The James Harden drama notwithstanding, the Sixers have a pretty good grasp on their top six or seven players.
Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris and Harden (if he’s here and wants to play) will be in the starting lineup. New head coach Nick Nurse has hinted that he might not roll with last year’s starting lineup, but assuredly the fifth starter will be one of P.J. Tucker or De’Anthony Melton. Whichever of those two is not a starter will be the team’s unquestioned top reserve.
Given how well Paul Reed has played the last couple games — and how much Mo Bamba has struggled — it feels safe to say that Reed will go into this season as Embiid’s primary backup.
After that, it’s basically all up in the air.
But that’s not such a bad thing. It’s not like at times in years past where there was competition for bench minutes because nobody really came and took a spot. Nurse has options — and some damn good ones too.
PatBev has been both rock solid and wildly entertaining through three preseason games. During the Sixers’ first preseason win Monday in Brooklyn, Beverley was ejected after getting into it with Ben Simmons. Simmons committed a hard foul on rookie big man Filip Petrusev and Beverley took exception. It’s the kind of thing that will surely endear him to Sixers fans.
“Yeah, he’s got my back there,” Petrusev told reporters in Brooklyn postgame. “Not just there, in practice, too. And not just for me, but for everybody. He’s bringing crazy energy and he’s there for everybody, supports everybody. After that three, I felt he had my back and he was supporting me, so that gave me confidence. And in that particular situation, just stood for me like a real vet.”
If Melton starts, it appears Beverley would be the first guard off the bench. Nurse has gone to the veteran first so far this preseason. The interesting wrinkle has been when Beverley plays with Maxey. If Harden sits or is traded without the team receiving another lead guard, Maxey will be the team’s primary ball handler. What we’ve seen is Beverley take over some of those duties so Maxey can play off the ball and look to attack as a scorer.
It sure feels like PatBev will be a rotation staple this season.
Kelly Oubre, Jr.
The latest addition to the Sixers, Oubre has basically been as advertised. He’s used his length and athleticism to fly around and collect stocks while providing scoring — albeit not always efficiently.
Monday’s game in Brooklyn might have been the best example of what we’ll see this season from Tsunami Papi. Oubre was impactful on defense, recording two blocks and two steals. His athleticism was evident as he helped the Sixers swarm the Nets and get out on the break. He also took on a big scoring load with Embiid and Harden out of the lineup, putting up 17 points before halftime. He trailed off in the second half, leading to a 9-for-24 shooting line, but it’s the type of role Nurse sees for the 27-year-old.
“He gets in there with a lineup where we needed him to score in the second quarter, and he kind of just got one bucket after another,” Nurse told reporters in Brooklyn. “I think he’s going to be that kind of be that second-unit guy we go to a little bit. So pretty good. I thought he was more solid tonight, too, defensively. He’s making some progress there. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary for him defensively, so that’s good.”
Nurse is referencing Oubre’s propensity to gamble on plays outside of the team structure defensively. As he noted, Oubre is taking that coaching well.
Oubre hasn’t always been the most reliable shooter, but he’s 7-for-18 (38.8%) from deep so far in the preseason. For what it’s worth, he also shot the ball very well at the Blue X White Scrimmage this past weekend. When he plays with Embiid and Harden he’ll have plenty of catch-and-shoot opportunities. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares on those after having to create so many of his own looks the previous couple seasons.
Like Beverley, it’s fair to assume Oubre will feature heavily in Nurse’s rotation to start the season.
Though these players aren’t really listed in a specific order, Springer is up here because he has been awesome this preseason. Now in his third NBA season, not only has Springer looked like he’s belonged out there, but he’s stood out. He’s easily been one of the Sixers’ best players.
It didn’t seem like Springer was necessarily in contention for a rotation spot, but he’s absolutely forced the issue with his play.
“I think it’s just from the work,” Springer said after the Blue X White Scrimmage. “Ever since the staff came in, I’ve been in the gym with them almost every day. We’re getting after it. So I feel like it’s the repetition, and just keep doing it and keep doing it. I feel like when I step out in the game, it’s becoming easier and more comfortable. It’s coming to me more naturally.”
Perhaps this type of opportunity doesn’t arise with the previous regime.
“Listen, if he’s going to continue to guard the ball that hard, especially when we’re having those moments where we’re not guarding the ball very (well). … He keeps it out there,” Nurse said postgame last Wednesday. “If they’re trying to out-physical him, they don’t do it very often to him, which is good. And then maybe one tough drive that he’s going to do here and there. And then if he could continue to shoot with the confidence that he’s shooting … because he’s probably going to end up with some shots. He got a couple of good ones in rhythm and he stepped right into all of them. He got three attempts and he stepped right into all of them with confidence.”
In fairness, Springer does look like a totally different player, though it’s fair to wonder if some of the confidence he’s oozing is because of the way Nurse has empowered him. We always knew Springer could guard. We knew he had a little bit of a bag and could hit in the midrange. The three ball has always been the swing skill. Springer is 5 of 6 from deep and has looked confident and decisive in taking them.
Springer might not have been in line to be the team’s 10th man before training camp, but the recently-turned 21-year-old has absolutely earned a longer look when the games count.
And don’t forget about our old pal Danny Green. The 36-year-old looks healthy — and perhaps even more mobile than his previous stint in Philly. Green has done what he’s always done: spaced the floor and played sound team defense. For a team that will need guys to make catch-and-shoot threes, and for a coach that prioritizes ball and player movement, Green is a round peg in a round hole.
“That’s just a lot of years of reading defensive situations,” Nurse said last week of Green’s ability as an off-ball mover. “But this is definitely a team that needs as many catch-and-shoot guys as it can have, so it’s big that he’s going to be able to do that. ... Obviously, with the guys we’ve got that command attention in the paint, we’re going to need some guys that can space.”
Green’s contract is non-guaranteed until opening night. Not only does it look like that money is about to become guaranteed, but don’t be surprised to see the three-time champ on the floor opening night.
On the outside looking in
For Danuel House, Jr. and Furkan Korkmaz, the injury bug has caused them to miss a lot of time recently. Unfortunately for them, the players mentioned above have played well.
House has been dealing with what the team has called left knee soreness. He played 16 minutes in the first preseason game in Boston, but we haven’t seem him since. House has lauded Nurse — while perhaps throwing some shade at Doc Rivers. Nurse has been sure to mention House’s name whenever he talks about the competition for minutes on the wing. He might be on the outside looking for now, but House could still be a factor this season.
Korkmaz has been dealing with a hamstring issue and has yet to suit up this preseason. The Turkish wing was likely already facing an uphill battle to crack the rotation. This injury puts him way behind.
As far as big men go, everything seems in flux after Embiid and Reed (also worth noting that Tucker has done well as a small-ball five). Mo Bamba was given the early crack as the first big off the bench. The 25-year-old has struggled mightily in game action though. That led to Nurse giving Filip Petrusev a longer look against the Nets.
Bamba was signed to the veteran minimum while Petrusev is on a partially guaranteed deal. Bamba is clearly the superior athlete and better rim protector, but Petrusev’s feel is so much better at this point. As mentioned in the open, the smart money is on Reed serving as Embiid’s primary backup to open the year.