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November 06, 2023

Six Sixers takeaways after six games

The Sixers are 5-1 through six games and look rejuvenated under new head coach Nick Nurse.

The Sixers stand at 5-1 through their first six games, with a measuring stick kind of matchup coming up on Wednesday night when they host the Boston Celtics. Heading into the biggest game of their season so far, more than a few noteworthy developments have become obvious in this young but eventful season.

No. 1: The minimum signings are working out

The Sixers were forced to sign three players to veteran's minimum contracts this summer: Patrick Beverley, Mo Bamba and Kelly Oubre Jr.

Typically the players at the bottom of the market, minimum signings usually come with little expectations. But for teams like the Sixers, it is essential to hit on at least one and find a useful rotation player, if not two. It's early, but it looks like the Sixers nailed two of their three minimum signings.

Bamba has not played any meaningful regular season minutes after having an underwhelming preseason. Beverley and Oubre Jr., though, have been rotation mainstays. Beverley has asserted himself as a core piece of the bench, thanks to his defense, hustle, and ability to do all of the little things. Oubre Jr. has been the star of the three, averaging 18.0 points per game on 41.9 percent shooting from three-point range. His shooting, defense and punch of energy have been driving forces for the Sixers, who are quickly relying on a player they did not expect to.

No. 2: Tobias Harris looks different

Harris has had an an extremely productive start to his season, averaging 19.7 points per game — more than he has ever averaged in a season as a Sixer — on almost comedic efficiency, as he is shooting over 63 percent from the field.

The most exciting development in Harris' season is not merely the shots going in, though. Harris is scoring in a wide variety of ways, whether it be spot-up shooting, self-created and isolation jumpers or putting his head down and getting to the rim or free throw line.

Harris has it all working right now, and it puts him in his peak form. It is a big "if," but if this is who he will be for the remainder of the season, the Sixers will be a much more dangerous team than expected.

No. 3: Joel Embiid is spreading the love

Embiid, the two-time reigning NBA scoring champion (and reigning MVP), has made putting the ball in the basket the signature ability in his game. And that will always be the case. But Embiid has passed the ball more than ever this season, now averaging 6.2 assists — a mark that would be the best of his career over a total season by far. For context, Embiid topped that number over any six-game stretch just once all of last season.

All of these observations come with the caveat that there is a small sample size, but this one is more than shooting variance — Embiid's approach looks entirely different, thanks in large part to new head coach Nick Nurse and a staff that has vocally encouraged their franchise centerpiece to seek out assists.

No. 4: Multiple rotation players are coming

The Sixers are still early in the process of integrating the newcomers acquired in the James Harden trade: Robert Covington, Marcus Morris Sr., KJ Martin and Nic Batum — particularly Batum, whose first handful of days after the trade were spent away from the team for personal reasons, and saw his first action Monday night against the Wizards and knocked down three triples.

Morris Sr. likely does not fit into the team's long-term rotation plans at this juncture, while Martin represents a wild card of sorts as a young, athletic piece who Nurse could get creative with down the lone.

Covington and Batum, though, likely figure into the team's calculus immediately as wings who provide different, unique skills to the table. Even after his athleticism has diminished some, Covington is a good option to defend the league's biggest and toughest wings thanks to his size, length and hands, and a high-volume spot-up shooter. Batum is a lightning-quick shooter who is also a very good passer for a wing. They should both add to what this team already has right now.

No. 5: Tyrese Maxey is becoming a playmaker

For a player as good as Maxey is, the offseason was filled with a lot more questions than one might expect. The subject: Maxey's playmaking, the one area of his game that hasn't improved rapidly over his first three years in the NBA. This was because of the knowledge that Harden had likely played his final game as a Sixer.

Nurse spoke at length during the team's training camp and preseason about his desire to see Maxey make strides here. Maxey has paid off those hopes early, averaging 7.3 assists per game — more than double his average from last season, and by far the best number of his career. Maxey is playing a different role and handling the ball much more often, yes — but even then, his turnovers are the lowest they have ever been in his three years as a regular rotation player.

It goes without saying that if Maxey continues to be this kind of facilitator, the Sixers — again — become much better than expected.

No. 6: They are figuring out how to win without Embiid

Embiid has played in every game for the Sixers so far this season. What he has not done, though, is watch his team suffer while he rests on the bench.

The Sixers' inability to hold up without Embiid has been an infamous storyline for as long as Embiid has been in the NBA. The revolving door of backup centers has finally led to success, though, as Paul Reed continues to be in the middle of non-Embiid lineups that are not just staying afloat, but thriving.

According to Cleaning The Glass, lineups featuring Reed — which often include Harris and Maxey — have a Net Rating of +12.4, a massive figure. Again, the Sixers are not just staying alive when Embiid rests -- they're blowing games open.

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