There are some fresh faces in Philadelphia, and although they aren't the top-tier free agents many were hoping to see in 76ers uniforms, the team is in a better position to start the season than it was at this time last year.
The Sixers brought in Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala along with rookies Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet and Jonah Bolden, and said goodbye to Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Richaun Holmes, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.
Let's start with the obvious: Chandler and Muscala are far cries from Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James, but that doesn't mean they don't have value.
Depth at the wing was a problem the Sixers had right from the beginning of the 2017-18 season. Markelle Fultz wasn't available after his brief appearance to start the year and coach Brett Brown was still turning to Jerryd Bayless. Belinelli and Ilyasova were the additions who helped propel the team after the all-star break, but that didn't add much in the way of two-way players coming off the bench.
"It wasn't like they were moving people out, they came into slots," Brown said of the roles Belinelli and Ilyasova played.
Even with the scoring that Belinelli provided, and the rebounding that Ilyasova brought, it was clear that the Sixers weren't a defensive threat on the perimeter when their starters were off the floor. Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot weren't far enough along in their development and weren't consistent enough to be relied upon in pressure situations.
To address some of these deficiencies, the Sixers will turn to their newest acquisitions. But as Brown said, last years additions were coming into defined slots, so how Chandler and Muscala fit is a little more complicated.
Let's address the limping and bandaged elephant in the room: Chandler suffered a strained left hamstring in the Sixers' first preseason game, is still receiving treatment, and is expected to return in November. Muscala is listed as doubtful for the season opener Tuesday in Boston, and first-round draft pick Zhaire Smith is recovering from offseason surgery to repair a fractured foot.
The injuries have stalled Brown's plan of starting the season with a clear understanding of how he will rotate his reserve unit, but it's still possible to see how the players will fit in once healthy.
"I'm treating it as an opportunity to look at some things with other players and rotate things a little bit differently," Brown said. "It's not ideal, that's not the way you would want it, to go into opening night without Muscala and Wilson Chandler, but that's why you have a team and that's why there's 82 games."
The 6-foot-8 Chandler is the kind of two-way wing the Sixers have needed in their rotation and there's no need to wait for him to develop into anything. The 10-year veteran brings a well-established skill set to the Sixers. In the new-age NBA, Chandler's production and role have changed a bit over the years, but he can still be counted on as a double-digit scorer who can hit shots and be a physical defender.
Muscala, a 6-11 stretch center who shot 37.1 percent on three-pointers last season with Atlanta, will likely compete with Amir Johnson for minutes at backup center. Depending on the opponent, he gives the Sixers more options at spacing the floor since he can come in behind Dario Saric and play at the four spot.
As the rotation plays itself out this year, things will become clearer. But right now it looks as if Muscala and Chandler both add some size, shooting, and versatility from the bench, making things easier on the reluctant-to-shoot Ben Simmons as well as adding a more physical presence with or without Joel Embiid on the floor.
Smith's injury at first looked as if it would slow the Sixers' plan to move forward this season. The 16th overall pick in the draft was a welcome addition to the perimeter defense and a young player with a ton of upside. That still remains the case and he will be welcomed once he returns from his injury.
It's not as if the Sixers were out of options without him, Simmons and Robert Covington are still perimeter defenders who will do most of the heavy lifting for the team, and Chandler offers a reserve body who can fill that role.
Shamet's production in the preseason was a pleasant surprise that has opened up even more possibilities. Working alongside JJ Redick has served the 26th overall pick well and Shamet proved that he can knock down shots, hitting 47.9 percent during the three preseason games against NBA opponents. Additionally the Wichita State product has made his top priority for the season evolving into a better defender.
"I think it went about as well as it could have," Shamet said of his first NBA preseason. "I didn't surprise myself, that's kind of the way I look at it. I know what I'm capable of."
Shamet's early success not only gives the team another rotational player to plug in down the road, but he gives Brown the opportunity to breathe a little easier heading into the first portion of the season while Chandler and Smith are rehabbing.
Bolden, the 36th pick in the 2017 draft who joined the Sixers from overseas, is still in the developmental stages of his career, and that's just fine. He shows glimpses of versatility on the defensive end and needs to improve his shooting. But with the other offseason additions, the Sixers can allows that development to take its natural course.
All things considered — even the injuries to three of the Sixers' newest players — the team is in a more favorable situation heading into the 2018-19 campaign. And it's a good thing that the Sixers have some more options, since their first opponent is the Boston Celtics team that eliminated them from the postseason.