Happy Thanksgiving, Liberty Ballers readers!
Before beginning, I just want to say I’m thankful for each and every person that reads this wonderful, wild website. Whether you were hate-reading James Harden updates or came to bask in the joy of Tyrese Maxey’s 50 burger, you’re greatly appreciated by all of us!
The holiday spirit got us thinking: what are we most thankful for when it comes to this version of your 76ers?
Enjoy our thoughts below. May your mac and cheese not be wet and your turkey not dry!
Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey’s growth mindset
I once questioned if Ben Simmons had the “growth mindset” fans needed to see before we could ever realistically expect to see an improved shooter. Simmons once hinted he really didn’t need to work on his shot. There’s really not much if any of that type of thinking to encounter when rooting for Joel Embiid or Tyrese Maxey though, and this year I’m thankful for that.
Embiid takes the offseasons very, very seriously. And Joel has long-been one of Pure Sweat CEO Drew Hanlen’s most voracious devourers of film. He has also been one of Hanlen’s most dedicated practice players. Embiid came back after his first full season, way back in 2018, as a true MVP candidate before he injured his knee midway through 2019. He’s been squarely in the MVP conversation whenever healthy since that fateful summer.
Maxey, not to be outdone, has his invaluable “get one percent better every day” mentality. And the 23-year-old dedicated this past summer (also working full-time with Hanlen) to become a better half-court scorer, passer and ball-handler with a stronger left.
And Maxey was immediately, visibly better at each skill he sought to address, as soon as the season began. Two stars who refuse to plateau? Don’t mind if I do.
Hello, (Nick) Nurse
I’m thankful that the Sixers now have a head coach willing to be flexible and adapt on the fly with his lineups. If the team doesn’t have any juice, Nick Nurse will send Pat Beverley out there with a defibrillator paddle in each hand. If Jaden Springer is playing well, he might very well be on the court for the entire fourth quarter. The likes of Robert Covington, Danuel House Jr. and Furkan Korkmaz may or not be in the rotation on a given night, but whatever happens, it feels like Nurse pulled the right lever. We’ve seen random three-guard lineups and ones where Nic Batum was the two guard. It’s entirely different from the prior regime, when the rotation and the substitution patterns were chiseled in stone ahead of time with basically no regard to what was taking place on the court on that particular night. I enjoy having a head coach who engages as an active participant in the proceedings. Now about those Marcus Morris minutes…
James Harden is gone and the vibes are high
Let’s start here: James Harden is still a really good basketball player. He’s had his struggles in L.A., but ultimately, the Beard will be fine on the court. Whether that ultimately leads to everything working out with the Clippers, I’m dubious. What I’m thankful for is that whatever pisses Harden off this time around won’t be the Sixers’ problem.
All summer the Sixers’ vibes seemed high, despite the Harden drama. Nurse and the players were determined to play through whatever occurred off the court — and they did just that. When the trade broke at 2 a.m. on Halloween, the demons were exorcised. No more reports about Harden being grumpy or the Clippers not meeting a certain asking price.
Now, the Sixers have a reigning MVP who’s taken ownership of the offense, a rising (super?)star running the show, a head coach who knows how to coach, a refreshing brand of basketball being played every night and a boatload of assets to improve the team even more ahead of the trade deadline. Oh yeah, Batum and Covington aren’t too bad, either. Dare I say, the Sixers are fun to watch.
The return of Roco
The Harden trade wasn’t only a godsend because it brought an end to the months-long trade drama hanging over the team. It had the added benefit of bringing Process legend Robert Covington back home, too.
Covington has never been a lockdown defender like OG Anunoby, but good luck finding many players who are more impactful off the ball defensively. Heading into Wednesday’s schedule loss against the Timberwolves, Covington was averaging 4.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals in only 15.3 minutes per game in his 11 appearances with the Sixers.
He’s playing the fewest minutes of anyone who’s averaging at least 1.5 steals per game this season, just ahead of #FutureSixer Delon Wright. Outside of last season, when Covington barely played for the Clippers, he’s averaged at least 1.4 steals per game every year since his sophomore season. Melton was the only Sixer to average more than 1.2 takeaways per game last year. Covington is also eighth in the league in deflections per game (3.2), just behind Melton (3.4). Everyone ahead of him on the deflections leaderboard—including #FutureSixer Alex Caruso—is playing at least 24.2 minutes per game.
Covington was always a streaky shooter, and this year is no different. He entered Wednesday shooting only 42.9 percent overall and 27.3 percent from deep. Teams won’t necessarily give him the Matisse Thybulle treatment in the playoffs—aka, completely ignore him on the perimeter to shade extra help toward Embiid and Maxey—but they’ll likely live with letting him beat them rather than the Sixers’ stars.
If the Sixers make their Big Move by the trade deadline, there’s a real chance that Covington will have to be in the outgoing package for salary-matching reasons. Until then, I’m going to enjoy every minute of his return to the Sixers, however brief it may be.