Four storylines to watch in Sixers Preseason Opener

Tobias Harris
LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 01: Philadelphia 76ers Forward Tobias Harris (12) looks on during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers on March 1, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

After an offseason that seemingly flew by, the Sixers are back in action for preseason tonight. It will not be a full team in action but there is still plenty to be learned about this team. With under a month until the start of the regular season, here are four storylines to watch ahead of tonight’s game:

Tyrese Maxey’s Role

After an impressive rookie season where he averaged 8 points, 2 assists, and 1.7 rebounds, Tyrese Maxey has been thrust into the starting role due to the positional uncertainty brought on by Ben Simmons’ holdout. The Kentucky guard proved to be a necessary spark for the team last season and will build off this momentum this year. With expectations growing larger and larger, tonight’s preseason matchup will be Maxey’s first chance to take the reigns of the Sixers offense.

One area that there is hope for development in Maxey’s game is his passing ability and willingness to run the team. The Kentucky guard has drawn a ton of praise from his teammates but it is worth noting that he is not naturally a true point guard. At 20 years old there is plenty of time for Maxey to develop, but some early signs of progress in this area would be extremely encouraging. There also were improvements in Maxey’s shot creation and confidence to attack the rim that was put on display during summer league that would be great to see continue.

Giving Maxey full responsibility to run the offense is a lot to put on his plate so early. Tobias Harris has talked about his responsibility to grow as an initiator in the offense with Ben Simmons absent. Look for Harris to step up in the halfcourt setting and take a load off of Maxey. Seth Curry may also get a chance in this role.

Backup Center Battle

With Joel Embiid getting the day off, this will serve as a great opportunity to evaluate the different options at the backup center position. The Sixers added Andre Drummond this offseason in what turned out to be a center swap with the Lakers who signed Dwight Howard. Drummond is undoubtedly an on-court upgrade from Howard, but it is unclear if he is ready to accept the stylistic limitations that will come with his limited role.

It will also be exciting to see the former G-League MVP, Paul Reed, get a chance with the regular roster. Bball Paul has set the goal of shooting 45% or more from beyond the three-point arc this year and his unique skillset is one that the Sixers have been in search of for years. He is not quite the prototypical stretch big that is expected, but Reed’s ability to switch on defense is one that would greatly benefit the Sixers in the long run if he can earn some regular rotational minutes.

Growth of Matisse Thybulle

Matisse quietly had one of the most productive summers of any player on the team. Following his successful time with Team Austalia where he contributed to their bronze medal finish. Tise took on a slightly different role with team Australia where he was seemingly unlocked as a screener and cutter while showing flashes of ballhandling and improved perimeter shooting. Look for Thybulle to build off this and he may have more available minutes this year with someone having to step into Ben Simmons’ role as the primary defensive stopper.

Doc Rivers also discussed how pleased he was with the time that Matisse Thybulle spent with Tobias Harris this offseason where he was able to “see how a pro works.” Rivers continued to tell a funny anecdote that Matisse wanted to go surfing and make the workout later in the day and Tobias put his foot down saying, “there will be no surfing this week.” If Thybulle is able to show improvements on the offensive end, there is a real argument for him to be in the starting lineup. With Danny Green likely be looked to as the primary defender to oppose perimeter creators, this is a cause for concern at this stage in his career and a role that Thybulle could look to capitalize on.

Shake Milton Bounce-back Season:

Another topic that has become a theme throughout media availability has been the praise for Shake Milton. After being showered with praise upon Doc Rivers’ arrival, Shake Milton had a somewhat disappointing first season where he failed to establish himself as the sixth man of the year candidate he was expected to grow into. The 25-year-old still averaged 13 points per game and has a prime opportunity for a bounceback season.

With Tyrese Maxey transitioning to the starting role, Shake Milton will likely be back in his role of the full-time sixth man. With just 123 total games in the NBA under Shake’s belt, expectations may have soared too high last season. Doc Rivers has been known for his ability to unlock sixth men during his time as a coach, and there should be a renewed hope for Milton in his second year under Rivers. Look for Shake to get back to playing like himself and doing what he does best this season.

The Sixers will face off against the Raptors with the matchup tipping off at 7:00 eastern. It will also be exciting to get a peek at fourth overall pick Scottie Barnes, who will get his first feel for NBA minutes. With so much attention to the media circus that has surrounded the Sixers, it will be nice to return to some on-court normalcy. Tonight’s matchup will be the first of four preseason games for the Sixers as they prepare for the regular season tip-off on October 20th.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire