The Philadelphia 76ers will take on the Boston Celtics this evening in what will be the first time both teams suit up for the 2020 NBA preseason. The Sixers have seen some major changes over the offseason. They’ve added three draft picks in Tyrese Maxey, Isaiah Joe, and Paul Reed. They’ve acquired Danny Green, Seth Curry, and Dwight Howard while shipping out Josh Richardson and Al Horford. Suffice to say there’s a lot of reasons to be a bit more amped about this particular exhibition than one typically would be for a preseason game. With excitement brewing, below are five things I’ll be watching for tonight.
No. 1: Seth Curry as a ball handler
Looking at the Sixers roster construction, Seth Curry is likely to takeover some initiating/disturbing duties as a part-time ball handler. Doc Rivers touched on this topic in a recent media session. From our Tom West:
“I think we’ll expand the role,” Rivers said at the start of training camp when asked about increasing Curry’s offensive role. “I think what most people don’t realize is Luka [Doncic] had the ball in his hands more than James Harden had the ball in his hands. So when you have a dominant player like that, you don’t touch the ball as much. Whenever Luka didn’t have the ball, I thought Dallas played through Seth a lot, especially in pick-and-rolls. Playing against him, especially during the playoffs, we were as scared of his shot as his drives. His drives killed us. He’s a clever basketball player.”
Certainly sounds like Doc plans to give Curry some responsibility in terms of creating offense. The Sixers haven’t had much in the way of a shooting point guard over recent seasons. Whenever Curry initiates possessions, my eyes will be glued to the television.
No. 2: Doc Rivers’ wing rotation
The Sixers enter the 2020-21 preseason with a long list of wings. They’ve got Danny Green, Matisse Thybulle, Justin Anderson, Furkan Korkmaz, and Terrance Ferguson, all of whom can serve minutes at the two and the three. Seth Curry, Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey also have some swingman in their game, albeit as part-time ball handlers rather than forwards. Finally, Isaiah Joe belongs somewhere in here. The rookie 2nd round pick will have to leapfrog a few veterans to get significant playing time in the regular season, but if he does so, I could see him playing both shooting guard and small forward.
I wouldn’t use tonight’s rotation as an etched-in-stone template for what to expect moving forward. It’s Doc Rivers first season with the team and outside of Tobias Harris and Mike Scott, none of the players have been coached by Rivers so there will be a learning curve. Even still, tonight’s rotation could speak to who has impressed in camp and what Rivers will prioritize as complements to Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris.
No. 3: Tyrese Maxey’s jumper
Tyrese Maxey has generated a lot of excitement among Sixers fans as a late first round draft pick who possessed the talent to go in the lottery. The one element of his game giving folks cause for concern is his low shooting percentage from distance while at Kentucky (29.2%). But in a discussion I had with Spencer Pearlman, Pearlman put the concern to rest, at least for now:
The obvious concern for some Sixers fans with Tyrese Maxey is his 29.2% 3PT through 31 games at Kentucky. I’ve read some analysts argue the concern is overblown. Are you buying or selling Maxey’s jumper?
I’m buying it. He’s got fantastic touch (paint and FT%) and the form is good. The reason the shot had a low percentage was because of the release point — it was blocking his vision and he shot out instead of actually getting arc on the shot. Once he fixes that, he should be good to go.
Pearlman’s answer exudes confidence that Maxey’s release point issue is addressable. Tonight is our first live indication of whether or not it’s happened.
No. 4: Ben Simmons in the pick-and-roll
We’ve been waiting for Ben Simmons to be utilized in pick-and-roll forever and aside from anything a coach wants to happen, Simmons hasn’t seemed entirely motivated to incorporate the play into his game. But Simmons has played under only one coach in the NBA in Brett Brown and Brown was reluctant to take Simmons out of his comfort zone.
Is Rivers asking Simmons to deploy more pick-and-roll? Well, maybe: Simmons made the pick-and-roll a point of discussion in media availability during training camp. Back to Mr. Tom West:
“Pick-and-roll, I can’t wait to get into that,” Simmons said. “I haven’t been able to run pick-and-roll since I’ve been with the Sixers, so that’s also a huge part of the game. So just developing that and working with Jo on pick-and-roll, I think it’s gonna be nice.”
If Simmons is excited for pick-and-rolls, Sixers fans should be too. Ben coming off a screen and getting downhill could be a major weapon, as could Embiid taking advantage of switches as a roller. In addition, the Sixers need to get Simmons involved as a roll man himself. There’s no reason Ben shouldn’t be a lethal short roller a la Draymond Green.
No. 5: Sixers offensive and defensive schemes
With Brett Brown no longer calling the shots for the first time in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons’ careers, I’m excited to see the offensive and defensive sets and schemes deployed by Doc Rivers and his coaching staff. I don’t expect the Sixers to go to hard in terms of running sets tonight, but I’m expecting some sneak peaks of Seth Curry coming off staggered screens or playing a two-man game with Embiid.
In the past, the Sixers’ defensive strategy, using drop coverage in pick-and-roll, placed a lot of responsibility on Embiid. As a defensive stud, he can handle it. But the theory of forcing normally low percentage mid-range jump shots doesn’t hold up great for elite NBA point guards taking uncontested jumpers from 10 feet out and forcing Embiid to make contest after contest at the rim, while effective, has to be draining for the big man.
As tip-off approaches, let us know in the comments what you’ll have your eye on this evening.