So Far, So Good – 22 Observations from the Sixers’ Preseason Win

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

That was fun. Nice to watch a Sixers basketball team with players who can dribble and shoot, as opposed to numerous lumbering behemoths bumping into each other with regularity.

The Sixers beat the Celtics 108-99 on Tuesday evening to kick off their short preseason. We got a heavy dose of Doc Rivers’ main rotation, with three starters getting 20+ minutes each while Joel Embiid and Danny Green played 17 and 13, respectively.

Said Rivers on the performance –

“I thought we established our pace overall. I thought in the first quarter at times I had to get them to, I think Ben one time was walking the ball up the court and I jumped up and (got involved). Just the pace alone puts pressure on the other teams. And what I’m trying to get our guys to understand, with our size, we have size and pace that creates force, and that makes us tough to guard in the open floor. Watching the game, I was very happy with our open-floor game. I wasn’t thrilled with our execution, but it’s the first game, you can’t expect everything.”

My observations, which go in somewhat-chronological order:

1. The Sixers did a really nice job setting up the arena. There were branded tarps over the empty sections while media had a concourse and lower bowl setup with spaced out tables. They had music playing over the loudspeakers with the dunk squad and drum team in the house, so really they did the best they could trying to replicate the typical atmosphere under difficult conditions.

My personal opinion is that it’s quite LOUD in the building, almost jarring at times, but I asked Rivers about the arrangements after the game and if it helped create a helpful atmosphere, and this is what he had to say:

“I would still take our fans over what we heard. But I thought our guys in game operations did a terrific job overall. I thought whoever was running game ops did a great job of understanding when we needed defense, you could hear the crowd noise. It was definitely better, you felt like you were at home better than you did in the bubble. Let me put it like that. I felt like this was a home game for us and that was nice. I thought having the band and (dunk squad) and stuff was a good touch.”

2. It was nice to watch the game from higher up instead of having to crane my neck around the basket the entire time. It’s just easier to see player movement and pick out specific plays and sets and comment appropriately. Most of the time if your seats are in sections 106, 107, 119, or 120, you can’t see jack without having to constantly look at the jumbotron. Media should have an easier time making observations this year that might not be seen on television.

3. Both teams took a knee before the national anthem. They had the singer standing on a stage that was constructed in section 101 inside the lower bowl. Christian Crosby and his crew were up on this same stage holding up signs and yelling and cheering. During the game we had piped in boos and cheers and other artificial noise.

4. The starting lineup was what we expected – Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris bumping down to the four, Danny Green at the three, Seth Curry, and Ben Simmons.

5. Offensively, we saw a couple of early Tobias Harris pick and roll ball handler possessions, with Embiid screening. Pretty good off-ball movement from Seth Curry as well and a successful stagger DHO for a knock down jumper. They ran a lot of basic motion stuff and got away from the heavy post-up routine we saw last year.

6. Looks like ’12’ is still gonna be in the Sixers playbook. They ran it with Simmons and Curry in the first quarter. This used to be a Simmons/Redick staple for Brett Brown and is essentially just a hybrid pick and roll/brush cut with the screener starting on the baseline.

7. Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, and Dwight Howard were the first three off the bench. This was expected. Mike Scott was #4 with Simmons playing the entirety of the first quarter. Rivers only played 10 players in the first half and didn’t do deeper on the bench until the fourth quarter, so you can tell the schedule is squeezed and he’s just trying to get this team to jell as quickly as possible.

8. Different guys brought the ball up the floor in this game. It really was point guard by committee. We even had Howard and Embiid bringing it up a few times.

9. Embiid came off the floor in the first quarter a little later than it typically would have under Brown. We went a few minutes without a first quarter whistle in this game, so that may have been why he stayed on the floor slightly longer than expected.

10. Furkan looks like he put on weight or at least filled out a bit. Not sure how he looked on TV, but he looks bigger in person. It also was a little deceptive considering the fact that he wasn’t wearing his typical leggings. Maybe an optical illusion.

11. Pick and roll drop coverage appears to be gone. Last year, Embiid’s starting point here would have been about 3-4 feet deeper:

This higher coverage is more aggressive and prevents offensive players from taking those easy and conceded mid-range jumpers.

12. Howard provides some really nice backup center minutes. He gives rim protection and rebounding and looks like the perfect 2nd unit guy behind Embiid.

13. They will need to find another scorer on the second unit. Scott, Matisse Thybulle, and Korkmaz aren’t going to create their own shots, so a lot falls on Milton’s shoulders. Shake had himself a game, going for 19 points on 8 of 14 shooting.

14. Pretty depressing halftime at the Center. No fans, no concessions being served, nada:

It felt like a ghost town in there.

15. Second-half starting lineup: Simmons, Milton, Curry, Harris, Howard.  A three “guard” lineup to begin the third quarter. Embiid did not play in the second half and we saw Tony Bradley as the third center behind him and Howard.

16. The Sixers have a good far end of the bench cheering section. Tyrese Maxey, Justin Anderson, Vincent Poirier, Isaiah Joe – these dudes were all on their feet after every basket. It seemed to me like they were much more enthusiastic than the group was last season, and even when the starters were out of the game, they were mostly on their feet and cheering for the backups. This was very noticeable.

17. Three point shooting: After going 1-12 from three in the first half they picked it up with six makes in the second half. It was brick city early. 

18. Tyrese Maxey got his first minutes to start the fourth quarter in a lineup that included Bradley, Thybulle, Korkmaz, and Scott. He worked as the primary ball handler and dished a couple of assists to Scott right off the bat, then added a nice Euro-step and reverse layup, followed by a series of nifty runners and floaters. His offensive game looks solid, though he seems somewhat raw on the defensive end, committing a bad foul and letting two guys go right past him. He’s not in the primary rotation right now but will have a chance to displace somebody else as the season gets underway.

19. Dakota Mathias got some fourth quarter run with Justin Anderson, then Doc started emptying the bench with five minutes remaining.

20. Thybulle did not have a good game. I also thought Simmons looked like the same player we’ve seen for the past three seasons. Early days, I know.

21. Payton Pritchard gives me serious Gerry McNamara and Eric Devendorf vibes. Small Caucasian guard vibes.

22. Finally, a nice tribute to the late John Smallwood at a symbolically empty table, and also a shoutout on the jumbotron before the game:

Nice gesture by the Sixers. Good start for the team. On to the second and final preseason game.

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