December 05, 2023
It has been an eventful Sixers season thus far, with a lot of encouraging signs in the early part of the campaign that have incited some newfound optimism. One of the reasons the team has succeeded early on is their depth, thanks in part to the James Harden trade that netted the Sixers four players from the Los Angeles Clippers.
With the team on a bit of a break, it's as good of a time as ever to evaluate this roster, player by player.
Embiid's passing has absolutely stolen the show in recent weeks, with his assist per game numbers trouncing those of any prior season in his career. He isn't Nikola Jokic, but that doesn't mean he isn't now one of the single best big-man passers in the game. The attention he commands from possession to possession is remarkable, and it allows him to tap into the facilitation-related aspects of his game that have rapidly improved.
What is most exciting about Embiid's leap as a passer is that it feels sustainable. Defenses are never going to stop double-teaming him and sending various creative coverages at him. That allows Embiid to counter using his tremendous basketball intellect. A refined approach under new Sixers head coach Nick Nurse has given Embiid greater capacity to utilize his IQ. The results have been outstanding.
Maxey entered Friday night leading the entire NBA in both total minutes and minutes per game. He played in every contest before missing Friday's game in Boston with an illness, which is excellent and a testament to his stamina and durability.Maxey is as tough as it gets, and will never complain about being tired. But how can the Sixers be sure this won't catch up to him and them?
The main roadblock to finding Maxey adequate rest: the roster around him is not constructed to play well when he is off the floor. They have little to no perimeter creation when he hits the bench, forcing players like Patrick Beverley and De'Anthony Melton to try to fit into shoes they cannot quite fit into as distributors -- though Beverley excelled on Friday night. A key to ensuring Maxey is at his best in the playoffs is giving him a suitable backup point guard.
Harris has cooled off a bit of late, after having a remarkably consistent open to his season. He is still playing well, but his three-point shooting has surprisingly been below average so far. That is not something to worry about much, as he has a very long track record at this point of being better than most at knocking down shots from beyond the arc.
Harris is shooting an excellent 88.6 percent from the free throw line, though. And speaking of free throw shooting, Harris is finding himself at the line far more frequently than he ever has during his time with the Sixers. He has been much better at going downhill to the rim without stopping or hesitating and then getting caught in between.
Melton is without question an extremely valuable role player. He defends opposing guards (and smaller wings) and knocks down threes at excellent levels. But for those who have watched him, his biggest flaw is obvious: finishing at the rim.
Melton often struggled to finish layups in transition last season, and this year those issues have extended to the half-court offense. Melton is shooting below 40 percent on two-point tries, an abysmal mark -- his career-worst two-point percentage prior to this season is 44 percent. There is no quick fix here beyond Melton being more careful about when he travels into the paint and when he settles for jumpers. Perhaps he should be doing the latter a bit more often.
Batum shows in just about every single game that he is as good as it gets when it coms to connective role players. He can shoot, both on spot-ups and off movement. He can pass. In the last week, he has spent significant chunks of games defending Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. That sort of defensive versatility is what every coach dreams of getting in a player.
"It's super valuable in a lot of ways," Nurse said. "It has a pretty good ripple effect on our team, because it allows us to move some other pieces around, too."
Batum may not have seemed like the most noteworthy trade piece of all time when he was dealt, but he is giving the Sixers outstanding production that oftentimes cannot be quantified.
Beverley has given the Sixers very solid minutes of late, particularly on the offensive end of the floor, where he had struggled to a pretty extreme extent for the first many games of the season. He scored 26 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out seven assists in Boston. However, the Sixers cannot bank on getting that kind of production regularly. Beverley is, at best, competent on offense.
The big question with Beverley will be: is his defense at the least important defensive position going to be valuable enough to outweigh his major offensive deficiencies? The guess here: not quite.
Covington's defense has been outstanding since his return to Philadelphia, as he is near the top of the NBA in deflections despite limited playing time. He has also shot the ball well from three -- in terms of efficiency.
|3PA / 100 possessions
It would be a boon for the Sixers' offense -- particularly when Embiid is on the floor and Maxey is on the bench -- if Covington would launch from beyond the arc a bit more. You often don't think of a spot-up shooter when you think of shot creation, but someone who is versatile in the shots they can get off is inherently helpful when a team lacks perimeter creation.
Morris Sr. appears to be an early favorite of Nurse's, thanks to his ability to stretch the floor as a big-man. Morris is naturally a power forward, but has logged most of his minutes with the Sixers at the five in games when Embiid is unavailable.
Morris is shooting the ball extremely well right now, and for as long as that lasts, the Sixers have something here. But when early February's trade deadline comes around, even if Morris continues to play well, he may be on the move. With an expiring contract worth north of $17 million, the Sixers can use Morris' salary to upgrade their rotation in a meaningful way. Being able to match salaries in that territory is rarified air for teams as good as the Sixers -- especially as they are now also armed with some draft picks from the Harden trade.
An ambitious part of Reed's development that is worth paying attention to: his jumper. Reed has knocked down four triples so far this season, and while that is nothing extraordinary, it is something worth keeping an eye on. Reed puts a ton of work into his shooting, and over the last two seasons is shooting barely below 75 percent from the free throw line -- a respectable figure that is often an indicator of three-point shooting potential.
Reed is already a more than satisfactory backup center as is, but adding a three-point shot to his game would be crucial because it might allow him to play alongside Embiid in two-big lineups. The Sixers have long hesitated to play the two together for meaningful periods of time, in part because of the offensive fit -- which is wonky at best. However, Embiid does have a track record of playing well alongside other true bigs, which he has not done in a long time -- think Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric and even Richaun Holmes.
Oubre Jr. is set to come back to action next week after fracturing his rib on Nov. 11, and his return is well-timed. The Sixers could really use exactly the type of player Oubre was for them in the first eight games of the season: a high-volume, decent-efficiency three-point shooter with the length and athleticism to defend wings.
Most of all, the Sixers will cherish Oubre's infectious energy, as he has a knack for making uplifting plays at the perfect times. The team has struggled to find consistently viable wing minutes from their bench in recent weeks, and Oubre can slot in there perfectly after Batum solidified himself as a starting-caliber player.
Oubre's return is imminent, and it will be tremendously valuable.
Follow Adam on Twitter: @SixersAdam
Follow PhillyVoice on Twitter: @thephillyvoice