We’ve made it! Finally, the Sixers are playing real basketball again. There is typically not much to take away from a game like this, but with a roster of mostly new players with wonky fits and an uncertain depth chart, these games will be useful. Here’s what stood out to me last night:
1: You know what the first observation is going to be. Finally, Ben Simmons had made a three-pointer in a game. The basketball value of Simmons developing a jumper has been discussed more than enough, and you probably don't want to hear the same tropes about keeping the defense honest and executing offense late in games again. So I will just say this: seeing the way the rest of the team embraced Simmons after the shot swished through the net was pretty cool. Joel Embiid’s celebration was easily visible on TV, but the entire team was thrilled.
2: Other than “The Shot,” the thing that comes to my mind first is Matisse Thybulle. He was given a great opportunity as part of the first substitution of the game, and boy did he pounce on the chance to make a good first impression. He built off his hot start in Delaware at the Blue vs. White Scrimmage with a standout defensive performance — three steals and two blocks — and also did what he needed to do on offense, knocking down two of four three-point tries and converting in transition a few times. It looks like Thybulle is on track for immediate NBA playing time, and it has not been difficult to see why.
3: As surprising as Thybulle’s prominence in the rotation was Zhaire Smith’s absence from it. Smith only played in garbage time, a clear indication that he is behind James Ennis and Thybulle on the depth chart as it stands now. It will be interesting to see how much opportunity he gets before the season opener to absorb any minutes.
4: The most obvious position battle on this team is at the backup point guard spot, with Trey Burke and Raul Neto being the frontrunners. Burke’s playing time last night would indicate that he is currently the leader in the clubhouse, but don’t be surprised if Neto gets more run on Friday. Brett Brown indicated in his post-game press conference that Neto will get a chance before the preseason is over, and also hinted at potentially giving some backup point guards minutes to Shake Milton and Josh Richardson. It seems hard to imagine Milton winning that job this season, but Richardson proving to be a capable backup point guard could be huge for this team — not only would it add shot creation, but it would open up some more playing time for the wings.
5: Brett Brown told us pre-game that in the first half, we would see something resembling his rotation, and the second half would just be about giving guys chances to play. Here are the substitutions made during the first half:
Sixers First Half Rotation
|1Q 12:00||Starters||Simmons, Richardson, Harris, Horford, Embiid|
|1Q 7:01||Ennis, Thybulle for Richardson, Embiid||Simmons, Ennis, Thybulle, Harris, Horford|
|1Q 3:59||Burke for Simmons||Burke, Ennis, Thybulle, Harris, Horford|
|1Q 2:57||Richardson, Scott, Embiid for Thybulle, Harris, Horford||Burke, Richardson, Ennis, Scott, Embiid|
|2Q 12:00||Thybulle for Ennis||Burke, Richardson, Thybulle, Scott, Embiid|
|2Q 9:02||O'Quinn for Embiid||Burke, Richardson, Thybulle, Scott, O'Quinn|
|2Q 8:09||Simmons for Burke||Simmons, Richardson, Thybulle, Scott, O'Quinn|
|2Q 7:00||Ennis, Harris for Richardson, Scott||Simmons, Ennis, Thybulle, Harris, O'Quinn|
|2Q 6:10||Horford for O'Quinn||Simmons, Ennis, Thybulle, Harris, Horford|
|2Q 3:57||Richardson, Scott for Thybulle, Ennis||Simmons, Richardson, Harris, Scott, Horford|
|2Q 2:52||Embiid for Horford||Simmons, Richardson, Harris, Scott, Embiid|
6: Down the stretch last season, the Sixers developed a very rigid staggering of their starters, with Embiid, Simmons and JJ Redick being one grouping and Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler being the other. While we did clearly see two different groupings out there early on (Richardson and Embiid, Simmons, Harris and Horford), it does not seem like Brown will be as strict with the staggering as he was last year. That should mean much more variety in what the lineups look like throughout a game.
7: Kyle O’Quinn is not expected to get much run during the regular season when Embiid and Al Horford are on the court because of how good those two players are at the center position. But last month, I noted that if O’Quinn played anywhere from 5-8 minutes each night, it would be a major help in keeping Embiid and Horford around 30 minutes per game, which is what the team should be shooting for in the regular season. O’Quinn had one stint in the first half that lasted just under three minutes. My expectation is that when the entire rotation is unveiled, we’ll see him also have a similar brief stint in the second half to help spell the two star bigs.
8: At the end of the first half, we saw two different lineups that included Mike Scott, Simmons, Richardson, Harris and either Horford or Embiid. I would have guessed this was the case before last night’s game, but that could be a tell of who this team’s sixth starter will be — more specifically, which reserve will step in on a night where Embiid or Horford needs rest. There are some intriguing options — any of the wings, particularly Thybulle and Ennis, could make sense as well depending on the matchup.
9: Another thought on the backup point guard situation: my money is on Neto winning the job over Burke. Burke is a better player to watch and will be much more popular among the fans, but I wouldn't be surprised if his role is extremely minor. Neto seems like the kind of point guard that Brown will gravitate towards — he probably is not going to wow you with flashy highlights, but he will keep an offense organized, to use a common Brett phrase, and is much more capable defensively than Burke. Burke may make more sense as a spark plug type who comes in when the team is playing lackadaisically and needs a jolt of energy.
10: Al Horford played more minutes at center than at power forward in this game. It was a small sample, but we’re already seeing how often the Sixers will have an elite big-man patrolling the paint. In the playoffs, when rotations get shortened and starters play more, it will be pretty jarring for opposing teams to always have to try to win minutes against one of the best bigs in the NBA. Embiid has always been a one-man wrecking crew, but even when he is out, there will be no time for relaxation.