Your Philadelphia 76ers are back — sort of. They kicked off their preseason slate on Monday night, visiting the Raptors in Toronto. Poor perimeter and transition defenses dropped Philly to 0-1 in the preseason, 123-107.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
Joel Embiid (rest) and Tobias Harris (right knee soreness) were unavailable for the team’s first preseason game. Ben Simmons (‘Not With Team‘) did not play. Charles Bassey was not available due to the team’s finalizing his work visa.
The team relayed to reporters that Bassey’s circumstance is limited to preseason. He is not expected to miss additional time related to the visa.
Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Georges Niang, and Andre Drummond.
The Raptors were without Pascal Siakam (left shoulder rehabilitation) and Chris Boucher (dislocated left middle finger). Khem Birch (health and safety protocol) was also unavailable.
Nick Nurse started Goran Dragić, Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, and Precious Achiuwa.
Georges Niang certainly wasn’t bashful about putting the ball on the floor in the early moments of the contest. Perhaps weaponizing his playmaking to see what it looked like in a real game was something of which Rivers and his staff made a point leading up to the game. After all, there was a concerted effort to portray the veteran forward as more than just a stretch-four during last week’s training camp.
The early results were, well, what you would expect. There was an obvious rust to his processing speed when he decided to attack the rim. Playing with new teammates likely played a role, as well. There were a handful of occasions in which poor spacing inhibited his ability to operate in space or even put the ball on the deck at all. As he gets more comfortable within the offense, those issues will fade. The bigger question is whether he’s adept enough as a self-provisioning creator to actually be trusted as a playmaker.
Andre Drummond was brilliantly dominant in his first quarter as a Sixer. Yes, you read that right — dominant. But it wasn’t as if he was featured in the offense, though. He identified opportunities against smaller defenders and adapted to what the defense was showing. If he was within reasonable range of a post-up against a wing, Drummond shielded the ball with his body and attacked the cup. Beyond that, he was active within the offense and scored organically. Most impressive was his second jump on the offensive glass. He drew fouls and registered second-chance points solely on the basis of those extra efforts.
Rivers threw out a lineup of Maxey, Curry, Shake Milton, Danny Green, and Furkan Korkmaz to end the first quarter. Hell did not freeze over.
Maxey And Milton Splitting Point Guard Duties
There were some obvious growing pains that resulted from having multiple inexperienced point guards command the offense. Maxey and Milton combined for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.25:1 in the first half. Some of that is a product of facing opponents defending with urgency for the first time in months. Imposing defense will naturally breed some indecision in a ball-handler. The other component is that Rivers is trying to teach ball movement and spacing. So, errant passes resulted. With more minutes, either comfort will come or the Sixers will know that the two aren’t point guards. But, that’s a discussion for a different time.
Toronto connected on eight triples in the first half. It felt like all eight had an arm’s length of space. The perimeter defense will need to tighten up.
Toronto’s three-point shooting, combined with Philly’s live-ball turnovers and poor transition defense, gave the Raptors a thirteen-point advantage at halftime.
It was a tale of two halves for Drummond. After a great first half, he rapidly became a liability early in the second half. There was far too much reliance upon him to initiate the offense at the top of the key and then resort to putting the ball on the floor when dribble hand-offs didn’t materialize. Toronto anticipated those opportunities, and closed the driving lanes with helpers. As you might guess, a slew of live-ball turnovers ensued and the Raptors were off to the races.
That boils down to over-exposure. If Drummond gets enough minutes, he’s going to venture outside of his bread-and-butter. When that happens, good defenses will capitalize.
Toronto’s size gave the Sixers fit in the pick-and-roll. On-ball defenders were able to extend their arms and deflect skip passes to the wings and corners. Alternatively, helpers were able to make the extra steps to affect the passing lanes. That’s something that the Sixers’ offense will miss with Simmons out of the picture. Even with his limitations, Simmons was able to see and pass over virtually any defender in his way.
Isaiah Joe And Volume Shooting
Isaiah Joe might have a place in the rotation because of his lack of conscience as a three-point shooter. His volume of attempts is going to resonate on scouting reports. And he’s skilled enough as a shooter that he’ll make an adequate percentage of those attempts.
A volume three-point shooter is something the Sixers will need in their second unit. Too often last season would Philly’s bench get torched in games because they didn’t have any variety of scoring in the second unit. The shooting from the reserves was essentially a lottery ticket on any given night. A high-volume shooter like Joe is innately streaky. But, the Sixers need to bet on his hot streaks for the sake of getting points on the board from anyone outside of the starting unit.
Athletic Displays, Aplenty
Paul Reed is the energizer bunny that keeps on giving. He was pushing the ball in transition and making skip-ahead passes, and then relocating to the paint to scratch and claw with the bigger Raptors on the court. Given how he and Drummond were staggered, there might be an acceptance amongst Philly’s higher-ups as to what Reed is — a center.
It’s hard to say with any sort of definition what will translate from preseason to the regular season. But, athleticism is athleticism. Much would have to go wrong for Grant Riller to get rotation minutes this season. But, I’m buying his rare vertical athleticism as a small guard. He has the ability to finish at the level of the rim instead of below the rim, unlike most smaller guards. So, efficiency around the cup is something in which you can purchase some stock.
- Seth Curry scored 14 points in 17 first-half minutes. He facilitated the offense a bit, and hit a couple pull-up triples. *Cue the flashbacks to the Hawks series*
- Drummond finished with 19 points (7-for-8 on free throws), 14 boards, and 4 blocks — get excited!
The Sixers will switch places on Thursday, hosting the Raptors at 7 PM EST. You can watch the action on NBATV.