Sixers analysis

What stood out from Sixers media day: Plans A through Z, back to full health, the control factor

The Sixers held their 2023 media day at their training complex on Monday.

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Furkan Korkmaz candidly captured life as a Sixer the past few seasons.

“I don’t know if it’s a good thing or bad thing to have experience with these type of situations,” he said Monday at the Sixers’ media day in Camden, New Jersey.

The always-looming “situation” for the Sixers in 2023 is that James Harden requested a trade this summer and hasn’t gotten it. He was conspicuously absent from the team’s training complex.

Korkmaz, by the way, requested a trade before last season’s deadline but remained a Sixer. He’s been with the team longer than anyone besides Joel Embiid. Both have seen some strange things. 

With training camp up next for the Sixers starting Tuesday in Colorado, here’s what stood out from media day:

Everyone got the control memo 

Embiid doesn’t view Harden’s trade request as entirely comparable to Ben Simmons’ two years ago. 

“I think it’s a little different,” he said. “I think the last time this happened, there was a lot of stuff in the media, whether it was blaming me or others on the team. So I think at that time, I was a little defensive. But this time around, it just seems like maybe it was a misunderstanding between both sides.

“I can only control what I can control, and that’s to go out there and try to play with what we have. Try to be a leader and bring these guys along, and compete every night and try to win.”

Player after player expressed a version of that sentiment and emphasized the control factor. 

“A few years ago when that did happen, we just learned to control what we can control,” Tobias Harris said. “We’ve got a great group here. The guys that are here have been working their tails off all summer long to be ready for this moment. For us, we’re ready to compete. New staff in place here as well, so we’re ready to learn a new system offensively and defensively and figure out ways that we can be at our best as a group. So that’s all we can do.

“Everything else will handle itself and we’ll figure it out from there. But right now, we’ve got each other here and we’re ready to go. That’s really all that matters.”

Veterans PJ Tucker, Patrick Beverley, Danuel House Jr. and De’Anthony Melton all cited control, too. 

Plans A through Z 

New Sixers head coach Nick Nurse noted the team needs to have “Plan A and Plan B.”

If required, Tyrese Maxey is fine with many more alternatives.

“I’m ready for Plan C, D, all the way down to Z,” the fourth-year guard said with a smile. “Honestly, I’ve just been doing a lot of things to find ways to get better, find ways to fine-tune my game and be the best possible version of Tyrese Maxey that I can be.”

Nurse plans for Maxey to have “the ball in his hands a lot more,” he said.

To handle that heightened usage, Maxey accumulated live, situational pick-and-roll reps in 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 settings where he focused on reading the tag defender and adapting to various coverages. He also did ball handling and pace-shifting work with trainer Drew Hanlen. 

The 22-year-old knows Nurse is expecting him to improve defensively as well.

“You just watch a lot of film, get stronger, gain more confidence,” Maxey said. “At the end of last year, I really got confident in what I can do and how I can (make) an impact on the defensive end. I was able to crawl up under guys, frustrate them, get steals, cause havoc and do different things like that.

“I think my next step is off the ball, trying to find ways to be in gaps. I think Coach Nurse has a really good system and type of strategy that will help me — not just myself, but everybody on our team with that.”

Back to full health 

De’Anthony Melton’s back injury flew under the radar last season.

Melton almost always played through it, appearing in 77 regular-season games and every Sixers playoff game, and higher-profile players like Maxey, Harden and Embiid often had injuries in the spotlight. 

However, Melton’s issue was present for much of his first year as a Sixer. He missed two November outings with back stiffness but essentially kept plowing forward otherwise. 

“I’m here to win games, so I’ll worry about all that other stuff later, after the game,” he said on Nov. 18. “Once I’m out there, I’ve got some adrenaline going. I’ll be fine.”

The summer is the right time to address “all that other stuff.”

“This (offseason) I’ve been mainly working on my body,” Melton said Monday. “Last year I dealt with a back injury pretty much throughout most of the year. So just getting through that, I feel like I’m way better now just in terms of everything feeling healthier.

“I’ve been feeling more athletic getting back in the gym … working on my athletic ability, jumping and stuff like that. I’m just happy to be healthy 100 percent and ready to get to whatever it is. I think that type of stuff is going to play into the season longer for me and help me with my finishing.”

While Melton is a well-rounded player, finishing has been a weakness. Per Cleaning the Glass, he shot 56.8 percent at the rim and 32.9 percent on short mid-range attempts last season. Both marks were well below average among combo guards. The Sixers would love to see Melton improve in that area, especially if it goes along with enhanced overall athleticism. 

Danny Green and PJ Tucker also gave positive health updates. 

The 36-year-old Green, who returned to action in February following a serious left knee injury suffered in the Sixers’ final game of the 2021-22 season, said, “This is the best my body has felt in a long time.”

The 38-year-old Tucker was a steady starter during the 2022-23 campaign after undergoing an offseason arthroscopic procedure on his left knee. 

“This is my first year coming into the season healthy in a few years, so I’m excited about that,” Tucker said. “But when you get older, you appreciate each time coming back, going through this whole motion again. … I’m still young at heart.”

A fun, fast vision 

Plenty of Sixers were enthusiastic about the style of play they expect under Nurse.

“I love his energy,” House said. “I love everything about him. He wants you to play with courage. He wants you to get outside. ... You ain’t got to be scripted. Play basketball. And he’s willing to live with mistakes, as long as you’re showing growth and hustle.

“Those are things that I like, especially with the game of basketball, because you’ve got to take some risks at times in order to get the job done. And he’s shown that he’s willing to do that.”

Paul Reed and Mo Bamba are both fans of Nurse’s openness to playing two big men together. 

Kelly Oubre Jr. respected Nurse’s message that “there’s opportunity for the taking.” 

And Harris is optimistic about ways that Nurse intends to play to his strengths offensively. 

“We talked about running more pick-and-rolls with myself and Joel,” Harris said. “Post-up actions as well; catching the ball off the rebound and going coast to coast; and just being able to get up as many threes as I can. … Those conversations just went straight to the gym in the summer, and I’m continuing to implement all those things in my game. 

“That’s how I work out (normally), but just being really focused on the type of action — watching plays and sets that he ran in Toronto, how they came about and the personnel. And I’ve been back here for some time as well and have been able to go through those things with live play. I’m happy and excited for that. Can’t wait to get going.”

Tucker first got to know Nurse when the two crossed paths as Raptors during the 2016-17 season. 

“I feel like he’s very good at having different kinds of energies around different teams,” Tucker said. “His Toronto teams, if you look at them, I think he runs offense that benefits his players. He does things that benefit his team. It’s not like having a system and just plugging people in. I feel like he does what he can to make his players look good and be successful. 

“He’s a player’s coach, from my short time with him and knowing him, just his personality and how much he cares about the guys — and really, really pushing guys to be great. I think he’s going to be great energy for this team.”

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