The NBA preseason has been in full swing for a few days now, and the Sixers finally open their exhibition slate tonight vs Boston at the Wells Fargo Center (7:30 tip).
We obviously shouldn’t read too much into what we see in tonight’s game, or much of what we see early in the season for that matter, but these are three things worth keeping an eye on:
1. What does the second unit look like?
Nothing is set in stone, but all indications point toward Seth Curry being the fifth starter along with Embiid, Simmons, Tobias, and Danny Green (at least to begin the season). On top of that, we can lock in three players for bench minutes from the outset—Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, and Dwight Howard.
The question is which players will consistently be in the rotation beyond those eight, and tonight will be our first glimpse of where Doc’s head is at. The way I see it, Tyrese Maxey, Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Scott, and Terrance Ferguson are on the bubble fighting for minutes; with Isaiah Joe, Tony Bradley, and whoever earns the 15th roster spot (likely Justin Anderson) filling out the deep bench.
Maxey is an intriguing two-way skillset who should be able to get the rim and defend the point-of-attack from day one—if he’s fully healthy he’s a good bet for the early bench minutes we’re discussing. It’s hard to know how frequently Doc plans to dip beyond nine guys, but of the other three names Korkmaz is someone who continues to receive praise through camp, and if he’s hitting from deep he’ll certainly demand early run.
Outside of that I imagine these minutes are mostly up in the air, with nightly matchups being a key factor in Rivers’ decision making. Nonetheless, tonight is the first look at how the Sixers bench might look this year.
2. How often do Joel and Ben share the court—will Doc continue to stagger their minutes like Brett Brown? Or does he keep Joel and Ben together more than they‘re accustom to, and opt to use a full five-man bench unit?
While Simmons and Embiid don’t have compatible skillsets on the offensive end of the floor, Brett Brown gave up trying to make them work together for large stretches of time in favor of staggering their minutes outside of the start/end of games/halves. Though it wouldn’t be a surprise if Doc employed a similar strategy, tonight will give us a feel for whether or not he has any plans to pair the two on-court more frequently.
If anyone can figure out a way to use the two players together in a way that’s advantageous to the other it’s Doc. I’m not suggesting he’s some X and O’s genius, because he’s not, but he’s been around the game long enough to know if there’s anything for the two to run together. He certainly won’t force anything between the two stars—nor should he—so if we see them staggered tonight we can pretty much expect to see that moving forward.
Throughout his career Doc hasn’t been afraid to use entire groups of bench players as his second unit, and while I don’t think that’ll be the case here I wouldn’t rule it out.
3. Tyrese Maxey
I already touched on Maxey a little bit, but as a rookie making his NBA debut he’s naturally someone to keep an eye on. He missed the early part of training camp to address an injury, so it’s hard to know just how much run he’ll get tonight, but I have high hopes for his ability to contribute sooner than later, and I’m not alone on that.
For more on Maxey’s skillset you can read about his profile from the draft here. He’s an appealing offensive package who can score from all over the floor—he gets to and finishes around the rim at a high level, but keep a close eye on his jumper. The reliability of his pull-up game to complement his slashing, and his ability to contribute off-ball as a catch-and-shoot threat will go a long way in defining his offensive value beyond getting to the bucket.
As for defense, that end of the floor doesn’t get as much play in the media, but make no mistake, Maxey will provide strong and smart on-ball defense at the point-of-attack from day one. He’s a quick, instinctive, physical, and willing defender, and he should seamlessly fill in PoA responsibilities behind Thybulle and Danny Green. Again, this isn’t Maxey’s calling card in terms of potential, but it gives him a nice floor as a two-way skillset. Keep an eye on how he’s able to contribute tonight, and more importantly how Doc uses him.