3 Early Observations From Sixers’ 2021-22 Season

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 26: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks to pass as Mitchell Robinson #23 and RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks defend during the first half at Madison Square Garden on October 26, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The Philadelphia 76ers, as they contend with life without All-Star guard Ben Simmons, have gone through some ups and downs through their first four games of the 2021-22 season.

The Sixers opened up the year with an easy win over the New Orleans Pelicans followed by a crushing loss to the Brooklyn Nets due to the team's familiar late-game struggles. The team then took care of business against the Oklahoma City Thunder before proceeding to get outworked in a bad loss to the New York Knicks. Through the first four games, the early-season results have been a mixed bag.

Here are three observations from the Sixers' 2-2 start to the season.

1. Utilizing the big men as passers has become an early-season staple of the Sixers' Ben Simmons-less offense

With no clear point guard on the roster, head coach Doc Rivers has been forced to come up with a multitude of different ways to run the offense. One of those has been to utilize the passing abilities of the team's big men.

Joel Embiid, through the first four games of the season, is averaging a career-high 4.5 assists per game while turning the ball over at the lowest rate of his career (2.3 per game). Passing has clearly been one of the things that the big man worked on this past offseason.

“He’s worked on it,” Rivers said after the win over the Thunder. “He works on his game, works on it all summer, but that’s the part that people feel like they can get to him on, and now he’s proven them all wrong. If you trap Joel, he’ll make you pay and that’s what he did today.”

While Embiid has gotten off to a slower start scoring the basketball, he has played a vastly greater role in running the offense both off a defensive rebound and while working out out of the post.

It did not take long for Andre Drummond to make an impact on his new team. The free agent acquisition joined the big-men passing party early and often. Drummond is averaging 2.3 assists in just 17.3 minutes per game this season.

Plays like the one shown above, in addition to prolific rebounding abilities, are what makes Drummond an improvement over last year's backup big man Dwight Howard.

As the 76ers adjust to life without Ben Simmons, Rivers will continue to look to use both Embiid and Drummond's gravity and passing abilities to help free up space for the other players on the floor.

2. Maxey's early-season struggles

With Simmons out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, the Sixers have turned to Tyrese Maxey to handle the point guard duties. The results through four games have been disastrous.

Maxey, in 33.5 minutes per game, is averaging a meager 3.0 assists per contest to begin the season. Outside of his excellent opening night performance against the Pelicans (20 points, seven rebounds and five assists), Maxey has been a disappointment.

Given his high-intensity work ethic, Maxey will eventually be able to learn the ins and outs of running an offense. However, the 76ers, a team with championship aspirations, can not afford to spend a season with an ill fit at point guard.

Maxey, a natural off-ball scorer, would be better playing away from the ball and coming off the bench as a microwave scorer. He has the talent to turn into an incredible player, just not as a point guard. However, the Sixers' dearth of other options at point guard have forced them to play him out of his element. We can only hope that Maxey will be able to make the transition to point guard sooner rather than later.

3. Furkan Korkmaz's improvement

When the 76ers signed Furkan Korkmaz to a three-year, $15 million extension this past offseason, it was a major show of confidence. The 76ers' brass believed that the Turkish native would continue to grow his game on the floor. Through four games this season, he has proven them to be correct.

Korkmaz is averaging career highs in points (12.5) and assists (3.3), all while being asked to change his role in the offense. Rivers has asked Korkmaz to play point guard while leading the second unit, something he has experience doing in the Olympics for the Turkish national team. His performance so far this season has been a pleasant surprise. He took the point guard duties in stride while continuing to provide the outside shooting the team has came to expect.

In addition to his increased role in the offense, Korkmaz has also upped his defensive intensity. While his defensive improvements have not showed up in the box score to this point, he has become a pesky, intense defender.


  • Isaiah Joe's hot Summer League performance (14.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 37.5 percent from 3PT) has not carried over to the regular season. Joe has had a negligible impact on the court through the first four games of the season.
  • Matisse Thybulle, one of the NBA's prolific defenders, has yet to really take a leap on offense through this point in his career. For now, he will continue to be a pesky defender who contributes the occasional offensive play.
  • The "silent pickup," according to Rivers, Georges Niang quickly proved to be a major upgrade at the backup power forward spot. He is averaging 10.3 points per game on an efficient 55.6 percent from beyond the arc through the first four games of the season.
  • Allie LaForce said on the TNT broadcast of the 76ers game on Tuesday night against the Knicks that Ben Simmons worked out with the team on Tuesday morning.
  • After Tuesday's loss to the Knicks, Embiid said about his lingering knee injury "It's not an excuse. I'm just gonna push through." He has been questionable heading into every game since the loss to the Nets. There is no reason to have him gut it out this early in the season when the goal should be to keep him healthy and at 100 percent heading into the playoffs.

Up next

The 76ers come back home to the Wells Fargo Center for a four-game home stand, hosting the Detroit Pistons on Thursday, the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday and the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.