The Sixers have been a major success for the 2020-21 season. Their franchise core of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Tobias Harris have mixed together beautifully and been the main engine for one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. They deserve their shine, but the Sixers reserves — who are mostly young and developing players — have also stepped up as of late.
When going down the roster, you’ll find that the Sixers have a lot to build with from the group of Shake Milton, Tyrese Maxey, Furkan Korkmaz (assuming he’s re-signed), Matisse Thybulle, Paul Reed, and Isaiah Joe. What do all of these players have in common? They’re all below the age of 25, meaning their best days are still to come.
When dissecting the Sixers’ young core, one of the biggest successes would be Shake Milton, who has stepped into the role of sixth man for the Sixers. Milton went into this season with lofty expectations after breaking out just a season before, going from completely out of the rotation to being one of the lone bright spots in a lost season.
Shake Milton’s season has been somewhat inconsistent, which is to be expected as he’s essentially playing his first real full NBA season. We’ve seen both glimpses of Milton looking like a bonafide three-level scorer and times when he’s struggled. Apart from a down year of shooting behind the arc, Milton has grown in many areas of his game.
One of the biggest areas of growth has been on the defensive side of the ball. Milton hasn’t just been a passable defender, he’s been a solid defender all season long. One of the biggest knocks against him entering the draft was the lack of athleticism and burst to hold his own defensively. This hasn’t been much of a problem at all for Shake as he’s used his length to his advantage, often being able to recover if he’s been beaten off the dribble. His combined height and length at the guard position has served him well this season, which is partly why the Sixers finish a lot of games with him in the lineup.
Shake Milton hasn’t just been passable on defense this year — he’s been great. He’s learned how to use that 7 foot wingspan to his advantage. pic.twitter.com/ylRK6bXr2p— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) January 15, 2021
The new addition of George Hill should greatly benefit Shake’s efficiency as well, as he won’t have to constantly generate shots for himself and his teammates on every possession. I would expect his efficiency to steadily climb up with time.
Speaking of defense, Furkan Korkmaz has quietly put together a strong defensive showing in recent memory. He even had a career-high of five steals against OKC just a few games ago. Nobody has ever doubted Furkan’s shooting ability, but his growth on the defensive end is huge. If he can even be an average defender, it will make him a valuable player to any team. I say any team because he’s an impending unrestricted free agent, and will look to cash out this summer.
Furkan Korkmaz getting his career-high 4th steal in style: pic.twitter.com/MtrdK6dygW— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) April 11, 2021
The Sixers should strongly consider keeping Furkan Korkmaz around. He’s only 23 years old, and has shown an ability to be a reliable shooter for two years now, shooting better than 38 percent from 3 on nearly five attempts per game. He’s also shown growth in being a quality secondary ball handler and has utilized his very convincing pump fake well — baiting many defenders into fouling him.
Will the Sixers be able to retain their sharpshooter this offseason? I sure hope so. Furkan’s career has blossomed over the past two seasons, and just how good he can be remains to be seen.
Rounding out the Sixers’ younger non-rookies is Matisse Thybulle — who has a strong case for making an All-Defensive NBA team in just his second season. The Sixers have used Thybulle somewhat limitedly, as he’s only averaged just over 20 minutes per game on the season. The reason behind this likely lies with his offensive capabilities, or lack there of.
While his 3-point percentage of 30 percent leaves a lot to be desired, he has shown some growth on the offensive end of the floor. We’ve seen him be much more willing to put the ball on the floor and get some drives to the rim. While it isn’t the most reliable thing and is inconsistent at best, it’s a step in the right direction. Thybulle can help himself offensively if he’s a much more willing cutter. I think you’ll see his 3-pointer trend in a better direction given time as well.
