The Sixers will begin their 2020-21 season in a preseason match-up against the Celtics tonight at 7:30. The game will be played in Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center and this will be the first look at the drastic changes that have occurred on the roster this offseason. Despite it being a meaningless, preseason game the Sixers are looking to carry an attitude of having a chip on their shoulder this season and hopefully, this manifests itself in their play immediately. Given the embarrassing post-season exit that was brought on by the Celtics last year and excitement surrounding the new-look Sixers roster, there should be an increased intensity compared to a typical NBA preseason game. Here are some things to keep your eyes on:
Are the Sixers’ Spacing Issues Solved?
The narrative that Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid can not play together has been pushed since the duo came into the league. The poorly constructed and awkward-fitting roster that was put together last season made these whispers louder and this season will be looked at to silence the critics. The addition of shooters like Seth Curry, Isaiah Joe, Danny Green, and even Tyrese Maxey is expected to create the necessary space for Simmons and Embiid to play their respective styles to the best of their ability. It will take time for the offense to fully come together, but if Embiid is able to find one-on-one matchups in the post and Simmons has a more open lane to drive on a regular basis this should be looked at as a major win.
Expectations for each of these guys will be different as Green and Curry have already established themselves and are looking to find their role in the offense. Isiah Joe has talked a great deal about wanting to learn this season, and he should not carry with him large expectations. The first look at his 10.6 three-point attempts per game that he launched in college will be a pleasant change in the offense.
How Long Will Starters Play?
Due to the practice restrictions and limited offseason, it is important for Doc Rivers to allow the guys expected to be major contributors to play together. While pre-season typically results in limited minutes for stars and veterans, (like everything else in the world) it may be a little different this year.
Rivers seems to understand this and when asked about his plan for minutes he said,
“I’m not going to play guys 48 minutes, but I’m going to play our key guys, a least in the first half, a lot of minutes. Just let them kind of feel the rotation and then the second half, probably go back to preseason basketball.”
The sooner this modernized Sixers lineup can get on the same page the better, so the biggest thing to look for here is just for the team to be on the same page while on the court together.
Fostering the chemistry on this roster is extremely important and seeing the early signs of development would be extremely promising. This would be extremely exciting to see if this is seen between the new look duos such as Embiid and Seth Curry. The rotations and even the starters are likely to change throughout the season, but figuring out what guys work best together is undoubtedly the biggest priority of tonight.
Tyrese Maxey Watch
After entering the draft in search of a complimentary bench piece to play rotational minutes, the Sixers stumbled upon a player who could turn out to be even more productive than they could have hoped. Maxey will be used primarily in a bench role this season as his game is still a work in progress. However, the team has high hopes for his potential and the rookie has impressed in camp early on-despite being delayed due to his positive COVID test.
Rivers also spoke about Maxey being used in more of an on-ball role than was typically seen from him in his time at Kentucky and this game will provide him with a great chance to practice this. There has also been a lot of talk about his improved jump-shot as he shot just 29% from the three-point range in his one season in college. The alleged 700-800 made jumpers he takes in training every day and work he has put in with guys like LeBron James, Ben Simmons, and Rajon Rondo this off-season is hoped to have helped with this development.
Shake Milton’s role with the Sixers
As one of the biggest pleasant surprises in recent history, it will be interesting to see what role Shake plays in the offense. After being drafted 54th overall in the 2018 draft, Milton has outplayed his expectations throughout his young career. Both Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey have expressed great excitement for what Shake brings to the team, with Morey going as far as saying, “I think the league hasn’t caught up to how good Shake can be — it was one of the first things Doc and I spoke about after I joined — we are excited to see what he can do this year.”
While expectations may need to be tempered some as Shake had the best game of his career against Rivers and the Clippers, where he scored 39 points on a ridiculous 7 of 9 shooting from 3-point range, he will no doubt play a major role this year. Doc Rivers has a history of putting an emphasis on the development of a Sixth man and Shake seems to be the next man in line for this role. It will be interesting to see how much time he spends as the primary ball-handler versus a more off-ball role as his expectations greatly changed last season in the restart. Regardless, helping him to find a comfortable role in the new-look modernized Sixers offense will go a long way for the hopes of a successful year for the team.
On paper, this seems to be the best-fitting supporting cast that the Sixers have surrounded Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with, and it is exciting to get the first look at this. While recent results would suggest that it will only be a few weeks until these hopes are crushed, for the moment the excitement should be enjoyed. Hopefully, the first look at the team will continue the excitement that there rightfully is.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire