Maxey and Harden, Blue x White 2022; photo by Austin Krell/TPL

Life as a Philadelphia sports fan couldn’t be better. Amid the Phillies’ playoff run and the Eagles’ 5-0 start, the Sixers concluded the preseason with a convincing 4-0 record. That includes wins against the Brooklyn Nets, the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, and the Charlotte Hornets. The Sixers came out guns blazing and there were many impressive takeaways from this revamped squad. 

Tyrese Maxey’s Stardom

Last year, Maxey took a significant leap from his 2020-2021 rookie campaign. He scored 9.5 more points per game, dimed 2.3 more assists per game, and his true-shooting percentage increased by 6.3%. Tyrese’s overall offensive skill set was more polished and he earned the rising-star title. Maxey made strides as a three-level scorer, which made him more of a scoring threat. If there’s one thing you could take away from Tyrese’s sophomore year, it’s that he consistently improved all around and is on track to be one of the best combo guards in the league.

With that being said, this summer, the biggest question revolving around Maxey was how much better can he be this coming season. Many have hopes that he’ll make his first all-star appearance this year and become a 20-point-per-game scorer. Judging by Maxey’s performance in Philly’s exhibition games, he could very well achieve those feats. 

“It’s Simple Mathematics”

Maxey’s high-level scoring capabilities were on full display in the preseason. In Philly’s opening game against Brooklyn, he scored 20 points, tallied 3 assists, and shot 6-8 from the field (75.0 FG%). Then in the following contest versus Cleveland, Tyrese racked up 21 points, 2 assists, and shot an accurate 9-11 from the field (81.8 FG%). In their rematch opposing the Cavs, Maxey obtained 19 points and drained 3-5 (60.0 3PT%) of his three-point attempts. Overall, Tyrese averaged 17.3 points per game, had a 67.0 true-shooting percentage, knocked down 50.0% of his shot attempts inside the arc, and netted 56.0% of his three-point tries. (via Austin Krell of The Painted Lines)

One Percent Better

One focal point of Maxey’s preseason outings was his pinpoint three-point shooting. He earned a wealthy living from greening three-pointers off the catch. Tyrese favored letting it fly from the wings and often used a dribble or two to get his shot off. He also was an elite shooter off of motion, especially from the corners. Newly acquired forward P.J. Tucker set pindown screens for Maxey in which he dashed to the corner and splashed in threes off skip passes. 

Another area where Maxey excelled was his finishing and aggressiveness. Tyrese was a force to be reckoned with in transition and his speedy first step left defenders in the dust. Something apparent was the rising star’s increased strength, a weapon he used in the point-of-attack. Maxey’s newfound physicality made it easier to create separation from his defender and used his crafty ball handling to finish at the rim. 

Tyrese was able to figure out how to use his rim pressure to create for his teammates. This was a sector of his game that Maxey has never truly capitalized on before. When Tyrese drives to the rim, defenses tend to gravitate into the paint, which leaves shooters open. Maxey is starting to make these reads and make skip passes to the corners and find back-cutters sprinting to the basket. 

Maxey’s profound three-point shooting combined with his upgraded playmaking and finishing will catapult him to the all-star level if he continues to perform at this rate. 

“Almost Unstoppable”

When James Harden was traded to Philadelphia mid-season last year, many had high hopes for Harden and Joel Embiid. Although the duo did have some promising moments, they fell short in the playoffs and ultimately underperformed. Harden’s conditioning, lack of chemistry, and Embiid’s injuries were all to blame. Regardless, the two all-stars’ games flow extremely well with each other. The Embiid/Harden pick-and-roll resulted in a bucket almost every time. With Harden set to have a comeback season, there’s optimism that this duo will become even more lethal. 

During Philly’s Media Day, Joel Embiid spoke about his partnership with James Harden: “Obviously, our pick-and-roll was almost unstoppable.” (via Derek Bodner of The Daily Six Newsletter) 

In the few games Embiid and Harden participated in during the preseason, the pick-and-roll was in full effect. No more so than against Charlotte. With James and Joel being such volatile scoring threats from anywhere on the court, defenses are naturally pulled toward them.

When coming off the Embiid screen, Harden often faced blitzes, which gave Joel an easier opportunity to score in the paint. On the other hand, Embiid is frequently surrounded by two to three bodies in the restricted area and that opens up ways for Harden to score. Surprisingly, James attempted a respectable amount of mid-range jumpers off the pick-and-roll. Usually, Harden tends to burst to the hoop in hopes to score and quickly dish it to the rolling man. However, this wasn’t the case as he shot step-back jumpers from 8 to 10 feet and pull-up jumpers just below the free throw line. This could be a sign that Harden’s ability to finish is on the decline, that he’s trying to add the mid-range to his repertoire, or a mix of both. 

The Big Fella

Sixers fans got a brief glimpse of Joel Embiid in the preseason. He only played in two games, one against Cleveland and the other against Charlotte. In that small sample size, Embiid averaged 15.5 points per game, 6.0 rebounds per game, possessed a poor 48.8 true-shooting percentage, and shot 90.3% in the paint.

Joel’s shooting touch wasn’t entirely there in those two games. Embiid struggled to hit shots outside the paint and when he did it was a misfire. The all-star is one of the better shooting bigs in the NBA and as the season progresses, he’s bound to get back in rhythm. Embiid also didn’t attempt a lot of threes, shooting only 2.5 per contest. Some would argue that Joel should remain in the post at all times. There is some validity to that claim considering his position and size. But, being a perimeter threat as a center puts the defense in shambles. 

Nonetheless, Embiid dominated in the low post per usual. He favored pull-up shots and bulldozed defenders with his broad shoulders and effortlessly finished at the rim. Embiid was very active on the offensive glass and played with more urgency on defense as well. Joel was physical and locked up anyone who dared to try and score in the restricted area. However, his drop coverage against the pick-and-roll got taken advantage of many times by the likes of Darius Garland and Gordon Hayward. Both of those players are creative in between defenders, so Embiid would find more success by hedging the pick-and-roll or playing a higher form of drop coverage.

100-Pound Harden

James Harden had a convincing run in the preseason that should have Sixers fans optimistic about what’s to come. He played in three of Philadelphia’s scrimmage games but was unfortunately on load management against Brooklyn. Nevertheless, Harden averaged 12.3 points per game, 4.7 assists per game, earned a modest 52.7 true-shooting percent, and shot 46.7% from three on 5.0 attempts per game.

Harden spent a great chunk of the offseason focusing on weight loss and body conditioning. During Media Day, James playfully said he lost 100 pounds and encouraged members of the Sixers’ Beat to tweet that. However, it appears that the former MVP gained more muscle rather than slimming down. Regardless, his body was in a healthier state and well-conditioned for 30 or more minutes of action. 

Still, Harden’s perimeter shot creation didn’t seem to improve from last season. His signature step-back move didn’t create a significant amount of space between him and his defender. Harden’s ball-handling ability was intact, but he lost control of his handle at times. Nonetheless, James was still an elite playmaker off the pick-and-roll and used his gravity to create for others. He made excellent reads, made vital skip passes, and gifted Embiid precise pocket passes. James seemed to regain his scoring identity as both a shooter and slasher. Harden netted perimeter shots off the catch and utilized flare screens as well as a few dribbles to let it fly. On isolation drives, the 2018 MVP was able to forcefully get by his defender and swiftly finish at the rim. 

The New Guys

The Sixers were one of the more fascinating teams to take a look at during the preseason with the impactful additions of P.J. Tucker, Montrezl Harrell, De’Anthony Melton, and Danuel House. The newest 76ers did not disappoint and there’s quite a lot to like.

P.J. Tucker

P.J. Tucker made his preseason debut in Philly’s second preseason game against the Cavaliers and played in each game from then on. Offensively, Tucker was mainly used as an off-the-ball screener and in Harden’s pick-and-rolls. His pindown screens were paramount in getting the Sixers better ball movement and open threes. When teams blitzed Harden on the pick-and-roll, Tucker short-rolled and either attempted a quick floater or made a decisive pass to the corner resulting in a three. Defensively, he was very switchable and defended the point-of-attack well. Against Cleveland, he was assigned to Donovan Mitchell and held his own. Tucker guarded one of the most explosive guards in the NBA, further displaying his versatility. P.J.’s off-ball activity and defense is something the Sixers never had before and it’s working out very well. 

Montrezl Harrell 

Montrezl Harrell overly fulfilled Philadelphia’s need for a reliable backup center. Harrell played with an endless amount of competitiveness on both ends of the ball. Montrezl constantly finds himself in situations that involve shoving or trash-talking, which is why Philly is such a great fit. Off the bench, Harrell worked fast and quickly filled up the stat sheet with points and rebounds. He was extremely active on the glass and capitalized on put-back buckets. Montrezl can body his defender, attack the rim with strength, and often rely on simple post moves to get his. He can occasionally knock down jumpers at times and protects the rim well for being an undersized center. Throughout the preseason, Harrell averaged 12.3 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game, on a 70.7 true-shooting percentage, albeit on a limited shooting range. 

De’Anthony Melton

De’Anthony Melton came to Philadelphia exactly as advertised. Melton is a high-energy defender who will pick a player up at half-court and try to rip the ball out of his hands before he crosses the logo. He has eye-catching instincts, elite point-of-attack defense, stops the ball, forces turnovers, and snipes passing lanes. He can truly do it all on the defensive end as a guard and calling him pesky would be an understatement. Melton is a rather trigger-happy perimeter shooter, which tanked his true-shooting percentage to 41.1%. De’Anthony didn’t have much success beyond the arc, but he’s still a capable shooter who will pick it up as the season goes on. In transition, he greatly pushed the pace and made excellent reads off drives.

Danuel House

Danuel House had an under-the-radar preseason as he was overlooked by Philly’s other off-season additions. Nonetheless, House played his two-way perfectly and was nothing short of reliable. Danuel was automatic shooting threes off the catch, and he played great point-of-attack defense. In the preseason, he averaged 5.7 points per game, hit 50.0% of his three-point attempts, and had an 86.0 true-shooting percentage on a low shot volume. House is panning out to be an excellent wing for Philly that can play both ends of the ball. 

The Sixers will kick off the regular season against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday at 7:30 pm EST exclusively on TNT. 



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here