The start of the NBA season is now less than six weeks away, and there’s so much anticipation about what the Sixers are capable of this year. Daryl Morey has had a solid offseason, and the additions of PJ Tucker, De’Anthony Melton, Daniel House, and Montrezl Harrell give the Sixers the wing depth and the shooting capabilities that they’ve long lacked. But there’s plenty to be excited about beyond just the new faces in South Philly. Here are five key things to look forward to this upcoming season:
The BBall Paul and James Harden Combo
Even beyond his scoring capabilities, the biggest thing that James Harden brings to this roster is his seemingly magical ability to make everyone around him better. He draws defenders off of Embiid, takes some pressure off Tobias (more on that later), and effortlessly gels with Tyrese Maxey. But one player who hasn’t reaped the full benefits of Harden is backup C-F Paul Reed.
The duo have spent a whopping four minutes together on the court, largely because of Doc Rivers’ inexplicable refusal to play him. But BBall Paul, with his athleticism, ability to grab a quick rebound, and energetic presence on both ends of the court, theoretically should be a perfect fit with Harden.
What’s more, if the Sixers really do plan to stagger their starters, Reed could sub in for Tucker alongside both Harden and Embiid. This would allow him to focus his efforts at the rim instead of attempting to be a jack-of-all-trades in some of the more shooting-limited lineups – where he tends to get a bit sloppy. Of course, the Montrezl Harrell signing puts BBall Paul’s role this season into question, and while I’m excited to watch the former Houston teammates steamroll opponents with the pick-and-roll, the team needs to invest some time in a Reed/Harden combo.
Tobias getting to just be Tobias
No one on this team has seen their role change more than Tobias Harris. He’s been asked to do just about everything, from being a primary ball-handler to taking shots in the post to shoring up his defensive game on smaller guards. He’s far from perfect (has anyone ever seen the man dive for a loose ball?) but he’s been consistently above-average and has always been willing to adapt to whatever the team needs are.
Like most of his teammates, Tobias was poised to tremendously benefit from James Harden’s presence as an explosive playmaker. And though he has – shooting 40% from deep – it’s challenging for anyone to make necessary quick adjustments after a sudden mid-season addition of a high-impact player. With a full off-season to get into a groove, Tobias Harris should be ready this season to do what we paid him $180 million to do – get to the perimeter and catch-and-shoot (or at least make the swing pass). Look for high-scoring and high-assist games from the veteran this season.
Staggering the Sixers starters and trying out new lineup combinations
Watching the all-bench lineups lose a wide Sixers lead in a matter of minutes last season probably took years off of fans’ lives. Not only did the team lack depth, it had far too many limited shooters towards the tail end of the rotation, making it difficult to sit Embiid for more than a couple of minutes.
While on paper, the team’s fifth starter will usually be PJ Tucker, it’s likely that he’s subbed out early on for one of Melton, Thybulle, or House, and staggered back in more frequently to finish games. But the added versatility also allows the team to experiment with different lineup combinations depending on their opponent.
They can mix in Reed and Niang when they want to size up, start Melton and/or Thybulle against more athletic teams, or even try out the fabled “All-Dawg” lineup with Embiid, Tucker, Melton, House, and Korkmaz. The past two Sixers seasons have ended in the second round of the playoffs, largely because their opponent knew exactly what to expect. This year, they may not be as lucky.
The Tyrese Maxey Breakout Season
MIP award norms be damned – nobody in this league made as big of a jump as Tyrese Maxey did between his first and second years. In retrospect, Ben Simmons’ self-imposed departure was the biggest blessing Sixers fans could have asked for, as it allowed us to see what the 21-year old was truly capable of. Maxey’s developed a reputation as a Jimmy Butler-esque hard worker, and with a full team together in training camp, the third-year player is ideally positioned for a breakout. Don’t be surprised when his name comes up in All-Star selections.
Joel Embiid Being Named Finals MVP
It’s about time.
Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire