Now, the story for the Sixers heading into their final preseason game is — surprise, surprise — James Harden. He didn’t attend practice on Thursday and is now away from the team due to a personal matter. After a fairly drama-free training camp (relatively speaking) following Harden’s absence at media day, if there was going to be a time for Harden to play and continue ramping up before the season, it was this game. The wait to see if he actually suits up for the Sixers again continues.
(Update, 12:29 p.m.: Harden will not play Friday night.)
The Hawks made a couple of notable changes this offseason. They traded John Collins, one of the key players of their core around Trae Young, to the Jazz for Rudy Gay and a second-round pick. They’ve also added some new guard and wing depth, highlighted by Patty Mills and Wesley Matthews to give them more shooting (and defense in the case of Matthews) around Young and Dejounte Murray. The Hawks aren’t near the class of real contenders in the East, but they still have a competitive roster.
As the Sixers wrap up their preseason, Harden’s complete absence puts even more emphasis on Tyrese Maxey handling a greater role with more point guard duties. After Maxey left Monday’s game with back spasms, seeing how he handles this changed responsibility will be one of the main things to monitor to start the season. If there’s a player we can count on to bring fun vibes, constant entertainment, and surpass expectations right now, it’s Maxey.
Joel Embiid was expected to make his preseason debut against the Spurs, but was unwell and ended up being ruled out. For now, he isn’t on the latest injury report.
While Paul Reed has been able to take advantage of the extra minutes and reinforce why he’s the Sixers’ best backup 5, it wouldn’t hurt for the team to start getting some reps in with Embiid in Nick Nurse’s system.
If Embiid can return, that would also open up the intriguing possibility of Reed playing more at the 4, too.
Seeing whether Kelly Oubre Jr. can finish preseason on a high note will be something else to watch, as he does his best to secure as large a bench role as possible. The Sixers needed to add wing depth this offseason, and while they’re still depleted without Jalen McDaniels and Georges Niang, Oubre at least has some promise for the second unit.
Of course, as someone available so late in free agency for such a cheap price, you can’t expect too much. We’ve seen some of the reasons why — like his sometimes questionable shot selection and efficiency — in preseason. Hopefully for the Sixers, Oubre can settle into a controlled role, bring respectable defense and a touch of scoring to their wing rotation. Solid minutes are going to be there for the taking if he’s consistent enough.
After Friday’s matchup, we’ll only be a few days away from the start of the Sixers’ regular season campaign. And while the uncertainty surrounding Harden is the main story, there are still schematic changes, individual developments, and rotation battles to follow.
When: 7:00 pm EST
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBA TV
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic