Inside Sixers Adam's Brain
There are many familiar faces, but things are going to still look a lot different.
Adam Aaronson, whose legal name is Sixers Adam (@SixersAdam on Twitter), covers the Sixers for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez. He believes cantaloupe is the best food in existence, and is brought to you by the Official Realtor of The Process, Adam Ksebe.
With a hectic offseason finally winding down, we’re about a month away from the beginning of training camp in the NBA. And as basketball season s, it appears that the 2022-23 Sixers’ roster will look very similar, if not nearly identical, to what it is as we stand today.
With that being said, I’ve spent the last few weeks ruminating on what this team will actually look like on the floor. There are many familiar faces, but things are going to still look a lot different.
Here are some things on my mind as October approaches:
How much will an offseason and training camp help James Harden?
Harden and his Sixers teammates have spoken at length in the past about how his sudden arrival and entrance into the rotation made things challenging, specifically as they tried to all get on the same page as they integrated one of the most ball-dominant players in NBA history.
Despite those challenges, the Sixers’ offense almost instantly became excellent, with Harden and Joel Embiid developing impressive chemistry while Harden’s presence also made everything easier for Tyrese Maxey.
As we’ve seen with the likes of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris in the past, joining a team midseason and trying to make everything fit on the fly is not easy. But even then, Harden’s first couple of months in the regular season went swimmingly.
So, that begs the question: did this successful coalescence prove that those concerns were unwarranted, or did it show that things will be even better once the team does have a full training camp under its belt?
In addition to the chemistry-related benefits that could come with more familiarity, this offseason also provided Harden with an opportunity to improve physically. Harden had been an iron man of sorts for most of his career, but battled hamstring issues for the majority of last season, both in Brooklyn and Philadelphia.
Harden looked considerably less explosive than ever and often struggled to finish around the rim. Without becoming victims of the “best shape of their life” trope we hear about every professional athlete, is there a chance Harden has improved burst and body control after a handful of months of training? Time will tell.
What is PJ Tucker’s role actually going to be?
Tucker is synonymous with “3&D,” and to be fair, he does give you both of those skills as a player who can be relied upon in high leverage situations. But Tucker’s role will be much different than the starter he is replacing, Danny Green.
While Green did thrive as a corner three-point shooter as a Sixer, he was also a player the Sixers relied on for shot versatility -- and while Tucker has long been an excellent corner three-point shooter, he doesn’t provide any of the shot diversity or off-ball skills that Green did.
The vast majority of Tucker’s time as an offensive player will come with him merely standing in the corner if he won't be setting a screen. He is deadly from that spot, despite lacking other significant offensive abilities.
But the Sixers don’t need Tucker to be a tremendous offensive player, and that’s because he will be a massive upgrade in just about every other category. As Sixers fans saw far too often in the second round of the playoffs last year, Tucker is a tremendous rebounder on both sides of the ball. Despite being on the shorter side as far as wings are concerned, Tucker has an elite combination of strength, instincts and motor, which allows him to flourish in loose ball situations. Rebounding was often a weakness for the Sixers last season, particularly after the departure of Andre Drummond. Tucker will help remedy that issue in significant fashion.
And, of course, Tucker is an all-world defensive player. He’s shown an ability to defend just about any perimeter player and give them a tough time -- he’s spent time guarding players like Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum in the postseason, while also being capable of checking a smaller guard, as he did against Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Yes, Tucker is aging, but he still has the ability to defend across nearly all positions and archetypes, which will make life a whole lot easier for Doc Rivers and Dan Burke as they implement their defensive scheme.
One other angle that I haven’t seen addressed much regarding Tucker is his ability to potentially log minutes as a small-ball center. Far too many players are put in that difficult position these days, and Tucker’s minutes at center in last year’s playoffs did not go particularly well. But it’s something he’s done before, and I’m certain that at some point Rivers will plug him in at the five and hope it gives them an additional layer of versatility.
Is Shake Milton even going to play?
Milton has been a lock to crack the rotation since his emergence in 2019-20, but after his production declined as the season went on, he’s now in a difficult spot. Harden and Maxey will obviously be given heavy workloads, and on top of that, the Sixers acquired an excellent third guard in De’Anthony Melton, who will almost certainly be the team’s most active bench player. And with a logjam on the wing -- as Matisse Thybulle and Danuel House Jr. each vie for key roles off the bench -- going small with Milton as a wing might not be something Rivers ever tries.
Rivers has long been a public proponent of Milton’s abilities -- and due to injuries and the like, Milton will of course play at some point. But I’m not certain his opportunities will come on a day-to-day basis.