All Eyes On A Ring
The Sixers ended last season on a relatively disappointing note, getting outed in the second round to the Miami Heat. It’s unclear whether the biggest factor in this series was Joel Embiid’s inability to play in games one and two or James Harden’s inability to be the second option that Philadelphia has so desperately needed. Harden has since proven committed to the organization and the idea of winning his first championship. He and budding star, Tyrese Maxey have been getting acclimated to playing together as well as working on their respective games this summer. Harden fortunately did not run from the criticism that he received after his subpar Playoffs and has since said that he’s focused on returning to that ‘elite level’ which he was at in Houston. General Manager, Daryl Morey, did not need to rebuild, he needed to reload, and that’s exactly what he did.
Harden is the Sixers point guard. While his scoring numbers have declined recently, his distributing production has not. This makes him the perfect floor general for a team full of new and old weapons. Harden cannot play forty-eight minutes a game, however, which is why Morey brought in De’Anthony Melton from the Grizzlies. Melton was key to the Grizzlies’ success last season, proving a viable back up option for Ja Morant and consistently winning games when called upon to take a larger role. Melton will serve as a third ball handler and can guard perimeter players at an elite level. His athleticism should also add a bit of flare to an otherwise slow paced second unit. G League MVP, Trevelin Queen, could also compete for some bench minutes handling the ball for Philadelphia. Shake Milton no longer appears needed in the Philadelphia backcourt, so it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Harden, Maxey, Melton, or Queen taking the ball up for Philly.
Maxey blossomed into a young star before our eyes this season and especially in the Playoffs, boasting big scoring performances, and having incredible efficiency from downtown. His speed and scoring ability takes some pressure off of Harden and offers Doc Rivers a legitimate third or even potentially second scoring option. Melton will serve some off ball minutes for the Sixers as well. Summer League standout, Isaiah Joe, looks primed to be a solid two-guard off the bench who can run the floor and make threes in bunches. He and recent pickup, Danuel House Jr., will compete for minutes in the backup shooting guard slot. Furkan Korkmaz is an above average shooter who has refused to put on enough weight to make him an adequate option at the two, so I don’t expect to see much of him this season. Other than the obvious Maxey, a myriad of guys will play the two for the Sixers.
Tobias Harris is overpaid but underappreciated. Did Philly’s front office moronically choose him over Jimmy Butler? Yes. Is it Harris’ fault? No. Now that the third scoring role has been filled, Harris can contribute as a niche scorer who can get hot from three and make sneaky backdoor cuts for easy finishes at the rim. What’s underappreciated is Harris’ defense. With P.J. Tucker now on the squad, Harris will primarily be perimeter centric as a defender. This works to his benefit because of his on ball focus and lateral quickness. Matisse Thybulle is an elite defender who will still provide valuable minutes in a diminished role this season. Georges Niang appears to be a shooter who cannot shoot, so he’ll have to start knocking them down to get any run in this competitive rotation. House can also play the three off the bench in a smaller lineup with Maxey and Harden. Undrafted Free Agent and local college standout, Julian Champagnie could also get some surprise minutes at the three later on in the season.
Tucker should be the starting Power Forward for Philadelphia. Despite his being three inches shorter than Harris, he will be primarily used in the starting four spot because of his strength and ability to guard all five positions. Paul Reed has quickly become a fan favorite in limited minutes with his incredible energy and defensive ferociousness. Reed has been in the gym as well, polishing his offensive game. Undrafted Free Agent, Michael Foster Jr. from the G League Ignite, will also most likely make an appearance in the front court alongside Embiid. Foster has an intriguing post game and has become an improved rim protector, occasionally blocking multiple shots a game. Harris could also play as the bigger forward in a small lineup.
Well, not too much to worry about here. Embiid finished second in MVP voting last season after dominating the league with and without All-Star teammates. His mid-range and post game is so efficient that a game where he scores under twenty-five is rare. Embiid terrorizes smaller big men in the paint with his strength, and is surprisingly nimble for his 7’2” frame. Embiid is virtually always the best player on the court on both sides of the ball. The backup five slot has been fluid for a few years running, and it still appears unsettled. Charles Bassey has looked solid in the Summer League and in limited minutes last season. Maybe he’s that guy. Maybe he’s not. Paul Reed could also potentially serve as an undersized five off the bench.
The city of Philadelphia has been on their toes waiting for the return of the ‘old James Harden’. Embiid called out Harden after their second round exit, saying that he’s “not the same player that he was in Houston”. However, Embiid and Harden appear to have worked this out and Harden is doing everything in his ability to give Philly a shot at the title. Can James Harden be more aggressive and efficient? Can he still be a superstar? If so, the Sixers have a darn good shot at winning it all this season.