The Sixers had a very productive offseason. This is arguably the best team we’ve seen in the Joel Embiid era from top to bottom. They went from four-ish playable postseason players to having a viable seven- or eight-player rotation with limited assets to work with — which should be applauded.
The depth improvement, combined with the pre-existing top-end talent, creates the loftiest expectations we’ve seen yet. This deep team features countless storylines above the big name players, and I think some spicy predictions are in order.
Here are three for this upcoming season:
1. De’Anthony Melton will be a Finalist for Sixth Man of the Year
We’ll start off with the safest spicy take of the three. The Sixers might have their first Sixth Man of the Year candidate since Aaron McKie in the early 2000’s.
Melton had a tremendous season last year with the Grizzlies, averaging a respectable 10.4 points per game in only 22.7 minutes. He was crucial to the Grizzlies’ rotation, and even managed to get a handful of Sixth Man of the Year votes in last year’s award race.
This upcoming season will likely feature an even bigger role for the former Grizzly. Most signs point to the Sixers swapping between Harden and Maxey at the lead guard spot for their rotation, with Melton being beside both at times. It’s very possible that he’ll get increased playing time this year, which in theory will lead to more production.
Two things must happen for Melton to be mentioned in the Sixth Man of the Year race: He needs to put up numbers, and the Sixers need to win games in the regular season — both of which seem realistic. Don’t be surprised if Melton finishes higher on that list at the end of the year.
2. James Harden bounces back and leads the leagues in assists
Houston Harden might be a thing of the past, but I think he’ll adapt in his twilight years; starting with this upcoming season. We’ve seen clips of Harden attempting more midrange shots throughout his offseason workouts. He’s always been an underrated midrange shooter, and this is probably the lowest hanging fruit in adapting to his advanced age.
James Harden is shooting 60.7% on MID-RANGE jumpshots this season— ً (@arxanii) January 22, 2022
Yes, 60.7% pic.twitter.com/ILnS12Ppvc
He won’t be scoring 30 a game like we’re used to, but I think he’ll look more like he did his first year in Brooklyn — averaging around 24 points per game on efficient shooting and dishing out double-digit assists.
Speaking of assists, this season seems primed for him to win his second assist title. He hasn’t done so since 2017, but he came pretty close last season, losing to Chris Paul by a hair. This roster should feature more familiarity for the Beard, who has played with Montrezl Harrell, P.J. Tucker, and Danuel House in the past. Not to mention having 30 or so games alongside the Sixers’ core players.
Paul, who most would consider the best passer in the NBA, isn’t getting any younger. It’s likely that the assist race will come down to Harden or the rising star, Tyrese Haliburton.
Ask yourself what Harden needs to do this season and you’ll likely come up with an answer of averaging 20+ points, 10+ assists per game, and being a No. 2 scorer when called upon. Factoring in Maxey’s possible progression, that ask might even be lowered. Harden’s too smart of a player not to adapt to his new role, and an offseason of hamstring rehab and retooling should benefit him greatly.
3. Montrezl Harrell will be the best backup big of the Embiid era
The Sixers got quality time from backup bigs on minimum deals in the past; with the likes of Dwight Howard and eventually Andre Drummond. Harrell, on the other hand, might just end up being the best backup to Embiid we’ve seen yet.
Yes, them not giving Paul Reed a legitimate chance to solidify himself after a mostly successful postseason showing is extremely frustrating. Yes, the postseason playablity of Harrell is questionable. Doc Rivers has also shown to trust Harrell a bit too much in the past. Those are all valid arguments.
The truth is that the Sixers need to keep Embiid fresh for the postseason if they want to actually win anything. The best value Harrell brings will be in the regular season, when they hopefully rest Embiid intermittently. He’s a proven regular season player, and will give them quality minutes. The Sixers also shouldn’t have to lean on Harrell as much as the Clippers did back in the bubble, assuming Embiid stays healthy.
Harden elevates the players around him, and that will likely carry over with Harrell. He isn’t a flawless player by any means, but having a big that can score double-digits consistently will be a luxury the Sixers haven’t had in awhile. While his postseason play is questionable the same can be said for Howard and Drummond.
All the above concerns are valid, but you can’t pass up Montrezl’s talent at a minimum deal. He’s looking to rebuild his value after a few failed stints with the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets. And I think he’ll do just that.