Monday, October 3, 2022

Sixers stars called over possible trouble

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The Philadelphia 76ers have had trouble putting together the right backcourt combination in recent seasons.

In general, the team went with Ben Simmons and the two guards of the moment – Danny Green, Seth Curry, JJ Redick, Markelle Fultz, etc. – but with limited success. Simmons, while an electric playmaker, never developed as a shooter. And the rest of those other guards are long gone from Philadelphia.

This season, and stop it if you’ve heard this before, could be different. Instead of Simmons and Curry, the Sixers will field James Harden and Tyrese Maxey in the backcourt. There should be no lack of playmaking and scoring between the two. Harden gave out 10.5 assists last season while Maxey lost 42.7% of his three-pointers.

But that doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. As Rich Hofmann of the athlete pointed out that the two players could fight defensively.

“So much in playoff basketball boils down to chasing mismatch. As Boston has proven, one way to position a team for a title is when you don’t have major defensive weaknesses. The Sixers approach it differently. They’ve ramped up a two-way threat in the middle and the rest of the rotation with players who have the skills to hold their own defensively, but two of the team’s top three players could fight at the highest level on defense,” Hofmann wrote on 09/19

Hofmann also explained why Maxey and Harden may be chased in the playoffs.

Teams with two undersized guards rarely go far in the postseason. Even when both of these guards are stars, their defensive inefficiencies are often exposed in the playoffs. For example, that’s why the Atlanta Hawks paired longer Dejounte Murray with Trae Young this summer.

Harden, who stands at 6’5, is a giant compared to the 6’2 Maxey. It’s not a hit against smaller players; after all, Allen Iverson (6’0) made the most of his stature during his time in Philadelphia. But according to Hofmann, an undersized player like Iverson can be masked. But two?

“This is mainly due to the small size of the duo. A weaker defender can be bypassed – I can still see JJ Redick frantically protecting and recovering against Toronto in 2019 – but two is tougher,” explained Hofmann.

“This is the philosophical trade the Sixers made when they swapped Simmons for Harden. After witnessing Simmons’ repeated post-season struggles, trading the proven weakness for this potential one is a sensible decision. Embiid’s unfortunate injury made it difficult to answer that question last season. Hopefully that won’t be the case this time, whatever the outcome.”

Given Maxey and Harden’s defensive issues, could the Sixers look to swap another starter for a player who’s prospering at that end of the court? At least the idea was circulated.

Even with Maxey and Harden, the Sixers aren’t lacking in defensive talent. Joel Embiid is a monster at the post, while Matisse Thybulle was named to an all-defensive team last season. But Thybulle’s passion for shooting makes him borderline unplayable at times.

The Sixers also added PJ Tucker, who would be used as the starting five’s main defense. Tobias Harris remains with Tucker, Embiid, Maxey and Harden. Harris is a capable defender but the perfect world could include Harris being swapped out in favor of summer signing De’Anthony Melton on the bench.

“Without Harris, the roster makes more theoretical sense: imagine Embiid and Tucker’s big precourt, complemented by the jarring contrast of Maxey’s and Melton’s athleticism, all orchestrated by Harden’s dazzling basketball brain. That’s the ideal that Sixers’ most optimistic forecasters have in mind,” wrote RealGM’s John Wilmes on Sept. 15.

If Harris is indeed the underdog, it could hasten the forward’s departure from Philadelphia. The $180 million Harris has been rumored to have been on the trading bloc all summer, and that’s not expected to change any time soon.

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