As the Philadelphia 76ers prepare for the rest of the season, it’s time we take a look at mid-season report cards. First up, the guards.
With the Sixers looking toward the second half of the season, there is a lot to reflect on. Roster changes are on the horizon as the team looks to finalize their rotation to maximize their post-season success.
After a near-ideal start to the season, let’s put a grade on the first-half performances of each Philadelphia 76ers guard:
Ben Simmons: B
It has been an interesting year for Ben Simmons. For the first few weeks of the season, Simmons played some of the worst basketball he has in his career. He showed signs of regression as he did not seem interested in the offensive end and there once again appeared to be no new layers in his game.
Things turned around in the final weeks leading up to the all-star break. Ben Simmons played arguably the best basketball of his career. He scored a career-high 42 points against the Jazz, made a conscious effort to get to the free-throw line, and continued to be the best defender in the NBA on a nightly basis.
His averages have now climbed to 16.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.6 assists on the season. He was rightfully voted an all-star and seems to have found his lane on the team. Ben continues to have sky-high potential. If he can continue at the level of play he went into the all-star break with, the Philadelphia 76ers will be a tough team for anyone to match up with.
Ben Simmons will never be the type of player scoring 40 points on a nightly basis, but he impacts the game in an even greater way. His impact will always be greater than the numbers indicate. Still, Simmons is top 20 in the NBA in steals, defensive plus/minus, defensive win shares, and defensive rating. Overall, Simmons gets a B for his first-half performance.
Seth Curry: B+
For the first few games of the season, Seth Curry looked to be the best shooter in basketball history. After being forced to miss time with Covid, Curry has struggled to fully find his rhythm with the team.
Doc Rivers put it that, “I don’t think he’s been very consistent since he’s returned (from Covid),” after his 1-13 shooting performance against the Cavs. This inconsistent play has been somewhat of a trend as the first-half came to a close.
Curry is still the best 3-point shooter on the team by a great margin despite his cold stretch. He is currently shooting 44.8% on the season from beyond the arc on 4.5 attempts per game and averaging 12.5 points per game.
As a duo, Embiid and Curry rank second on the team in production. When these two are on the floor, the Sixers are +14.8 in points compared to opposing matchups. This is the second-highest production of any 2-man combination on the team, trailing only Simmons and Embiid.
Seth Curry is by no means a perfect player but is extremely important to this Philadelphia 76ers team. His release is still fairly slow, which limits his two-man game with Joel Embiid. The pair has been unable to master the JJ Redick-like dribble handoff due to his slower release. Curry has often been forced to take an extra dribble and shoot a mid-range jumper instead of a quick-release three.
That being said, Curry is much more polished as a ball-handler and as a finisher than he has been given credit. Even with the struggles, his shooting has been a major key to this team throughout this entire year. The respect he demands from opposing defenses is essential to opening up space for Joel Embiid in the post and for Ben Simmons to drive, which has been extremely important to the 76ers’ success.
It also should be kept in mind that Curry is here due to an offseason swap with the Mavericks. For the price of Josh Richardson and the 36th overall pick, the Sixers were able to add a new dimension to their team.
Curry himself referred to this deal as “a bad business decision” on the Mavericks’ part after the Sixers-Mavs game earlier this season. Putting an emphasis on adding players who compliment Simmons and Embiid the best has paid early dividends, and fit will remain Curry’s best asset to the team.
Shake Milton: C+
Shake Milton remains one of the best surprises of this era of 76ers basketball. After being selected with the 54th overall pick in 2018, it was clear there is much more to his game than his draft slot had indicated.
Now on one of the best contracts in basketball, Milton has stepped into the large shoes of being Doc Rivers’ Sixth man. Notably, the bench concerns showed face when Shake was out with an ankle injury. Milton is extremely important to the second unit and is certainly the best bench player the Sixers have.
It has been a quick ascension for Shake, as he has still only played in 88 NBA games. However, it is now time to throw real responsibility on the 24-year-old.
So far this season, Shake is averaging 13.8 points, 3 assists, and 2.1 rebounds. He is also shooting just 31.3% from beyond the 3-point arc, which is a concerning dip from the 43% rate he connected last season.
Due to this still being Milton’s first full season with the Philadelphia 76ers, there has been a hesitancy for throwing too much on his plate too soon. While he has not played poorly by any means, the Sixers need more consistent production from Milton in the second half of the season. The honeymoon period is over. Milton is now a guy the Sixers need to be able to count on for production on a nightly basis.
Shake’s cool confidence and easygoing demeanor ooze confidence. Still, he has quickly grown into one of the most important members of the Sixers roster. Expect his shooting numbers to increase and for his second-half grade to be better.
Shake has transitioned into a guy who deservingly has expectations on him on a nightly basis. His play needs to continue to reflect this. As much talent as he has flashed, it feels like there is still more to Milton’s game than he has fully shown.
Tyrese Maxey: B
Adding Tyrese Maxey with the 21st pick in last year’s draft was a slam dunk.
Maxey holds a ton of potential in the long-term. He is a capable defender, is one of the quickest players on the court, and has an extremely intriguing overall skillset. Maxey looks to have a true NBA future and has performed well above his draft slot so far this season.
In the short term, the rookie still has a ton to work on. His jumper still needs work as he is knocking down 3’s at only a 27.3% clip. On the season, he is averaging 8 points per game along with 1.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists. At times he has been an extremely positive spark off the bench, but his lack of shooting and similarities to Shake makes him close to unplayable in a shortened rotation.
While he averages 16.2 minutes per game, Maxey has played ten or fewer minutes in 14 of the Sixers 36 games so far this season. With the Sixers looking to compete for a championship in the short-term future, it makes it possible Morey and the Sixers look to ship him off for someone who could make a more immediate impact in the rotation.
Regardless, the Kentucky product has proven enough in his limited playing time to give all indications of a successful upcoming career. The similarities with Shake Milton hurt his potential to secure a role this season. However, if Maxey can find a more consistent shot, he still could steal some rotational minutes.
Isaiah Joe: A-
While Maxey is rightfully praised for his potential, there is not enough hype surrounding the NBA future of Isaiah Joe. As it is, Joe is probably the most willing shooter on the Philadelphia 76ers roster.
The sniper out of Arkansas is a great fit as a bench wing for this team and is likely to be stealing minutes from Furkan Korkmaz sooner than some may think. Joe has been given an opportunity in just 20 games so far this season. In those games, he is averaging 4.3 points and 1.2 rebounds in 12 minutes of play.
In his limited minutes, Joe has proven to have a tighter handle and be much more advanced defensively than his college film had indicated. Doc Rivers has opted to play Isaiah Joe over Furkan Korkmaz in certain moments due to his 6’8 wingspan and impressive defensive footwork.
Since being sent down to the G-League to get some regular minutes, Isaiah Joe has proven to be the sniper the Sixers had hoped for. In the Blue Coats’ last playoff matchup against the Raptors 905, Joe scored 24 points while shooting 14 three-pointers throughout the game.
Isaiah scored 28 points in the Blue Coats’ game before this and shot 7 of 15 from beyond the arc in this matchup. The Philadelphia 76ers have struggled to shoot enough three’s so far this season. They rank 28th in the league in 3-point attempts, and Joe may be just the solution to this.
Doc Rivers spoke of Isaiah Joe’s importance to the Sixers roster and announced that the rookie will return to the team at the conclusion of the Blue Coats playoff run.
It is still to be determined if Joe can climb into the rotation for the remainder of this season. However, the 21-year old is much closer to being ready for regular minutes than was initially expected and fits a major need for the team.