The Sixers continued their strong start to the preseason against lottery pick Mo Bamba and the Orlando Magic. Markelle Fultz earned another start from Brett Brown and did not disappoint as he hit his first career three pointer and added several more jumpers. Let’s run through the highlights from this victory.
The first quarter was dominated by Joel Embiid and Fultz as they scored 15 of the first 20 points for the Sixers. Fultz is showing no fear when faced with an open jumper and as that comfort grows he’s going to be an absolute nightmare to defend.
Embiid was showing off his whole arsenal in the first with some nice finishes down low and a fadeaway jumper. One part of Embiid’s game that must improve is shot selection. It’s clear that the Sixers are teaching their guys to take open threes no matter who you are as 10 of the 15 guys that played tonight attempted at least two three-point shots. We’ve seen this in the past as Embiid gets trigger happy and starts throwing up threes that when missed ruin the flow of the offense. Embiid was 1-6 from three tonight and that must improve.
Fultz continued his confident play hitting a pair of jumpers inside the arc while continuing to play great defense. Fultz had a beautiful block on DJ Augustin late in the quarter and hit a nice 15-footer on the next possession. It’s clear that defense is a top priority for this team. Marc and Alaa mentioned several times on the broadcast that both Ben Simmons and Embiid want to be All-NBA Defense First Team. If Robert Covington, Simmons and Embiid all play defense at an All-NBA level the league better be on notice.
Simmons is amazing to watch. There aren’t enough adjectives to properly convey what he brings to the court. He makes the game look so easy against the best players in the world. Simmons had some beautiful touch passes in the first half to seamlessly set up his teammates for easy shots. Simmons was also on the receiving end of an alley-oop from Embiid. It was nice to see that role change as Ben can finish around the rim just as competently as Embiid.
Fultz picked up where he left off hitting another jumper early in the third quarter. Fultz attempted another jumper on the very next possession and even though it was a miss it felt like progress. There was no hesitation from Fultz at any point tonight. Fultz also showed how competent he can be as the primary ball handler. Fultz gaining a jumper will allow Simmons to post up on smaller guards and continue his domination in the paint. It’s farfetched to say that Simmons could average 30+ per game without taking a single jump shot.
At around the four-minute mark, the last of the starters departed from the floor and it was a bench showcase. T.J. McConnell ran an entertaining unit including Furkan Korkmaz, rookie Landry Shamet, and trade acquisition Mike Muscala. Shamet has a silky-smooth shooting stoke and it’s very easy to see him catching fire and scoring points in heaps. His game is very similar to J.J. Reddick as he has a very high basketball I.Q., moves great without the ball, and has a lightning-quick release.
The fourth quarter of a preseason game is like the end of blowouts in college basketball where a deep bench walk-on player hits a three and the crowd erupts because of how rare it is for that player to score. Rookie Shake Milton and European stash Jonah Bolden played the bulk of the 4th quarter. Unfortunately, neither was particularly impressive. They both have great athleticism, especially Bolden, however, they both need to get used to the speed of the NBA. Against non-benchwarmers both these guys would have looked completely unworthy of being on the floor. They are both young and have plenty of time to grow and improve.
- Fultz looked fearless and as comfortable as he did in summer league last year and in college at Washington. I think many people are going to be in awe of how good he can be.
- Embiid made much better passing decisions in the post. He still had a couple terrible turnovers, but you can tell that he is being smarter with the ball.
- Simmons continues to do everything well. I know this has been said ad nauseum, but when he gets a reliable jumper the sky is the limit.
- Shamet could play 10-12 minutes per game right off the bat, however, he will likely be stuck behind Reddick. If Reddick misses any time Shamet will be slotted in his spot without a doubt.
- After two games, Brett Brown’s starting lineup seems set on Simmons-Fultz-Covington-Saric-Embiid. Muscala and Reddick will be the first two off the bench likely for Fultz and Embiid. Then Fultz and Embiid will return once Simmons takes a rest. Brown is determined to have at least one of Fultz/Simmons/Embiid on the floor at all times.
- Shamet fills the lane and moves well without ball and I think that will grant him more minutes.
- Conversely, Korkmaz seems absolutely lost without the ball on many possessions. He is a great shooter and makes some great cuts for layups, but there are far too many possessions where he looks lost. Time and experience will undoubtedly fix that issue.
- Muscala is a big man TJ. He is gonna scrap and do everything he can to help the team win games. If he can hit a consistent three pointer he’s going to be a huge piece for this team. He’s a plus rebounder and tough defender.
- Injuries to Jerryd Bayless and Wilson Chandler will have them both sidelined until the end of the month. This will provide an opportunity to the younger guys to get some extra minutes and get some experience. Bayless is likely not going to play many minutes for the Sixers this season but any extended absence for Chandler would be disappointing.
- In tight games, the Sixers defense will be able to bail them out. Simmons, Embiid, Fultz, and Convington are all constantly trying to create turnovers and are all long and athletic.
Joel Embiid – A+
Ben Simmons – A
Markelle Fultz – A
Robert Covington – A-
T.J. McConnell – B+
Landry Shamet – B+
J.J. Reddick – B+
Furkan Korkmaz – B
Amir Johnson – B
Mike Muscala – B-
Dario Saric – B-
Jonah Bolden – C+
Emeka Okafor – C
Demetrius Jackson – C
Shake Milton – C-
Another great showing from this young Sixers team. This will be the 2nd season with Simmons and Embiid playing together. I think it’s important to highlight that LeBron James missed the playoffs the first two years of his career and then took another seven seasons before winning a championship. Steph Curry missed the playoffs his first three seasons and it took him another three to win a championship. The Sixers are ahead of schedule and should not be rushed. The sky is the limit for this young core of Fultz/Simmons/Embiid and I can’t wait to see how far they can take it this year.
On a personal note, I had Sixers -6.5 tonight. Final score: Sixers 120, Magic 114. As Simmons would say, on to the next one. Trust the process.