Matisse Thybulle with another great drive to the lane tonight. Can’t express how huge it would be for him if he can do this on a nightly basis: pic.twitter.com/GqdKmbuC0g— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) April 10, 2021
Matisse Thybulle isn’t out there for offense though. His bread and butter has always been the defensive end and this year has been his best yet. Thybulle has the lowest opponent field goal percentage at just 37.7 percent. We’ve seen him limit some of the league’s best all year long with little challenge. Thybulle also leads the league in blocked jump shots by a wide margin, and it’s gotten to the point where it’s not even surprising. He makes playing defense look so fun and effortless.
When it comes to NBA development, almost every NBA coach will agree that it’s much easier to teach or improve on offense rather than defense, and I think Matisse’s case is no different. He’s one average jump shot away from being a quality NBA starter.
The Sixers’ fanbase rejoiced when Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey fell to them at the 21st overall pick. Maxey was labeled as one of the best guards in the draft, showcasing impressive speed, finishing around the rim, and a workable jumper.
Maxey has been in and out of the Sixers’ rotation all year long. However, he’s been a valuable spark plug off the bench to the Sixers, even with their loaded backcourt. Maxey’s skills have translated very well to the NBA — showcasing a nearly automatic floater game and finishing around the rim. We’ve seen him at his best when he started for the Sixers back in January, when he put together an impressive 39-point performance in his first career start.
Maxey’s perimeter shooting will definitely need to be improved on with time. He’s shown a lack of willingness to shoot from beyond the arc in moments. This will certainly come with time and dedicated work in the offseason, as Maxey doesn’t turn 21 until November. He’s already shown flashes of greatness and will only get better going forward.
We haven’t seen much of the former Razorback at the NBA level just yet, as he’s only appeared in 33 games for the Sixers. Isaiah Joe, however, has shown promise for his career. He even briefly worked his way into the rotation over Furkan Korkmaz near the halfway point of the season.
While the sample size is indeed small, Joe has had his moments in the NBA. He’s shown he can make shots at the NBA level, showcasing his range and 3-point shooting throughout the season. One of the biggest surprises with Joe has been his defense — which is something that really wasn’t advertised much heading into the draft.
One of the biggest surprises with Isaiah Joe is how good he’s been on defense. He’s had some great defensive moments despite only weighing 167 lbs at 6-foot-4. Does a great job at taking a charge here: pic.twitter.com/K9k6HncTID— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) January 17, 2021
Joe lacks a lot of size, being just 165 pounds at 6-foot-4. He’s had moments in the NBA where he looks like he’s a much better defender than advertised. Give Isaiah Joe some time in the weight room and some time to further develop his offensive game, and it’s hard not to picture him becoming a positive player with time.
Paul Reed (AKA Bball Paul)
Has there ever been a 58th overall pick that has been so beloved from a franchise in their first season than Paul Reed? Like Joe, Reed has had very limited time at the NBA level. However, he’s been downright dominant in the G League — even winning MVP and leading the Delaware Blue Coats to a finals appearance.
Reed even put together an impressive performance the other night against the Thunder, scoring 10 points in just 10 minutes. Reed has a lot of the physical tools to become a capable two-way player in the NBA and it’ll be a joy to see if he can polish off his game in the coming future.
Bball Paul with a reverse putback dunk!!!— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) April 27, 2021
(with Joel Embiid reaction) pic.twitter.com/n5ohbU8M6M
The Sixers are in desperate need of an upgrade at the stretch big role, and Reed might be the long-term answer. While his jump shot form is certainly not the prettiest out there, it got the job done in the G League. It wasn’t just average either, he was one of the top leaders of the season shooting 44.4 percent from 3.
Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris will justifiably get a lot of the credit for the Sixers’ successful season. However, don’t let that overlook some of the storylines that have developed (or soon will in the future) with these young prospects on the roster.
The Sixers’ scouting department has done a terrific job at landing all of the players above. Each and every one either has the potential to becoming a positive impact NBA player, if they aren’t one already. Don’t expect the Sixers’ talent to fall off of a cliff as each of the before mentioned players grow in the seasons to come.