By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor
We are now just a few short weeks away from the restart of the NBA season. The Sixers will be traveling to Orlando tomorrow as part of the final group of teams to go into the bubble. With about three weeks to go until their first seeding game, here are three Sixers’ players that can be X-factors for the team when games resume.
Korkmaz took a big step forward this season. He showed that he can be an everyday role player on the Sixers with his play through the regular season, and hopefully will be able to build on the season he was having when play returns in Orlando.
Three-point shooting was a weak area for the team this season, which is why Korkmaz has a chance to be a real X-factor for the team in the playoffs. Korkmaz was the team leader in three-pointers made with 126 in the regular season, shooting 39.7% from deep on five attempts a game.
Being a reliable shooter for the Sixers in these games can be huge as spacing hasn’t always been great. Having someone on the floor who can consistently knock down shots from deep can open the floor for the Sixers’ stars to go to work.
As we know the game becomes much slower in the playoffs, and this is when the Sixers plan to use their size to their advantage. But if “bully ball” is going to work for the Sixers, having shooting around them is going to be a necessity.
We will likely see Joel Embiid in the post much more in the restart, and he is going to need shooters to kick the ball to if he is double-teamed down low. This is where Korkmaz can come in and do damage. This season Korkmaz shot 43.4% on catch and shoot threes, making him a threat in a half-court setting.
If Korkmaz can continue to be a reliable three-point shooter it will not only help the offense but will give the Sixers much needed scoring off the bench.
This is the name that has been thrown around the most as the Sixers get ready to take the court again. Shake Milton stepped up huge for the Sixers after injuries took its toll on the roster. Since the All-Star game, Milton has averaged 16.5 PPG, 2.3 APG, and 3.8 APG. In the last five games before the suspension, Milton averaged 19.4 PPG.
His play has been so strong that there is a chance he finds himself in the starting lineup moving forward. Milton’s ability to play on and off the ball could add a new element to the Sixers’ starting lineup and can open up the floor with his stellar shooting from deep.
Having another ball-handler in the lineup opens up new ways to utilize Ben Simmons as well. We could potentially see Simmons move off the ball at times and be the screener in pick and roll play with Milton. This could be big as teams are going to try to capitalize on Simmons’ reluctance to shoot from deep.
Milton can also score in a variety of ways, he shot 44.2% on catch and shoot threes and 52.6% on pull-up threes. Although the sample size is small for Milton’s hot play, if he can continue to show he can play at a high level it could make the Sixers a much stronger team.
Personally, this is my pick to be arguably the biggest X-factor for the Sixers as they prepare to compete for a title in Orlando. Harris had a strong regular season in his first “full” year in Philadelphia, and they are going to need him to continue his strong play as the stage gets bigger.
Harris averaged 19.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 3.2 APG while appearing in every regular-season game before the suspension. If the Sixers are going to be real contenders, he is going to have to stay at this level of play if not go higher.
One thing Harris has going for him is that he has had this time off to deal with any nagging injuries he had throughout the year and get his body right. This is big for a player who was not load managed throughout the regular season.
Harris can also be another shooter that can help the offense greatly if he can get hot. He hit the second-most threes behind Korkmaz this regular season while shooting a respectable 36.2% on five attempts a game. Although his shooting percentage is close to league average, he was more effective catching and shooting where he shot close to 38%.
A change in the starting lineup could also benefit Harris. If Shake Milton is inserted into the starting lineup Harris would slide to the power forward, where he is a much better fit. This could give him more mismatches on offense and put him in a situation to be a better defender.
If Harris can come out and be a 20+ per game scorer in the playoffs the Sixers are going to be an even harder team to beat. Having a three-headed monster of Embiid, Simmons, and Harris along with a good batch of role players and vets like Al Horford would make the Sixers a deep team come playoffs.