By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer
The last week of Philadelphia 76ers basketball has been a mixed bag filled with some ups and some downs. They wrapped up a four-game road trip by sweeping the Charlotte Hornets in a two-game miniseries. Superstar Joel Embiid put together a string of dominating performances in the two wins against the Hornets. However, the rest of the team mostly underperformed and both games – against what should be inferior competition, especially with multiple Charlotte players in the NBA's health and safety protocols – went down to the wire. The 76ers then underwent a beatdown against the Utah Jazz on Thursday, losing convincingly 118-96. Overall, the team currently sits in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with a 14-12 record.
In this edition of 76ers observations, I take a look at Tyrese Maxey's recent performance, Matisse Thybulle's chances at making it into the starting lineup and more.
Tyrese Maxey's recent struggles centering around lack of aggressiveness
Tyrese Maxey has been one of the 76ers' best players this season. The team has asked him to handle a much bigger role, running the offense, this season and he took it in stride. For his first 19 games of the season, he was one of the NBA's brightest young players. He averaged 18.7 points and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 50.0 percent from the field, 38.7 percent from three-point range and 88.7 percent from the free throw line. More importantly, he was playing with a ton of confidence.
However, it seems as if the added responsibility, combined with Embiid coming back from his bout with COVID-19, is finally catching up. Over the past six games, Maxey's scoring numbers have cratered down to 9.7 points while shooting 32.3 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from beyond the arc.
It is unreasonable to expect a second-year player to consistently perform at that high of a high level while also adjusting to a new, bigger role in the offense. While Maxey's shooting struggles over the past couple games are probably just a blip on the radar and not something to be too concerned about, how he played on the floor over this past stretch is of more concern.
Ever since Embiid came back, Maxey has been more hesitant and less aggressive in his decision making. His shot attempts over the past six games are down to 10.8 per game. As I wrote last week, the Sixers could help Maxey out by staggering his minutes away from the post-centered offense they run when Embiid is in the game. Head coach Doc Rivers could also run some more plays for Maxey to keep him involved in the offense. Games like Wednesday's win over the Hornets, where Maxey took only five shots, should never be allowed to happen.
The loss to Utah, while being a mostly miserable affair for Sixers fans, brought one bright spot in the return of Maxey's aggressiveness. While he finished the game with only 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting, he attacked the rim multiple times and was active on the defensive end of the floor.
"I'm glad he was aggressive," Rivers said after the loss to Utah. "I want him to keep getting to the rim, use his speed. It was good to see him at the rim a couple of times (against Utah). That to me is what I like; that’s what he’s not done. He’s not been at the rim at all (recently). And the league will take the floaters and the in-between game, but they can’t handle him when he gets to the rim."
Hopefully Maxey will be able to build off his performance against Utah and return to the aggressive, attacking style of play which endeared him to 76ers fans.
Should Matisse Thybulle be moved into the starting lineup?
Matisse Thybulle has always been an excellent defender. However, his offense has been lacking up to this point in his career. Has this season been more of the same or has Thybulle made any offensive strides through the first couple months of the season?
Thybulle has made some improvements to his game offensively and has increased most of his numbers across the board. I want to shine the spotlight on his last 10 games since he returned from the NBA's health and safety protocols. During that stretch, Thybulle averaged 6.2 points on 5.2 shots per game while shooting 50.0 percent from the field. Yes, it included a couple duds where he did nothing offensively – but with Thybulle, those will happen occasionally.
Overall, Thybulle's points per game, shot attempts per game and field goal percentage are all up from his first two years. He is averaging 5.7 points and taking 4.8 shots per game, hitting them at a 48.9 percent clip. Those offensive numbers are not impressive, but they are improvements over his first two years in the league.
Offense will never be Thybulle's strength, but do the 76ers really need it to be when he provides elite defense? He is averaging 1.2 blocks and 1.8 steals per game this season in just 24.6 minutes per game. He jumps the passing lanes and plays an aggressive style of defense.
Should the 76ers replace Danny Green in the starting lineup with Thybulle? The answer is yes. Green currently serves the valuable role of a 3-and-D player for the 76ers' starting lineup. He plays solid defense and hits a couple threes per game. The problem with Green is outside of his three-point shooting, he really does not provide much on offense. Similarly to Thybulle, Green has some games where he is a non-factor on offense.
Thybulle is not anywhere near the outside shooter Green is, but if the 76ers made this change in the starting lineup it would be because of the defensive improvement it would provide. Green, at 34 years old, is just not the same defensive player he once was.
In the end, the decision comes down to whether or not the 76ers want to make a defense-for-offense swap. Would the team rather have Thybulle's incredible defense and mediocre (at best) outside shooting or Green's solid defense and good outside shooting in the starting lineup?
If Thybulle can play with added confidence on offense and mostly eliminate the games where takes only one or two shots, the 76ers should consider making the change. Over the last two games, Thybulle has taken seven and eight shots respectively. If he can be closer over the long term to what he did the prior two games than the games where he provides nothing on offense, the defensive improvement to the starting lineup would be worthwhile.
Furkan Korkmaz' cold streak
Furkan Korkmaz has always been a streaky outside shooter, but he has never quite had this extensive of a cold spell before in his career. It began against the Milwaukee Bucks on November 9, when he played 45 minutes and had one of the worst shooting games I have ever seen. He shot 2-of-18 from the field and 1-of-12 from beyond the arc. What could have been one really bad game for Korkmaz spiraled into a month of poor shooting.
Over the last month of basketball (comprising 15 games), Korkmaz is averaging 5.5 points while shooting a dastardly low 27.7 percent from the field and an even worse 18.5 percent from beyond the arc. His cold stretch has gone on long enough for the 76ers to consider giving away some of his minutes.
Isaiah Joe should at this stage start receiving some of Korkmaz' minutes off the bench. Joe is a three-point bomber off the bench, taking 2.6 attempts per game in just 9.5 minutes per game this season. The past week of basketball has contained a bit of everything Joe could possibly provide the team off the bench. He scored nine points on 3-of-4 shooting from deep on Monday against the Hornets before not seeing the court on Wednesday against the Hornets. He followed it up by scoring zero points (on only one shot attempt) in seven minutes in garbage time in the blowout loss to the Jazz on Thursday.
Joe has shown he is capable of providing a spark off the bench and, with Korkmaz playing the way he has lately, he should begin seeing more consistent time on the court.