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11 Sixers resolutions for 2023

Let’s resolve to make some changes, shall we?

Philadelphia 76ers v Toronto Raptors Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

Let’s get to some Sixers’ New Year’s resolutions. After a winning streak that lasted eight games long, the Sixers lost a very winnable game vs. the Washington Wizards. And then they lost a less winnable game vs. the New Orleans Pelicans, before righting the ship vs. the Thunder.

Sometimes a guy like CJ McCollum just has it going. But that doesn’t mean you also have to tie your chartreuse sneakers together by playing some destined to lose lineups too, right?

Philadelphia 76ers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Here are a few of my resolutions for the Sixers for 2023. Happy New Year’s everyone. We’re seven games away from the midpoint of the season.

We often count down from 10 in the waning seconds of the year before midnight, but 11 is luckier.

11) Don’t forget the plays that work just because it’s crunch time

Over the last few games, it’s felt as if the Sixers forgot they can do stuff like this:

Opting instead, for a little too much Joel Embiid hero ball sets.

As Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice recently put it: “Seriously, can this team stop going away from the Harden/Embiid pick-and-roll down the stretch of games? What am I missing here?”

But it’s not exactly a new phenomenon. Talk to Sixers insiders and they’re quick to remind us that the Harden-Embiid two-man-game was the most lethal in the sport in it’s first year. And yet, when their backs were against the wall, they didn’t seem comfortable trying it much vs. the Miami Heat when it mattered most last playoffs either. So something is still up here.

Embiid is leading the league (by far) by rolling 6.6 times per game. The next closest is Anthony Davis, who does it 4.6 times per contest. To his credit, Joel is doing a ton of something he rarely did before Harden showed up.

But the team appears to do a lot less of it down the stretch sometimes. They’ll spam it one game, then forget it’s even a thing the next. It’s odd. When you cannot buy one vs. the Wiz in late Dec., remember your bread and butter fellas.

10) The back up center spot thing was a s—t show before Doc and Morey were here, and yuck, look at it now...

Seriously though, do we have to offer some aging veteran center like $112M bucks (IYKYK) just to get Embiid a decent backup?

I don’t know if the answer right now is Paul Reed, who is a team low -55 on the year. But they rank dead last in rebounds per game, and their most efficient board man routinely rots, relegated to muddy pine.

It seems as if Doc much prefers Montrezl (even though he senses on occasion that Trez isn’t the answer vs. elite teams). Is it possible that when Doc recruits a player, (we’ve heard he recruited Trez, Dwight Howard, Georges Niang and Andre Drummond) he offers or even promises him a certain role? Maybe there’s some sort of commitment and consistency principle going on where he wants to make good on that preseason agreement, or even perceives things in a way that confirms his prior? I need a “lob threat” or “a dribble hand off guy” but then overlooks other things like “can he switch” or “do we get enough rebounds?”

Rivers turned to Reed vs. the Clippers a few days ago. The team miraculously won the non-Embiid minutes and many called it the team’s signature win of the entire season. Naturally, Reed has been buried on the bench ever since. (Are we fulfilling some premeditated quota?) And we’re coming full circle. It’s almost poetic and beautiful in a anarchistic way where entropy reigns supreme.

The only thing I can say with certainty is the process Morey and Doc have had here isn’t just not working, it’s backfiring to a totally needless degree. You got the GM who commissioned a musical called “Small Ball,” and the team has even won the precious few minutes they’ve tried small ball when Joel sits going back to Ben Simmons, and even now with Tucker. But they don’t want to lean in there for some reason and they don’t trust Reed and the guy they do love to play hasn’t helped enough to justify his consistent role...for the third year in a row.

A new approach, a trade, I don’t know, just please resolve.

9) Rest P.J. Tucker and James Harden more

A month ago was probably the right time to give Tucker a rest. Now is the next best time. He finally got a night off vs. the Thunder. Was that so hard?! We’d love to see him with two fresh legs and two live hands.

I’ve been worried about Harden’s workload all year. Yaron Weitzman of FoxSports recently quoted someone who hinted that the Brooklyn Nets bugged Harden with their maintenance and recovery program. Maybe the Sixers are butting heads, trying to get the Beard to rest more, and encountering major resistance. Maybe Tucker has a similar warrior mindset. But James finally took a break and it allowed De’Anthony Melton and Shake Milton to step up vs. OKC. The Sixers are 9-6 without the Beard this season. It really seems like they have the guns to help him get to the tournament with fresh legs. His legacy may just depend on that. James battled the “ran out of gas” narrative for years in Houston before he had to battle the far worse “hamstrings” narrative. Let’s nip all these bugaboos in the bud with basic prudence please.

8) Three guards? While you’re resting Tucker, you have a pretty darn good solution to fill the void!

The Sixers starting unit of Embiid-Harden-Harris-Maxey-Thybulle was one of the best reg. season starting lineups in 2021, following the Harden acquisition. The quintet went 14-6 over a 20 game stretch, logging a +121 over 224 minutes, right on par with the scorching, title-bound Celtics’ best unit over the span. You can have all of the doubts you want about playing Matisse Thybulle in the playoffs, when teams will sag off of him. But the team has won this way before and added De’Anthony Melton. Slide him in, and if Melt needs a blow, then slide Thybulle in. We know these lineups can win regular season games and we need to win those right now! Tucker being here made everyone forget they did this with three guards pretty successfully before.

7) Experiment more

As Kyle Neubeck recently put it:

“How often will Sixers use a three-guard lineup?

I can hear a lot of fans laughing at the question above on the basic premise that Doc Rivers is coaching the team. “This isn’t the guy for experimentation,” you say, and for the most part, we tend to agree.”

What if by mixing and matching different players, (e.g. starters with bench players, rather than logging tons of minutes for the starting five, then being forced to play bench-heavy minutes) they could unlock the best version of this team? When the team played with a skeleton crew they actually won games. The bench isn’t awful! But they could use a couple studs out there with them, generally speaking.

Frenetic tinkering isn’t something they’ve done. But the status quo is not their friend. Few of us think they’re the best team in the league. Stop being so scared to get weird.

If getting to the second round is the goal, then they’ve done everything perfectly the last two-and-a half years by not experimenting more.

6) A few less middies

The Sixer rank 15th in the NBA in frequency of a midrange attempt (30.2 percent), per Joel Embiid obviously loves to launch them from his elbow office. We’ve praised Harden for trying some. Boston by contrast, takes the 3rd least midrange shots, and they can boast the 3rd best eFG%.

On the other hand, Brooklyn shoots midrange shots the most frequently, and also has the best eFG% in the league, so there’s no hard and fast rule if you can knock ‘em down. But Kevin Durant kind of never misses so....

Harden is shooting the least amount of shots at the rim in his career. Just 15 percent of his attempts come right at the rim, and that’s easily a career low. It’s the first time he’s ever been below 21 percent (which was last season). Most of this is aging. But I suspect some of this is scheme, since he appears to score at will whenever Embiid is out of the lineup. Maybe they can tinker with the offense to reduce their number of middies just a tad.

5) Too much unfinished business: make your stinkin’ bunnies people

The Sixers rank a dreadful 23rd overall in field goal accuracy at the rim. De’Anthony Melton is shooting just 59 percent from between 0-3 feet, per, his lowest since his rookie year. P.J. .Tucker is shooting just 39 percent from within 0-3 feet, by far the lowest of his career (see item 8 here). Finish.

4) A few more spacing sets for Beard to cook

In 2023, let’s keep James Harden involved as a scorer. And stop talking publicly about how he’s more of a point guard now, and stop insinuating he isn’t Houston James, even if true. As he comes to terms with his own basketball mortality, we don’t need his coaches and teammates constantly reminding him through the media. It’s not helpful.

Truth is, he’s always thrived when the floor is spaced for him. The Sixers don’t have to recreate the old Heliocentric Rockets offense. But they could incorporate some of it occasionally.

If the Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll is that good, and if the Sixers don’t forget to keep doing it in fourth quarters, then they could probably also make sure Harden gets all of the minutes Embiid sits to cook. As well as some sets when Embiid is in, designed for him to get buckets.

They did it once or twice on Christmas and it worked, but we’ve seen very little of this stuff:

3) Play D before the 2nd half of games maybe?

Not much to say here.

The Sixers found themselves in some absolute holes early on in ballgames.

They clawed out. And then when they tried but failed to comeback against the Wiz, Doc talked about how he likes some swagger they have to turn it on, but doesn’t want them to be overconfident.

To that point, maybe Joel Embiid can take less of the scoring burden, see resolution five above. If he transferred 20 percent of the energy he’s expending carrying the offense and leading the league in scoring into getting stops, boxing out, and empowering other teammates offensively, who knows how far this team could go. (Joel has said he hurt his thumb last year boxing out, so he may still be thinking about this a little).

All the more reason to delegate a hunk of the offensive burden and hunker down on D.

I dunno, maybe a few more games with a line like:

2) Stagger Embiid and Harden, at least until Tyrese Maxey proves healthy and able to carry the bench show

This one is a killer. A lineup of Tucker, Harrell, Niang, Milton, and Maxey was a -10 in four first half minutes vs. the Pelicans recently. A tie game at 24-24, quickly got out of hand.

As Kyle Neueck wrote: “The worst part is that Rivers watched that lineup get blown to smithereens in the first half and trotted out another act of terror in the second half. Predictably, Williamson made mincemeat out of them for a second time.”

The team is so much more difficult to stop when one of those two is out there, and then you’re less likely to have a four-reserve lineup get fricasseed.

1) Maybe don’t be the worst rebounding team in the league anymore?

As of last night, the Nets have overtaken the Sixers for the worst (total) rebounding team. The Nets and Wolves are the only two with lower rebounding percentages by another measure. They just can’t clean the glass.

But we’re at the point of the piece where if we’ve taken care of many of the items above, this one might not even be a huge problem. If we’re running more Harden-Embiid two-man, we’re scoring more, turning it over less, so they get less transition looks. That’ll lead to more set defenses and more boards.

If Tucker is well rested he’ll theoretically be a fiercer dog on the glass. If Embiid is letting others pick up the scoring slack, he can rededicate to getting stops, maybe shake up that DPOY race, which would create opportunities for boards. He’ll then have more energy to wash windows then too.

Some of this problem has been the team’s trouble stopping dribble penetration. Y’know things like Harden or Maxey getting dusted or not having a traditional small forward on the roster. So Joel comes over to help, forces a miss, but then there’s nobody to box out on the weak side. But if we’re experimenting with more three-guard lineups, getting more burn for one of Melton or Matisse with starters, maybe we’re slowing down drivers too. I don’t know. All for now.

Hope you enjoyed. Happy New year.

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