(Site Manager’s Note - This installment of Five Questions was submitted and scheduled before the news of Joel Embiid missing tonight’s game.)
I do see some vague similarities between these two franchises.
The Philadelphia 76ers built the model for the modern rebuild with “The Process,” netting two stars and a plethora of complementary role players throughout the years in the...process. They did the easy part, and now they’re looking to find the right formula to win the title.
The Memphis Grizzlies have their own rendition of the Process, with a way cooler tagline of “Grz Nxt Gen.” They too presumably have their stars, and they found some great complements through the draft and through value finds. Now, they must continue to explore the winning combination alongside Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
Too bad we won’t see these two teams fully healthy tonight, as the Grizzlies are riddled with injuries still, and the Sixers have a number of players through “healthy and safety protocols.”
Before tonight’s game though, I chatted with Daniel Olinger of SB Nation’s Philadelphia 76ers blog, Liberty Ballers, to talk about these two teams.
Reaction to the James Harden trade?
I wanted James Harden on the Sixers. Now, I didn’t want them to give up Tyrese Maxey, but I’m biased because it’s so hard to give up on a promising rookie with universal approval rating. I ultimately probably would have still traded Maxey if that was the necessary piece. I love Ben Simmons too, but he’s not as good as James Harden, and with Joel Embiid playing as well as he is right now there was a championship-level window opening up for the Sixers that we thought had been shut the moment Kawhi Leonard’s shot hit the rim the fourth time.
I’m not as heartbroken as some Philly faithful (see my Liberty Ballers’ colleague Dan Volpone), but some hope slivered out of my body the moment I got that Twitter notification announcing that Harden would be a Brooklyn Net instead.
If the Sixers really do commit to Embiid and Simmons long-term, which secondary prospects are the best fits alongside them going forward?
Seth Curry and Danny Green have already proven to be great fits, with neither demanding the ball and simultaneously spreading the court for the two big guys (Curry in particular has been stellar, currently bordering on ungodly shooting splits of 60-60-100). Maxey and Shake Milton have shown promise as a potential half court creators from the perimeter that is needed with two interior focused players in Ben and Jo, though they’re probably not primary creators long term. Another shot creating wing would really alleviate some pressure (if Tobias Harris continues his improved play that might be him) and just better ball handlers and defenders off the bench would be appreciated as well.
Every other team undermanned got games postponed...but the Sixers didn’t. Do you see it as unfair? And was it even a silver lining for guys like Tyrese Maxey and Isaiah Joe to get run?
I’m probably not in a position to criticize the NBA too harshly considering I don’t have enough knowledge about their procedures and what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s definitely odd how the Sixers keep playing with their depleted lineups while we see two to three games postponed every night for other teams. But you’re 100% right about there being silver linings. Sixers fans are specially positioned as Process trusters to appreciate and love that loss to the Nuggets where the 7 Sixers were led by a Tyrese Maxey 39-point performance and fought admirably in a loss. Joe has impressed too with his “I have the green light” shooting and “Bball Paul” Reed is a lovable, wacky dude.
Postponing games would probably be better for the Sixers’ record, but watching all these young guys get some run has been a joy as well.
Which Grizzly prospects aside from Ja and Jaren Jackson Jr. intrigue you the most?
Full confession, I freaking love the Grizzlies and everything they’re doing. Brandon Clarke was 4th on my Big Board back in the 2019 Draft and remains my best pre-draft projection by far. His combination of quick twitch jumping and lateral mobility, crossed with touch and smart spacing instincts make him a versatile modern big who will almost always help you on the court (whoever changed his shot form somewhat back to San Jose State BC better watch their back). De’Anthony Melton is a defensive deflection demigod who’s grown on me immensely. Draftniks far and wide shouted from the mountaintops that Desmond Bane was the 2020 class’s best shooter and he’s “shockingly” 19-for-41 from three so far this season. Xavier Tillman is smart and does smart and strong things. Same goes for Tyus Jones.
I’m just listing things at this point so I’ll cut it off here — I love Ja, JJJ and the entire supporting cast around them. I think you guys are the team of the future in the West.
Which matchup intrigues you the most?
Joel Embiid vs Jonas Valanciunas/other Grizzlies’ interior players. The Process has been nothing short of spectacular 13 games into this pandemic-altered season. Embiid is averaging over 38 points per 100 possessions on 66% True Shooting Percentage, a combination of volume and efficiency that has only been accomplished six times in NBA history according to Stathead. Valanciunas has the strength to hold up inside better than most, though that may leave him vulnerable to Embiid’s face up jumper game. On the other end, bouncy bigs like Clarke have occasionally given Embiid problems with their quick reaction times on offensive rebounds and pick and roll lobs. Joel drives virtually everything the Sixers do, so how the Grizz try to figure out a way to slow him will be key.
Thank you, Daniel, for contributing to this edition of “5 Questions.” Be sure to follow him for the best NBA content (@dan_olinger) and to follow Liberty Ballers (@Liberty_Ballers) for the best Sixers coverage.