What we learned in the Sixers preseason opener

NBA: APR 09 76ers at Pelicans
NEW ORLEANS, LA – APR 09: Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers reacts to a play against New Orleans Pelicans during a NBA game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Philadelphia 76ers at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA on Apr 09, 2021. (Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)

After an offseason that seemingly flew by, the Sixers took the court once again for the first action of the year. Led by fourth overall pick Scottie Barnes, the Toronto Raptors handed the skeleton Sixers a 123-107 loss. There was a lot to watch for in the first basketball action of the year. The result was disappointing, but the Sixers had a few positive signs to take from the game.

Andre Drummond is a Massive Upgrade

In a statement that I hope to never have to say again, Andre Drummond was the most impactful player for the Sixers last night. In 24 minutes of play, the big man had 19 points, 14 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 3 assists. Drummond was a man amongst boys on the boards and showed a dedication to rebounding that was fun to watch.

From a talent perspective, there should be little question that Andre Drummond is the best backup center that Joel Embiid has ever had. The 28-year-old still has a full tank and delivered a clear message of this in the first preseason game. When comparing him to Dwight Howard, it is clear there is much more to Drummond’s game than the shell of Howard that took the floor last year.

It is certainly a positive to see Drummond looking sharp, but the questions surrounding the big man have never been about talent. If it is to be a successful marriage with Andre Drummond in Philadelphia, he has to be willing to play his role and not do too much on the court. This will not be answered until it is seen how willing he is to take the backseat to Joel Embiid and the impact Drummond will have off the bench rather than as a starter.

Doc Rivers has spoken highly of Andre Drummond since his arrival in Philly which is also somewhat concerning. Doc’s stubbornness to play Dwight Howard grew frustrating in last season’s playoffs and history could certainly repeat itself with Drummond. It must be clear what his role is as there were still several instances of him handling the ball or making passes at the top of the perimeter which should not be a part of the plan moving forward.

Maxey’s Performace

In his first action as the full-time starter, Tyrese Maxey played 12 minutes and finished with 10 points, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 rebound. It was not a poor performance out of Maxey, but he did not look as comfortable as it was hoped. The second-year guard struggled to fully let the game come to him and also tallied four turnovers in this preseason action.

The biggest takeaway from this is that it will be a process for Tyrese Maxey to develop into the true point guard that the Sixers hope he will be. No conclusions should be made about Maxey’s future after one preseason game, and there still should be high hopes for the young guard. With just 73 total NBA games under his belt, there will be some growing pains to go along with the young guard as he strives to reach his full potential. The flashes he has continued to show reinforces the belief that these growing pains will be worth it, but the development of Maxey’s passing and ability to run the team are still a work in progress.

Young Guys Make a Statement

Given that it was just a preseason game, Doc Rivers gave the bottom of the roster an extended run on the court. Despite being down 20+ points for most of their time, the young guys competed their entire time on the court and each made their individual statements for playing time. Grant Riller ended with 7 points and showed some impressive finishing ability and Shaquille Harrison had an and-one finish in his first possession in the game; ending with 5 points and an assist in 11 minutes. Jaden Springer also showed some positive flashes and ended with 4 points, 2 assists, and a steal in his limited minutes.

The guy who made the strongest statement was Isaiah Joe. The Arkansas sharpshooter ended with 18 points in 26 minutes. Joe also added 3 rebounds, 3 steals, a block, and an assist, while shooting 4-8 from beyond the arc. The second-year guard has continued to show development in his ball-handling and passing which is very exciting. With the rotation still up in the air, Doc Rivers must give Isaiah Joe a chance to see what he can bring to the team. It is unclear what his regular-season playing time will look like, but the preseason debut was very exciting.

In the 22 minutes of play that Paul Reed was given, he ended with 4 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. There is a “weirdness” to Reed’s game that is so appealing in the long run. He is certainly still raw and his 2-7 shooting performance was less than stellar, but there is something there with Reed that remains intriguing. There certainly will be some growing pains with Reed as well, but giving him time to allow him to develop will be very beneficial to the Sixers in the long run.

Overall Thoughts

This was a messy preseason basketball game. There should be little judgment placed on the team as their identity is completely different without Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris. It is worth noting that Seth Curry shot the ball with confidence and continued to be the willing shooter he showed in the postseason. The 31-year-old added 14 points and connected on 2 of his 3 three-point attempts.

As a team, the Sixers shot the ball poorly in the first preseason action. The Sixers shot 41.7% from the field and just 23.5% from beyond the arc. They also were outrebounded by the Raptors by 17 boards and had 14 fewer assists. The Sixers will return for their next preseason action on Thursday against the Raptors once again. This action will take place in Philly and tip-off at 7:00 once again.

Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire