Last night, the 76ers breezed by the Raptors, coming out on top by a score of 125-113, bringing their preseason record to 1-1.
The Sixers offense was firing on all cylinders, hitting 18 threes and shooting 54% from the floor. Georges Niang was the team's leading scorer, notching 16 points and 4 made threes in his 16 minutes of action. Seth Curry and Isaiah Joe provided the team 15 points each (7 combined threes), and Andre Drummond continues to impress, posting 10 points and 7 rebounds off the bench.
Joel Embiid made his preseason debut tonight, and finished with 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Toronto is a team that has had his number throughout his young career, and Nick Nurse is the biggest reason for that. They blitz and hound Embiid like no other team in the league does, and it leads to him taking difficult shots or forcing to give it up. In his first game action in three and a half months, I thought he looked good, despite not accumulating the numbers that he normally would.
OG Anunoby led the way for Toronto, scoring 22 points in the losing effort.
Here are 4 of my takeaways from this game, as we laser in on the regular season which is quickly approaching in under two weeks.
1) Tyrese Maxey
Watching Maxey play is such a breath of fresh air. They actually have a player who can handle the ball in a pick and roll set, which is mind blowing that it has been basically a non-existent element of this team's offense for the last 4 seasons.
Maxey finished the night with 14 points and 5 assists (1 turnover) on 6/9 shooting coming off the bench. Some (myself included) had their doubts whether he can be a true "point guard" in Ben Simmons' absence, but he has done better than I thought he would.
The truth is that Maxey is still not a traditional point guard, in the sense that he's not running the offense as much as he is creating it. He's more of a score-first combo guard. And that's perfectly okay. I don't want the circumstances of the people that are (and aren't) around him to turn him into something he's not.
Doc Rivers recently told reporters that Maxey has been a bit underwhelming in camp thus far as a facilitator. You don't tell scorers to stop hunting for their shot. You don't discourage your players being aggressive. Maybe it wouldn't be such a big deal if he was a veteran whose had success before in different roles, but Maxey is still only 20 years old. Let him play his game, and don't try to mold his development path into what you want it to be.
2) Isaiah Joe
He needs regular rotation minutes. I don't care who they come from or when they come, but Joe needs to be a regular every single night. Drafted 49th overall in 2020, the second year product from Arkansas is a knockdown shooter who is long and agile enough to make an impact defensively. He spent most of last year down with the Blue Coats, but appears so much more comfortable than he did last season.
In his two preseason games, he's scored 33 points and picked up 5 steals while knocking down 7 of his 12 shots from deep. His presence as a volume three point shooter is a player you want to put around Embiid. But his defensive instincts really stand out for such a young player, even for someone with such a wiry frame.
The Sixers wing (SG/SF) rotation is loaded with NBA caliber depth: Joe, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, and Shake Milton. Aside from Milton (who I will talk about in a bit), I believe the most likely person to see a cut in minutes would be Korkmaz due to them having similar skillsets. He needs the opportunity to prove himself, and through his preseason and summer league play, he has absolutely earned it.
3) Shake Milton
I feel bad for Shake because he has been used so poorly here. Although inconsistent, he is a shooter that can provide the team with some impact as a handler and creator, most likely as an off guard, or even a small forward. Yet he got the start at point guard tonight. Like in the case with Maxey, that has more to do with the team around him. But you're setting him up for failure by using him this way.
Milton is becoming the odd man out in that group of wings listed above, and because of the team lacking point guard depth for the better part of the last two seasons, that's the role he has been given. Then you factor in Simmons not being with the team, and that accents the need even more. But he is not a point guard, and it is painfully obvious when you watch him play.
Even if Milton was used correctly, he is borderline unplayable on this team right now unless he's got the hot hand. The other players around him are generally more consistent and have a more defined role. Maybe it was our expectations after watching him explode for 39 points against Doc's Clippers on national TV. But unless something changes, I fear that his days as an impactful member of the 76ers rotation may be numbered.
4) The Ben Simmons saga that just won't go away
Don't get me wrong, the team does miss a player with Simmons' passing ability heading the offense. The Sixers currently have zero true point guards, or even above average passers, on the roster. But finding someone who is those things won't be very difficult, and it will certainly be someone that has infinitely more impact as a shooter and scorer than Simmons was.
If you believe the offense would benefit from having a guy like Maxey run the show, then you don't have to be tied down into taking a trade for Simmons right now. You have the luxury of waiting to see if a star presents themselves to pair with Joel Embiid for the future. Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal are the two most heavily rumored players, but there is no guarantee that someone like that becomes available. A move like this will keep you treading water in the standings until it happens, but assure you that a title is within reach when (if) a trade like that falls through.
If you aren't as optimistic about Maxey's ability to quarterback the offense, then you will probably feel more pressure to make a move with Simmons now to not waste Embiid's prime years even more. A package around Malcolm Brogdon, Collin Sexton, CJ McCollum, and guys like that are available to you at any time. The ceiling from making a move like this more than likely won't be championship contention right now, but you rid the team of this distraction, give yourself the opportunity to put forward a better lineup immediately and continue building for a brighter future.
At the end of the day, the real barometer surrounding what to do with Ben Simmons will be the team's record, even moreso than what they look like on the floor.
There is no realistic scenario where the Sixers can make up for the combination of defensive effectiveness and versatility, with the closest thing to breaking even there involving someone like Robert Covington or Dejounte Murray. But what you gain on offense needs to be able to offset that loss.
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