The Sixers’ roster is not light on NBA experience.
By the end of the regular season, eight current Sixers will be at least 30 years old. That includes Patrick Beverley (35), Danny Green (36) and P.J. Tucker (38).
Much of the Sixers’ youth is at guard. And while there’s considerable uncertainty with training camp coming up next week at Colorado State University, those young guards seem like a reasonable place to start our mini-series on major Sixers storylines ahead of the 2023-24 season.
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So, who are those guards specifically? Tyrese Maxey (22) and De’Anthony Melton (25) are most prominent. There’s also Jaden Springer, who turned 21 years old Monday, and rookie two-way players Terquavion Smith (20) and Ricky Council IV (22). The Sixers have signed 23-year-old David Duke Jr. and 24-year-old Javonte Smart to Exhibit 10 contracts, too.
As new head coach Nick Nurse detailed at his introductory press conference, the Sixers want Maxey to accumulate pick-and-roll reps, sharpen his reads and expand his options. They also want him to “impact the ball a lot” and use his exceptional speed to trouble opponents more often on defense.
Melton enters his sixth season with a well-deserved reputation as a stellar defender. Only OG Anunoby, one of Nurse’s former players, had more total steals than Melton’s 126 last season.
We expect that Melton and Maxey’s time together will be quite important this year. If James Harden doesn’t end up being part of the initial on-court picture, there’s a good case for sliding Melton into his starting spot. Melton looked capable and comfortable last year in almost any situation.
It doesn’t hurt that he and Maxey enjoy each other’s company. Early into their first season as teammates, the two joked, dished out a little good-natured trash talk, and smiled plenty as they put jumpers up after shootarounds.
“People thought that we would be beefing or whatever, because of us being in and out of the (starting) lineups,” Maxey said after the Sixers’ Game 3 playoff win over the Nets. “But literally, on the team, we’re really good friends — best friends, if you want to say. We cheer each other on in any circumstances. I get on him for not being aggressive. He gets on me for not being aggressive.
“I think that’s just something that we have in common: We both want to win really bad, and we both want to see each other succeed. … He played well. That little windmill dunk that he had, I don’t know where this De’Anthony was during the regular season, but now he wants to dunk everything. We’ll take it.”
Melton-Maxey lineups weren’t great overall for the Sixers during the 2022-23 season. Those units had a plus-1.5 net rating over 1,651 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass.
However, if you’re seeking sources of optimism about the duo, you can absolutely find a few. Many of those lineups featured Harden and invited opposing offenses to target mismatches. If there’s adequate size around a Maxey-Melton backcourt, the Sixers sure don’t seem doomed defensively. Melton’s 6-8.5 wingspan, knack for handling bigger players, and defensive rebounding skills are all assets.
To that point: The five-man lineup of Maxey, Melton, Tobias Harris, PJ Tucker and Joel Embiid sported a plus-17.2 net rating over the small sample of 180 possessions. (In an even tinier playoff sample — 42 possessions — the unit had a plus-50.0 net rating.)
Of course, there are intriguing hypotheticals with Harden on board that involve Melton, including a variety of small-ball units. And whatever Harden’s status, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Nurse ask for Melton and Beverley to lead spurts of especially pressure-heavy, intensity-filled and disruption-focused basketball.
Springer is known as a strong defender as well. In his third professional season, showing continued progress as a shooter and confident decision-maker would improve Springer’s chances of earning NBA minutes or at least being trusted as a “next man up” when injuries arise.
As his skills develop, Springer also sounds like he’s been forming a clearer idea of how to approach the game.
“I feel like in the G League Finals, I was just going out there and competing,” he said on July 1 ahead of summer league. “I just wasn’t worried, I was playing hard, and was just trying to do the right things. I feel like if I do that, everything should be good.”
Smith and Council appear destined to pile up highlights with the reigning G League champion Delaware Blue Coats. Perhaps one or both rookies can emerge as NBA bench players sooner than expected.
For now, though, it looks safe to project that Maxey and Melton — as individuals and as a duo — will be very impactful young players for the 2022-23 Sixers.