James Harden and Shake Milton, Blue x White scrimmage; photo by Austin Krell/TPL

The Sixers concluded their 4-0 preseason tour with a home victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday. Now, they gear up for next week’s start of the regular season. With the 82-game campaign just days away, who is rising and who is falling?

Joel Embiid: ↔️

The big man played in two of the four preseason games. He looked a little slow in the first one, but marched his way past interior defenders for a handful of layups in a preseason victory over the Cavaliers. Embiid then flushed a bunch of midrange jumpers over the Hornets in Wednesday’s win. The defensive effort wasn’t always noticeable, but rehearsals are for going through the motions. 

Embiid was pretty clearly one of the two best players on the floor in both games, continuing what he’s been over the last two seasons.

James Harden: 📈

Harden averaged 12.3 points per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.8:1 in the preseason. He shot 29% on twos, 47% on threes, and logged true shooting and effective field goal percentages of 53 and 48, respectively. The playmaking was tremendous, but the shooting and scoring efficiency need to be better. I believe that percentage on twos will come up with volume because no one shoots that poorly and the percentage on threes is evidence that he didn’t just fall off a cliff.

Harden looked much better in the last two games of the preseason than he did in his first game, stroking jumpers and beating defenders off the dribble with much more consistency and ease. His best showing was in Wednesday’s final dress rehearsal.

Most indicative of the work he put in this summer was the midrange game. NBA.com says that Harden shot 4-for-15 on midrange jumpers with the Sixers last season. But, their classification of midrange jumpers includes floaters. I believe Harden took about 5 legitimate midrange jumpers across 21 regular-season games as a Sixer in 2022. He shot 2-for-6 this preseason. He grew comfortable with going to that shot because he put in the work.

If that’s any barometer of the overall work Harden put in this summer, he’ll get more comfortable as the season goes on.

Tyrese Maxey: ⬆️

The third-year guard would’ve averaged over 20 points per game in the preseason had he not had a 3-for-13 outing in Wednesday’s finale. Maxey made 50 percent of his twos and 56 percent of his threes. Factor in a true shooting figure of 67% and an effective field goal number of 63%, and you have a very efficient showing in the preseason. The percentage on twos needs to come up a bit, but Maxey was the best player on the floor for either team in three of the four games.

Tobias Harris: 📈

I’m optimistic that Harris can find the 2022 playoffs version of himself if the current experiment isn’t working. But, it was a rough go in the preseason. Harris shot 46 percent on twos and 29 percent on threes as he tries to adapt to a true stretch-four role on offense. He experimented with navigating off-ball screens, launching threes in isolation, and letting it rip right off the catch. Harris is making quick decisions, even if he puts the ball on the floor first. The results just weren’t there in a small sample size, even if the processes were good.

PJ Tucker: ↔️

The Sixers’ free-agent upgrade took just 7 shots in the preseason. 4 of those attempts were threes. If you have your pitchforks drawn because he didn’t show much in the box score, you’re looking in the wrong place. He’s there to manufacture additional bites at the apple:

De’Anthony Melton: ⬇️

Coming into the preseason, I was optimistic that Melton’s ceiling was co-leading the reserve units on both ends of the floor. I thought the floor was being an above-average secondary ball-handler and something of a Thybulle clone on defense. In fact, I was so high on Melton taking a step in a bigger role with the Sixers that I voted him as Sixth Man of the Year in a preseason awards prediction guest poll for another publication.

The defense was as advertised, but, if preseason was any indicator, my offensive floor was too high. Melton was loose with the ball when handling for any type of prolonged stretch and weak when navigating traffic. Although obviously not a huge sample size of attempts, Melton missed all of his catch-and-shoot threes. That’s somewhat discouraging, with his fit as an off-ball guard propped up by the marksmanship he displayed with the Grizzlies last season.

