The Sixers offense is not yet a well-oiled machine, and Friday’s 112-93 loss to the Wizards in their preseason finale was Exhibit A for people who wonder about this team’s ability to create offense from the perimeter. There’s a thin line between “bully ball” and a slog, and the Sixers walked it throughout the night. They missed 13 of their first 14 three-point attempts, turned the ball over nine times in the the first half, and entered halftime having scored just 44 points.
After a postseason in which Jimmy Butler was their primary means of offense, the hope is that the combination of Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson will more than make up for the loss of Butler. But with Ben Simmons out of the lineup for a second straight game, the Sixers needed somebody to be a playmaker on the perimeter, and they did not get it. Neither Richardson nor Harris creates the sort of consistent scoring opportunities for himself off the dribble that the Sixers got from Butler late last season. Against the Wizards, with Simmons watching from the sidelines in a gray suit, the lack of that element was glaring.
It was second straight game where the offense came out of the gate slow and out of rhythm. They generated most of their offense from the four and the five spot, where Joel Embiid and Al Horford spent most of the night with significant size advantages. But that’s the extent of the Sixers’ offensive identity at this point. No doubt, it is going to take some time for guys like Harris and Richardson to settle into their roles between Simmons and the big men. The preseason finale was very much evidence of the ongoing nature of the process.
A few other takeaways. . .
2. We still don’t know what the Sixers’ rotation is going to look like at point guard. For a second straight game, Richardson replaced Simmons as the team’s primary ballhandler, a role that Brett Brown seems determined to use him in this season. From a defensive standpoint, it’s easy to see why Brown is so intrigued by the possibility of using Richardson as the primary ballhandler whenever Simmons is on the bench. The big question is whether the Sixers think they need -- and, perhaps more importantly, whether they think they can get -- more of an offensive spark from one of the traditional point guards vying for minutes. In the first half on Friday night, Shake Milton came off the bench to run the point whenever Richardson went to the bench. But Brown came out of halftime with Trey Burke playing point with the starters in place of Richardson. The results weren’t much better, with the Sixers finishing the third quarter trailing, 94-65.
3. One of the more interesting subplots in the early going was the battle between Horford and Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura, the No. 9 overall pick in this year’s draft. Midway through the first quarter, there was a series of possessions that offered a nice glimpse of the tension of opposites that is going to play out at power forward this season. On three straight offensive possessions, the 6-foot-8 Hachimura looked to take advantage of his speed against the longtime center: first. After first sinking a three-pointer, Hachimura pulled up off the dribble from midrange for another bucket. The next time down the court, he again freed himself for a clean look from the midrange, although this one did not fall. On the Sixers’ ensuing possession, Horford put his size to work, backing Huchimura down beneath the rim, then grabbing his own offensive rebound and kicking out to Furkan Korkmaz for an open corner three. Midway through the second quarter, he hit a back-cutting Matisse Thybulle with a perfect bounce pass from the left elbow for his fifth assist of the night. It’s going to be interesting to see how Horford matches up against smaller four men on the defensive end, and how he will be able to take advantage of his size on the offensive end.
4. Thybulle is clearly going to have a prominent role in this rotation. There was a possession in the second quarter on Friday night where he locked down Bradley Beal and ultimately stripped a steal after the All-Star was swarmed in the paint. A couple of possessions later, his length clearly bothered Beal as he contested a pull-up from beside the guard. On the offensive end, Thybulle had a couple of dunks but missed both of his three-point attempts in his 18 minutes of action.