The wait for NBA basketball—albeit less than two months long—is over. The 2021 NBA season opens with a slate of games tonight, before the Sixers officially tip-off tomorrow. With the organization righting the ship over the offseason after hiring Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey, expectations for 2021 are pretty high (though to be fair that’s how last year started). Here’s four bold predictions for the Sixers in 2021:
1. Ben Simmons averages 10+ assists
Ben’s assists have become a popular “bold” prediction this year, and not without reason. The offseason additions to the Sixers roster are expected to bring a more spaced floor and more capable shooting than in previous seasons, and while that’s obviously just projection, it’s a pretty safe bet to assume Ben will have more room to operate in 2021 because of this.
Enabling Simmons to work downhill more easily and to operate with less traffic will allow him to more capably collapse and read opposing defenses—i.e: he’ll be making higher-percentage passes. Add-in a cast of far more competent catch-and-shoot threats and his teammates should be converting at a higher rate than previous years. More open looks + more competent shooters = more assists.
Throw in the caveat of Ben being the only true point guard or facilitator on this team and we can expect an increase in usage rate as well. Thankfully, any illusions of Ben playing off-ball left with the previous regime, and based off what we’ve heard in the lead up to the season and what we know about Rivers & Morey, it’s safe to assume Simmons will see an uptick in usage rate this year.
On top of that, Doc Rivers is better-equipped than Brett Brown to get the most out of these stars. Thoughts on Brett aside, Doc’s track record on offense is long and successful, and I have to imagine his presence alone (roster aside) is enough to scheme up a new assist per night for Ben.
Simmons posting a career high in assists this season is practically a given with all of this in mind; the only question is whether or not he can break the double-digit per game mark—something I’d be willing to bet on.
2. Tyrese Maxey makes 1st team NBA All-Rookie
Tyrese Maxey is the latest Sixers player to catch the preseason hype train. The fan base has been understandably high on Maxey ever since he fell to us on draft night, and those expectations have only solidified after the brief run we saw from him in the preseason.
Here’s what I wrote about Maxey a few weeks back:
“Maxey is an appealing two-way scoring guard whose defining trait is his ability to get to and finish around the rim. A comfortable pull-up game and a developing catch-and-shoot jumper could make him a 20+ PPG scorer. Defensively he’s a strong defender both on-ball and off; he’s long, quick, instinctive, and has good technique for his age. There’s a whole lot to like here, and he truly had no business being in this range of the draft.”
There you have it—there’s a lot to like about Maxey and it’s safe to expect big things from him despite falling in the draft. He isn’t someone who will be in the rookie of the year conversation simply because he won’t have the opportunity, but his ability to impact the game right away for a contending team will allow him to throw his name in the conversation for first-team All-Rookie from day one.
3. Furkan Korkmaz leads the team in three-point shooting (43%+ from deep)
Korkmaz may not lead the team in volume, but I think he’ll lead the team in percentage this season. This isn’t particularly bold in the sense that we know Korkmaz has this skillset, but with the addition of Seth Curry (45% career from three) and the emergence of Shake Milton (43% from three last year) he’s certainly not the first name that comes to mind.
Furkan obviously has the tools to be a sniper from deep, and while he’s still a defensive liability, Doc is planning to use him off the bench in his initial rotations this season. That could all change fast given the Sixers newfound depth, but for now Korkmaz is firmly in the team’s plans, and I’m betting on him to prove them right.
4. Joel Embiid records a career high in FG%
Improved spacing and better coaching means more easy looks at the rim for the big man. On top of that, more options on offense than ever before means less forced looks, both from deep and down low.
A more efficient Joel isn’t something we necessarily need to see this year, but he could stand to be both more selective with his shots, and more aggressive toward high percentage looks. Truthfully, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be converting at 55%+ from the field, and this feels like the year he finally takes that step toward efficiency—though that’s probably wishful thinking