Montrezl Harrell: ⬆️

Maybe a bit better than what I anticipated as a defensive rebounder, exactly what I thought on the offensive glass. Harrell scored in a variety of ways around the rim. Dump-off pass at the rim? He shielded the ball from every defender collapsing on him and went up strong. A miss off the rim? He found his way to the offensive glass for putback dunks. Post-up or face-up? A quick first step and purposeful, aggressive attack at the basket. Pick-and-roll or runway to go at an individual defender? Harrell is an absolute freight train. Ludacris said it best:

Danuel House Jr.: ↔️

He shot 3-for-6 from deep. When the Bi-Annual exception might be a slight overpay, “uneventful” is probably a good thing, and that’s exactly what the preseason was for House. Not bad, but nothing stood out. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sixers made a consolidation trade to add another wing so that House is a bit lower on the importance meter for this team.

Matisse Thybulle: 📈

I gravitated between “trending up” (the choice) and “as expected” (the left and right arrows) on this one. We know what he is defensively. There’s nothing to gain from judging that part of his game in the preseason. He started preseason 1-for-6 from three after much was made of the work he put in on his shot this summer. He then had a 3-for-5 showing in the second Cavaliers game to go 4-for-11 in total over the four rehearsals. I was impressed by the confidence he had to keep shooting when the early results weren’t good, but time will tell. “Trending up” isn’t really a confident choice for me, which might say more about where things stand than the actual decision to go with that choice.

Georges Niang: ↔️

Niang canned 7 of his 17 three-point attempts in the preseason. You can classify that as “to be expected”. What I didn’t anticipate was that he’d take 6 twos. One was a layup from grabbing the long offensive rebound on his own missed three. He had a nice off-ball cut, too. But, if Niang is successfully backdooring your defense, you have some significant issues. 

Shake Milton: ⬆️

Milton looked really shifty with the ball in his hands, and his touch in the midrange was good. I don’t know that we’re ever going to see Milton turn into a volume three-point shooter, but if he’s hitting 45-50 percent of his midrange pull-ups, that’ll play. I was pleasantly surprised by that aforementioned shiftiness he showed as a ball-handler. Did I mention the shiftiness? 

Paul Reed: ⬆️

Reed’s 10 steals in the preseason led the Sixers. As the games went on and his minutes rose, Reed visibly became more comfortable. He felt empowered to take a midrange jumper in the second game against the Cavaliers. There were times when he found himself with the ball as the shot clock wound down and looked for a handoff partner instead of attacking. In those moments, he should survey the floor in front of him and attack if he has the space. With increased opportunity, he’s figuring it out. Imagine that.

Furkan Korkmaz: ⬇️

You can only watch so many preseason and early regular-season games before you realize that Korkmaz’s pass fake, shot fake ball-handling razzle-dazzle is not a lengthy visitor. He shot 2-for-12 from three in the preseason. Sure, you can give him a bit of a curve as he plays his first NBA games since recovering from nerve damage in his hand. You want the player to tell the truth, and you appreciate it when he does. The downside of that — in this case, Korkmaz admitting that an injury affected what was a very disappointing fifth season in the NBA — is that it sets an expectation that performance will improve with the issue resolved. That’s why he’s falling instead of “trending down” or “as expected”. How many times do you need to see the same things before you form a conclusion?

Jaden Springer: 📈

We know what the defense is. He’s ready in that regard. Springer has galaxies to go before he’s an NBA-level offensive player. Still, he looked much better on that side of the ball in the preseason than he did in summer league.

Charlie Brown Jr.: ⬇️

A theoretical 3-and-D type who took and missed 4 threes in 36 minutes of preseason action. Brown had a nice play or two around the rim. If the Sixers are able to re-sign the waived Isaiah Joe on a Two-Way deal, I’d think Brown would be the one to go.

Julian Champagnie: ⬆️

22 points and 12 rebounds in 37 minutes of preseason play. 18 field goal attempts, 12 of which were threes. Champagnie certainly isn’t bashful, but you always prefer aggressive over passive. He’ll get run with the Blue Coats as the second Two-Way guy.

Michael Foster Jr.: 📈

He didn’t get much run, and he missed 7 of his 9 field goal attempts. But, the rookie Exhibit 10 signee collected 7 rebounds in 18 minutes. He has the makings of a legitimate body at the forward spots. We’ll see what he can do in Delaware, but I think the Sixers view him as more than just a flyer.


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