary starters from last season in Al Horford and Josh Richardson. It’s no secret those players were ill-fitting offensively.
Enter Danny Green and Seth Curry.
You could argue from an overall talent standpoint that those deals were at best a push, but from a fit perspective, the impact could be immense. If Green and Curry are inserted into the vacant spots left by Horford and Richardson, it will undoubtedly create more space for Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris with the starting unit.
Green is a 40% career three-point shooter while Curry is at 44.3%. It’ll be interesting to see how each player fits in. Green won’t provide much off the dribble, but he’s proven to be an elite shooter from the corners and in transition. Rivers has made it known that he’d like Curry to have more ball-handling responsibilities than he had in Dallas. Expect to see Curry in pick-and-rolls and plenty of dribble handoffs with Simmons and Embiid.
All of this is in theory and on paper. We’ll get our first glimpse of how it looks Tuesday.