Sixers season outlook, Part 2: Joel Embiid’s defense, Montrezl Harrell’s fit and rebounding

At this time subsequent week, the Philadelphia 76ers might be practising at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C. Today, we’re going to proceed with the second one batch of key questions that I’ve in regards to the Sixers’ on-court product this season.

In case you overlooked Part 1, it thinking about James Harden (who appeared to revel in himself at The Linc on Monday night time) and Tyrese Maxey. Now let’s flip our consideration to the crew’s MVP candidate and the remainder of the frontcourt. Here are questions 6-10:

6. Will Joel Embiid flip up the defensive depth?

After each sport final season, Embiid typically mentioned one thing uniquely insightful. Even after a ho-hum January win over New Orleans, he admitted that he wasn’t enjoying with the easiest depth degree in a disappointing first part.

There is a technique to the insanity. How Embiid has realized to pick out his spots and tempo himself via an 82-game season is one of the vital under-discussed part of a scrutinized occupation. Finding that tempo is a tough balancing act. When Embiid tries to preserve some power, it may possibly develop into evident to even the untrained eye. The Sixers usually play worse as a result of, neatly, they’ve trusted Embiid to do the entirety. But he additionally shouldn’t be enjoying at complete throttle for stretches of a grueling season.

As Embiid discussed within the video above, availability used to be one among his primary targets final season. Mission completed: Outside of a three-week COVID-19 absence, he performed 68 video games and handiest overlooked the occasional load control night time. That degree of sturdiness calls for some good fortune, but additionally the information of when to step off the gasoline. The days of Embiid diving into the 1/3 row as a result of he’s diminished to a 20-minute restrict and received’t play within the subsequent back-to-back are over.

While Embiid’s numbers will have been a tad higher in 2020-21, the level of issue final season used to be upper. That boils right down to Ben Simmons refusing to play on a roster that used to be constructed to depend on his athleticism, playmaking and protection. Looking forward, this season’s crew is deeper and includes a operating mate who’s enjoying basketball. Embiid shouldn’t have to hold as a lot of the weight, but this Sixers crew may want him in a extra particular manner: protection.

As I discussed within the first publish, Maxey and Harden supply problems defensively. The remainder of the roster is stuffed with succesful defenders, and if Embiid can lead that staff to a best 5 end, he may well be within the operating for NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Lost within the MVP noise over the last few years, this is an award he covets as neatly.

This isn’t to mention that Embiid received’t ranking round 30 issues in line with sport. He will. It’s merely a popularity that Harden, Maxey and Tobias Harris are a succesful supporting forged that has 3-point capturing surrounding it. Last season, when Embiid used to be tasked with doing the entirety, the Sixers gave up 109.0 issues in line with 100 possessions when he used to be at the flooring. That is excellent, the eightieth percentile of all avid gamers in line with Cleaning The Glass, but it surely used to be the bottom mark of his occupation. With a greater, deeper crew, may Embiid burn some extra gas at the defensive finish?

7. What’s subsequent for Embiid as an offensive participant?

Per Synergy Sports, listed below are the selection of pick-and-roll possessions completed by means of Embiid over the last 4 common seasons: 133, 123, 162 and 316. Since that used to be handiest with James Harden at the crew for one-third of the season, you possibly can be expecting him to set some other occupation top in that class if he remains quite wholesome.

That a part of the sport doesn’t come naturally to Embiid, who’s on document announcing, “I don’t really want to catch lobs and jump all over the place.” Staying at the flooring in additional eventualities permits him to play in additional video games. But what Embiid began to understand is that with Harden operating the pick-and-roll, he didn’t want to leap like Clint Capela to have good fortune as a curler. Harden’s passing, mixed along with his measurement and talent, were given Embiid a ton of straightforward baskets.

It’s a captivating time for Embiid’s offensive sport. On one hand, Harden supplies him with high quality seems that he doesn’t need to create. But Embiid is also all the time having a look to enlarge the boundaries of his sport, which received’t alternate now that Harden is right here.

One factor we now have realized about Embiid and his instructor Drew Hanlen is that the entirety is aimed toward the playoffs. He usually takes courses from the former postseason and applies them to his sport the next season. When Toronto doubled him within the publish within the 2019 playoffs, he changed into extra perimeter-oriented. The adjustments Embiid has made have basically proven up within the common season, as he completed 2d in MVP vote casting for 2 consecutive years.

What’s subsequent? The factor with final season is that there each on-court postseason lesson may well be caveated with the truth that Embiid suffered a damaged face and a concussion. But there all the time is one thing. One space to observe may well be his isolation sport, which has risen in frequency every of the previous 4 seasons. That usually approach catching the ball in the course of the ground and dealing with up opposing facilities.

8. With Montrezl Harrell aboard, how will Doc Rivers care for the backup heart rotation?

I’ve come to simply accept that, in overlaying this franchise, we’re sure to spend as a lot time discussing the backup heart place than the opposite 29 groups mixed.

Instead of rehashing the DeAndre Jordan and Paul Reed calculus from a 12 months in the past, which is recent in everybody’s thoughts, let’s rewind again to the primary season of the Daryl Morey-Rivers generation. Then, the Sixers caught with Dwight Howard all of the season and cruised to the No. 1 seed. As an ordinary season backup, Howard proved helpful. But that crew didn’t experiment as a result of there wasn’t a valid small-ball heart at the roster. They weren’t ready when Howard proved unplayable come playoff time. The backup heart scenario used to be a long way from the one reason why the Sixers bowed out in the second one around to Atlanta, but it surely positive didn’t lend a hand.

As of now, Harrell is a greater participant than Reed. Harrell is a superb pick-and-dive heart who possesses each physicality and contact across the rim, which is why Harden used to be recruiting him arduous. But Harrell’s defensive boundaries, and the issues they could pose within the playoffs à l. a. Howard a couple of years in the past, are neatly chronicled. In reality, Rivers had a front-row seat for them.

The primary distinction between 2021 and ’23 is that the Sixers appear to have more than one in-house choices already at the roster. Reed held up fairly neatly within the first-round sequence in opposition to Toronto — a plus-2.2 web ranking over six video games doesn’t appear to be a lot, however bearing in mind this place’s fresh historical past, it very a lot is — and then used to be installed an unimaginable spot after Embiid went down.

And there could also be a historical past of P.J. Tucker enjoying as small-ball 5 in a hit lineups with Harden, switch-heavy teams that offer Harden with an optimally spaced flooring. The Sixers now not handiest have the middle to play that taste (Tucker), however a couple of additional 3-and-D wings as neatly. Harrell must carry out within the bulk of the mins, however Reed and Tucker must fairly get their possibilities if handiest to peer the way it seems briefly spurts.

How Rivers handles this factor might be interesting. And in a comparable query…

9. How a lot switching will the Sixers protection experiment with?

This is one thing I touched on when writing concerning the additions of Tucker, De’Anthony Melton and Danuel House Jr. Those 3 avid gamers, in conjunction with Harden, Reed, Harris and Matisse Thybulle, shape a gaggle of 7 avid gamers who may swap maximum monitors 1 via 5. Embiid is succesful as neatly, even supposing that isn’t one thing the Sixers need him doing a lot of within the common season.

That received’t be the Sixers’ base protection since Embiid is right here, however may it theoretically be one thing we may see extra of? Perhaps now not, since Rivers and assistant Dan Burke come from the similar college of a crew mastering its core defensive ideas. But the team of workers is right here to experiment a bit of extra in the event that they make a selection to move in that route.

10. Will the added athleticism translate at the flooring?

There used to be a time when Simmons and Embiid had been tasked with operating the offense as younger avid gamers within the NBA, and turnovers had been the Sixers’ largest factor. That has modified in fresh seasons, each because of Embiid’s person development (he has diminished his turnovers each season of his occupation) and the crew’s advanced guard play. Last season, it used to be transparent what the Sixers’ bugaboo used to be: They may now not take hold of a rebound.

Before Harden’s arrival, the rebounding bordered on one thing of a crisis. Despite having Embiid and Drummond, the Sixers had been fifteenth in defensive rebounding and useless final (thirtieth) at the offensive glass. This used to be the realm the place the Sixers overlooked Simmons probably the most. Maxey, Thybulle, Georges Niang, Danny Green and Seth Curry are all deficient rebounders for his or her place, whilst Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz are rather under moderate. And as a result of the crew’s general loss of athleticism, Rivers and Burke made the verdict to actually eschew the offensive glass to get again in transition. Overall, the 2021-22 Sixers had been an unathletic crew by means of NBA requirements.

The roster turnover must lend a hand. Melton, a guard, is a plus rebounder on each ends. Harden is a superb defensive rebounder. Harrell hits the offensive glass arduous. Tucker is an improve over Niang, and as discussed previous, Embiid may have extra power to rebound on protection.

Rebounding is most certainly the most efficient proof of the loss of athleticism, however there are different spaces to indicate to. The Sixers dropped from 1/3 to seventeenth in forcing opponent turnovers with out Simmons. Despite giving up at the offensive glass, this additionally used to be nonetheless statistically some of the worst defensive transition groups within the league final season. How a lot can the brand new team of workers reduce into the ones weaknesses?

(Photo of Embiid and Harrell: David Dow / NBAE by means of Getty Images)

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