It has now been roughly a year and a half since the start of the NBA season. Teams are beginning to find their identities and how they stack up but this has not been fully the case for the Philadelphia 76ers. After recovering from a slow start the Sixers have been bitten by the injury bug and sit at 9-9 through the opening 18 games. Bleacher Report put their NBA power rankings for the start of the season. The Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, and Milwaukee Bucks recently came in ranked as the top three teams with the Sixers ranked at 17. As Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report wrote:
“It’s hard to draw many takeaways from the last week of Philadelphia 76ers basketball. Tyrese Maxey has missed the last three games. Joel Embiid has missed the last two. James Harden has been out since November 4.
Still, the skeleton crew came away with a win over a Brooklyn Nets team that had every member of its big three available. And good minutes for some of the reserves now could pay off in the form of a confidence boost.
One player who could be getting that boost right now is De’Anthony Melton, who’s averaging 20.3 points since Maxey left the lineup,” written by Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report.
Sixers Season Outlook
The biggest factor in the Sixers’ season outlook is health. On the bright side, this string of injuries is occurring early in the season which will give them time to figure things out. There also have been some silver linings from the time without the superstars. Doc Rivers has been forced to get creative with lineups and stumbled across some unexpected bench units that have shown success. Guys who have been buried on the bench to start the season are now seeing an on-court opportunity with guys like Shake Milton, Georges Niang, and Paul Reed flourishing with the chances they have been given.
There also has been a renewed interest on the defensive side of the floor which is a big deal moving forward. Going into the season, Embiid and the rest of the Sixers have declared being an elite defensive team this season a major goal. This did not show success early in the season but they have recorded the best defensive rating in the NBA over the last ten games.
As is often the case with defense, this has had much more to do with the players buying in on this side of the floor. If this effort level can continue as Embiid returns to the floor, there is a chance they can reach their goal of being the best defensive team. It should be noted that Embiid led this charge following Harden’s injury which was highlighted by his 59 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, and seven block performance against the Jazz.
De’Anthony Melton’s Strong Play
As was referenced in the article, Melton has shined in the absence of the Sixers stars. The 24-year-old established himself as a key rotation piece but saw his role shift without Maxey and Harden in the lineup. Melton has seen a much more on-ball role without the duo and has especially shined playing next to Milton.
Over the past three games, Melton has averaged 20.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 4.0 steals per game. He also is connecting on 44.8% of his three-point attempts while launching 9.7 long-range shots per game. The 16.7 field-goal attempts and 9.7 three-point attempts during this stretch is a massive increase compared to the 9.7 field-goal attempts and 5.0 three-point attempts he is averaging on the season.
Melton is sure to play a major role in the Sixers’ success both while the stars are out and when the team returns to full strength. The decision to trade Danny Green and the 23rd overall pick for Melton already seems to be paying off. Hopefully, the rest of the roster can take the floor soon and the Sixers can begin their climb up the power rankings in the way that has been expected.