A strong first impression never hurts.
When new Sixers head coach Nick Nurse opens training camp next week in Colorado, he should see quite a few players aiming to gain an edge in internal competitions.
The Sixers’ starting lineup, rotation and regular-season roster are still to be determined. While some of what’s below would become moot if the Sixers made a major pre-camp trade, let’s look at potential competitions to track in our second season preview installment.
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If the James Harden saga magically did not exist, everything would be cleaner for the Sixers.
Still, there’s uncertainty beyond the backcourt. Nurse thinks highly of Paul Reed and has worked with the 24-year-old big man on his shooting form. He also knows 38-year-old PJ Tucker from his days as a Raptors assistant coach and admires the veteran’s savviness and tenacity. It sounds like Nurse will nudge Tucker to freely fire open jumpers.
“I loved him when we had him (in Toronto). … He’s one of the toughest dudes in the league,” Nurse told Sixers Wire’s Ky Carlin earlier this month. “There (aren’t) a whole lot of guys that hang their hat on just being really tough. … Also, he’ll hurt you with that corner 3. That’s the thing that I want to see him get back to, is parking in that corner and pulling that trigger fearlessly time after time, because he‘s had some great seasons doing that.”
Will Tucker remain a starter?
Though he started 86 total games last year — 75 in the regular season, 11 in the playoffs — it’s not a lock. Tucker’s first choice will always be playing every single game, but the Sixers shouldn’t need a player in his late 30s to chew up regular-season minutes. Whether or not Reed starts, his minutes appear set to rise significantly. Tucker’s may very well decrease.
During an offseason appearance on Patrick Beverley’s podcast, Nurse offered a version of former Sixers head coach Brett Brown’s “The gym will speak” mantra.
“They probably pick (the rotation) themselves, to be honest with you,” Nurse said. “I’m not really trying to get to that tight rotation with the number of guys. I think there’s some guys that are doing all the things necessary to stay out there at both ends. There’s some guys that can handle it physically. I think they do all parts of team play; that’s part of it.
“And the other thing is — my bench guys will tell you, too — if they get rolling, they’re going to roll. They get a six-minute stint when they come in. But if they’re rolling, it might go to 18 sometimes. Guys start feeling good, man, and I’m going to let them roll on their night sometimes.”
Nurse leaned heavily on his key players the past couple of years. Among NBA regulars, Pascal Siakam was No. 1 last season in minutes per game, Fred VanVleet No. 5. OG Anunoby played 35.6 minutes per night and Scottie Barnes logged 34.8. It will be interesting to monitor where exactly the minutes fall this year for Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris and perhaps Harden.
As far as the bench, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Danuel House Jr. should each be in the wing mix. Oubre can score (career-high 20.3 points per game last year with the Hornets) and has reliably picked up steals and deflections. That doesn’t mean Nurse will immediately be convinced he's a dependable, positive player. House has played well in a playoff win much more recently than Oubre.
Neither House nor Oubre is a great three-point shooter. Danny Green signed a non-guaranteed contract and will presumably open behind both players in the Sixers’ pecking order, but he’s a 40.0 percent career long-range shooter who helped Nurse’s 2018-19 Raptors team win an NBA title. We expect Furkan Korkmaz will justifiably begin outside of the rotation, though he too has notable shooting skills and credentials. Over the 2019-20 and ’20-21 seasons, Korkmaz took 4.9 three-pointers per contest and made 39.0 percent.
At guard, De’Anthony Melton and Beverley are well-established as valuable NBA defenders. Jaden Springer wants to reach that point. He doesn’t have an obvious window to steady playing time, but the 21-year-old’s jumper’s has been trending up and he should get preseason chances to impress.
Mo Bamba thinks he can contribute at both the four and the five. Early indications are that Nurse will test out a variety of lineups and give the 7-foot shot blocker opportunities.
The end of the roster
The Sixers currently have the offseason maximum of 21 players on their roster.
That includes rookie two-way players Terquavion Smith, Ricky Council IV and Ąžuolas Tubelis, as well as Exhibit 10 signees Javonte Smart and David Duke Jr.
Sixteen players are on standard NBA contracts, which is one too many for the regular season. The two without fully guaranteed NBA contracts are Green (non-guaranteed) and Filip Petrušev (50 percent guaranteed in Year 1). The 6-foot-11 Petrušev did some good work for Serbia during its FIBA World Cup silver medal run, posting 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting in a quarterfinal victory over Lithuania.
The final roster spot or two is often hard to project. It was surprising to us last preseason that the Sixers chose to waive Isaiah Joe and enter the regular season with an open slot.