Next up, this slightly new look (and still very unhealthy) Sixers team is finishing their back-to-back against the 9-42 Wizards on Saturday night.
Typically, a game against the 14th-place team in the East would be a very winnable game. Maybe it will be on Saturday. But shortly after some moves at the deadline, heading on the road on the second night of a back-to-back, with the offensive struggles without Joel Embiid, and multiple lingering injuries to key players isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
For Friday’s game, Nicolas Batum (left hamstring strain), Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine stress response) and of course Embiid (after his meniscus surgery) all remained out, and Tyrese Maxey was ruled out with illness. While we’re still waiting on a new injury report for Saturday, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Batum, Covington and Melton stay on the sidelines. Hopefully for Philly, Maxey can make a return.
However, the new guys both flashed what they’re capable of on Friday, and deserve credit for immediately stepping into the starting lineup for their new team and producing.
Buddy Hield didn’t have a hot shooting performance, finishing 8-of-21 from the floor, but the value of his skillset and offensive approach was evident. He shot 4-of-12 from three, showing his quick trigger and ability to hit off a couple of dribbles, the threat of his spacing, and he had a few decent drives as well.
Cameron Payne, after a slow start to the game, also stood out in his debut. He had his first 20-point game since Dec. 2022 when he was with the Suns, finishing with 20 on 7-of-16 shooting (including a confident 4-of-9 from three), six assists, three rebounds, two steals and a block. Payne doesn’t have all the qualities of Patrick Beverley and he’s obviously a downgrade on defense, but does bring improved, higher-volume shooting and some fairly speedy handles.
All together, the Sixers finished the game with 45 three-point attempts, tied for their second-highest total this season. That volume alone, largely thanks to their new guards, is encouraging.
The Sixers have desperately needed a boost to their three-point shooting, even more so in Embiid’s absence as they’ve lost the staple of their offensive identity. There’s simply been too much burden on Maxey to create for the offense and provide their high-volume shooting threat. The Sixers as a team have dropped to 25th in three-point attempts per game for the season at just 31.7, but Hield in particular is here to help that.
Only Steph Curry has made more threes than Hield since 2016-17 — when the Sixers’ new guard first entered the NBA. Since moving up to average 30+ minutes per game over the last six seasons, he’s averaged 8.7 three-point attempts while making 39.8 percent of them. Whether he’s simply relocating into space and firing without hesitation, shooting against tight closeouts, running off screens, faking out defenders as a ghost screener before slipping outside to shoot, or hitting out of quick step-backs, he can shoot in a so many ways. All of which make him one of the league’s top shooters, and all of which the Sixers need.
Only Steph Curry has made more 3s since 2016-17 than Buddy Hield.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) February 9, 2024
Whether he's relocating into space, running off screens, operating in 2-man actions, trailing in transition, or hitting a few off the bounce/out of step-backs, Buddy's elite shooting will be great for the Sixers. pic.twitter.com/9T1CH7e253
Apart from how Payne continues operating as the team’s newest ball-handler, watching how Hield continues to open up space for others and makes life easier for Maxey (if he returns) will be the most interesting thing to monitor on Saturday. And seeing as the Wizards rank a measly 27th in defensive rating and don’t have much in terms of strong guard defense, this is about as good a matchup as any for Hield and Co. to start finding some offensive success.
The Wizards — who are also on the second night of a back-to-back after losing to the Celtics in Boston on Friday — look a bit different themselves. They dealt strong starting center Daniel Gafford to the Mavericks for former Sixer Richaun Holmes and a 2024 first-round pick. Kyle Kuzma stayed put and remains the clear-cut top assignment for the Sixers’ forwards to handle in this one as the Wizards’ leading, versatile scorer.
Meanwhile, there are some young guys worth keeping an eye on, like Bilal Coulibaly who’s showing more positive flashes, and Corey Kispert who’s having a very solid season as a quality shooter and improved finisher.
The depleted Sixers could use another big showing from Kelly Oubre Jr., too. After having quite a few underwhelming performances lately, he stepped up with season-highs of 28 points (albeit on 42.1 percent shooting) and 12 rebounds against the Hawks. His aggressive slashing and 10-of-14 mark from the free throw line gave the team a good boost.
More than anything, the Sixers need to get healthy. Until that happens, it’s going to be hard for them to get rolling and pick up many wins again. But Friday night’s game was a lot more fun than some of the recent Sixers contests we’ve watched. Seeing Hield and Payne already inject some more life and three-point firepower into the offense adds some extra intrigue to this outing.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Washington Wizards
When: 7:00 pm EST
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, DC
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic