I can’t lie, coming into this Sixers season, I didn’t have many expectations. After those soul-crushing Games 6 and 7, I just wasn’t sure if I could be up for it for another season. Honestly, I thought it could only go even further downhill now.
But the team has looked and played outstanding throughout the first few weeks, rising above any expectations I had about them. Now, however, I am completely aware that again, it’s only the first few weeks. It’s a common Sixers move to basically dominate the regular season and then fall flat come the second round of the playoffs.
Almost anything can still happen. But to me, and other Sixers fans, something about this team just feels different compared to previous years. Other than Embiid, there have been a few factors as to why fans, including me, feel that way.
As Harden makes his departure from the Sixers, all signs point to the new point guard, who was drafted in 2020 with the 21st overall pick. Tyrese Maxey is absolutely thriving in his newfound role, as he’s tag-teaming partner’s with Joel Embiid.
What more is there to say about Maxey? He’s averaging just under 29 points along with 50/43/93 shooting splits and is just coming off of a career-high 50 points, with 20 out of the 32 shots made, which also included making seven out of the eleven attempted three-pointers. The only Sixer that dropped 50 at a younger age was Allen Iverson, one of the franchise’s legends.
Not to mention the game before that, Maxey set a new career-high in assists, dishing the ball 11 times. There isn’t much to say other than fantastic. Maxey’s turnovers are down from 1.3 to 1.0 even though he’s playing four more minutes compared to last year and passing the ball a lot more. His assists are up, averaging 7.5 per game compared to last year’s 3.5.
Again, not the biggest sample size but, there’s no reason why “The Franchise” as Embiid calls him, wouldn’t continue to play this way.
After the firing of former Sixers head coach Doc Rivers, the team turned to Nick Nurse to man the ship a few weeks later. Nurse was the Toronto Raptors coach for five seasons and won a championship with them in 2019.
For starters, the Sixers’ offense looks way more fluid than it ever did when it was led by Rivers. What Rivers would usually run is the two-man pick and roll between Harden and Embiid. Although the pick and roll between those two was undoubtedly dominant, it would often lead the other three players just standing around. However, with the new offense implemented by Nurse, everyone is moving. From the cuts, screens, passes, dribbles, and shots, everyone is involved.
But it’s not just the offense, it’s the defense that also has made the Sixers look better. Under Nurse, the Sixers always look to constantly switch on screens, try out new defenders, and continue to utilize tons of different zones. Compared to Rivers, who would throw out the occasional zone just to glance and take a look at it, but never truly believed in it to fully maximize it.
Another player who’s started hot this season is the 31 year old veteran Tobias Harris. In the past few seasons since becoming a Sixer, we’ve seen his role change constantly. However, with the chance he’s had to be a vocal point in the offense again, he’s certainly made the most of it.
Between Harden and the emergence of Maxey, Harris’ role essentially last season was just as a three-and-D player. Last year, statistically, was one of his worst seasons, as Harris averaged 14.7 a game, his lowest since he was with the Magic.
But with being a vocal point in the offense again, Harris is back to playing at a near All-Star level. He’s averaging just under 20 a game while shooting 56% from the field so far.
Overall, the Sixers team has looked more fun and lively than in previous years. Despite the three week old season, let’s hope that the Sixers can maintain this level of basketball.