The start of the Sixers’ 2021-22 campaign hasn’t been able to escape the constant drama surrounding Ben Simmons, but scattered around the ongoing Simmons situation, there’s actually some basketball to be played.
On Friday, the Sixers get to return to Philly for their home opener against the Brooklyn Nets.
Joel Embiid is listed as questionable with right knee soreness after bothering his knee slightly on Wednesday against New Orleans. Seeing as this is nothing major and the Nets are a top opponent, it still feels like there’s a good chance Embiid suits up for this game. Meanwhile, Shake Milton (right ankle sprain) and Grant Riller (recovering from surgery on his left knee) remain out.
Simmons is officially listed as doubtful due to “return to competition reconditioning,” but on Thursday, Shams Charania reported that Simmons will be out and he “is not expected to play for an undetermined amount of time.” Simmons mentioned to Sixers staff members on Thursday that he was experiencing back tightness and underwent brief treatment. The medical staff soon cleared him to participate in the individual workout they had planned, but he left without completing any on-court activities. So, yeah... It’s hard to see him playing for the Sixers any time soon.
Kyrie Irving (not with team) is the only player listed as out for the Nets.
For all the range of options the Nets have in their frontcourt, from an agile defensive big in Nicolas Claxton to a better playmaker and shooter in Blake Griffin, they still don’t have any centers who are a trusty defensive matchup against Embiid (like most teams in the NBA). If Embiid plays, he should be able to enjoy the extra space he has around him on offense, continue the form he’s shown to start the year, and find success attacking Brooklyn’s bigs in a variety of ways, from his power in the post to his elite foul-drawing tactics.
Even still, the Nets’ deep frontcourt will present more challenges for someone like Andre Drummond. Drummond had a strong preseason and apart from a few offensive errors, had an excellent season opener on Wednesday in New Orleans as the Sixers won 117-97. He tallied 6 points, 3 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and 17 rebounds in 19 minutes against the Pelicans and played quality, aggressive defense. Friday’s game will be another chance to prove what he can do.
One of the biggest takeaways from the Sixers’ first game was Furkan Korkmaz, who shined offensively and handled his extra on-ball reps well. He scored 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting (including a perfect 4-of-4 mark from three), and continued showcasing more comfort handling the ball and making smart passing reads. While Korkmaz has only been thrown into a larger ball-handling role because of the Sixers’ shorthanded roster situation without Simmons, it will still be a real help to both Korkmaz and the offense in general if he can keep providing more as a passer.
These skip passes to the corner against New Orleans were rather nifty:
Awesome scoring performance from Furkan Korkmaz yesterday (22 points, 7/11 FG, 4/4 3PT), but he continued to show a bit more as a passer as well.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) October 21, 2021
He made a few good skip passes to the corner. It'll really help if he can keep providing a little more playmaking. pic.twitter.com/PiLkJpAZki
Tyrese Maxey also had a strong performance against the Pelicans after finding his rhythm in the second half. The second-year guard scored 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting, grabbed 7 rebounds, and had 5 assists to only 1 turnover. Plenty of offense was initiated through Embiid as a passer or dribble hand-off screener, but Maxey handled his role well. He got to the rim effectively out of pick-and-rolls and hand-offs, moved the ball efficiently, and hit two three-pointers (including one confident make off the dribble).
Monitoring how Korkmaz and Maxey in particular fare with their on-ball reps against a tougher opponent like Brooklyn (albeit one without the best defense) will be the main element of the Sixers’ offense to focus on in this game.
At the other end of the floor, the Sixers’ defense will receive it’s first big test of the early season. Simmons’ value and versatility as one of the NBA’s best defenders can’t be replaced, and in a matchup against James Harden and Kevin Durant, Simmons’ defense will be missed even more. Danny Green will likely take the Harden assignment along with Matisse Thybulle off the bench, while Tobias Harris could be used against Durant to at least have a bit more size to utilize (although there’s little anyone can do against Durant when he’s in a groove). For the rest of the Sixers’ defense, keeping track of shooters running around off the ball like Joe Harris and Patty Mills will be the main task at hand. This will be an early test for the team’s communication on rotations and switches.
The Nets didn’t get off to the best start to begin their season against Milwaukee, losing 127-104. But they’re a top title contender with a ridiculously formidable offense, led by superstar talent and terrific role players to complement them. New addition Patty Mills can’t be overlooked as a scoring spark plug, either. He went off for 21 points and 7 triples in his regular season debut, showcasing his diverse shooting skillset.
Clearly it’s very early days and the Sixers have obvious issues with their current roster — most notably their lack of ball-handling and playmaking. Nevertheless, there were a fair amount of positives to take from their first game. Friday’s contest will be a good challenge for this reshaped team and their young role players.
When: 7:30 pm ET, October 22, 2021
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic