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February 10, 2024

Instant observations: Tyrese Maxey, Ricky Council IV step up in Sixers' win over Wizards

The Sixers snapped their losing streak behind strong, timely performances from Maxey, Council, and Hield in a 119-113 win.

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RC4 Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

Sixers two-way wing Ricky Council IV (left) gave the team strong minutes Saturday night in Washington D.C.

Looking to finally get back in the win column, the Sixers traveled to Washington D.C. Saturday night for a matchup against the struggling Washington Wizards. The Sixers avoided catastrophe, coming away victorious by a score of 119-113. Here is what stood out from this one:

Ricky Council IV steps up

With Joel Embiid, Nic Batum, De'Anthony Melton, Robert Covington and Mo Bamba all sidelined due to injuries, Council, who remains on a two-way contract, received regular rotation minutes – a rarity in his career to date. The Sixers were desperate for size and athleticism on the wing, and he gave it to them.

Council is a tenacious defensive player who can also rebound very well due to his tremendous athleticism. The offensive side of the ball is where he needs to be more polished. But Council scored seven quick points in the first quarter – three at the free throw line, two on a finish at the rim in the half-court and one on a dazzling bucket in transition where he pulled out a fancy move to get around Wizards guard Jordan Poole and lay it in, a play that got the entire Sixers bench on its feet. He had another impressive, acrobatic finish towards the end of the first half.

Plus-minus within a game is a noisy stat, but in his first seven minutes of play in this one, Council was a massive +17.

With the Sixers having three open roster spots, it is very possible that rather than sign three veterans, the Sixers use at least one of those spots to convert a two-way player – likely Council or Terquavion Smith – onto a long-term, standard NBA deal. Council is starting to build a solid case for himself.

Some rotation tweaks

Council got plenty of runs due to the many Sixers absences, but he was not the only player who benefitted from the situation. With Bamba sidelined and no traditional backup center option available, Sixers head coach Nick Nurse opted to use KJ Martin as a small-ball center in athletic, high-tempo lineups against smaller Washington units. To close the second half, Nurse got even more creative, using Tobias Harris at the five and surrounding him and Tyrese Maxey with traditional wing players. He also decided to keep Maxey and new Sixers backup point guard Cam Payne in at the same time, which is an interesting look to try out against a small lineup.

Additionally, Nurse's substitution patterns were a bit different than usual. He tried to use most of his players in several short bursts, rather than fewer extended stints. With an eight-man rotation, it is necessary to think outside of the box with your substitution patterns, but even with that being said, this seemed like it might have been a tad bit excessive. In the past, some Sixers players have struggled to get and stay in a rhythm when they are being brought in and subbed out frequently. But given the situation, it is hard to blame Nurse for doing what he feels is necessary. It is something worth tracking over the next few games.

Buddy Hield's interesting role

Hield has been thrown into the fire upon becoming a Sixer. It is no surprise to see him getting lots of shots up, though. That is what he does best, after all, and it is what the Sixers acquired him to do. But what has been a bit unexpected is the amount of time he is spending handling the ball.

Hield is often bringing the ball up the floor and attempting to create advantages as a driver, even though neither activity is a patented part of his game. It may be due, to some extent, to the Sixers' injuries. But even in lineups with Maxey, we are seeing Hield handle the ball quite a bit. In fact, he had four assists in the first half of this one.

It will be interesting to monitor if this trend continues over the next few weeks as Hield acclimates to the Sixers' scheme, or if it proves to be an anomaly.

More momentum for Paul Reed

The Sixers' backup-turned-starting center was terrific for the vast majority of this one. The Sixers need stability at the position desperately, and recently Reed has made strides. His finishing around the rim was outstanding Thursday, and that is by far the most important part of his game when it comes to scoring – despite his affinity for elbow jumpers and the occasional three-point try.

The rest of the Sixers' center rotation in Embiid's absence is extremely shaky – Bamba has had his moments, but has largely struggled this season, and the only other "traditional" center on the team is two-way big-man Kenneth Lofton Jr. But before the Sixers figure out their backup center situation, they need to receive consistent, quality minutes from their starter. In this one, they got just that.

Maxey heats up late

This was not Maxey's finest all-around game. He took a lot of hits but got very few foul calls as a result, and was clearly frustrated, but when the Sixers needed him most, the fourth-year guard stepped up in a big way, hitting a string of tough, clutch shots to keep the Sixers out in front.

Maxey's ridiculous speed bursts caused lots of trouble for Washington's lackluster defense, and it allowed the Sixers to turn stops and defensive rebounds into transition opportunities. Even on a night when Maxey was not his best, he hit timely shots, did a solid job facilitating, and defended his position well, too. The Sixers will need better from him against tougher opponents, but given his recent struggles as well as his recent battles with an illness, this was a step in the right direction for the first-time All-Star.