Analyzing the Sixers starting 5 ahead of the season opener

By: Jesse Larch, Sports Talk Philly editor 

After years of toiling at the bottom of the league standings, the Sixers are suddenly boasting a team that can make a run for the playoffs in a lackluster Eastern Conference. 

It all starts up front with the first five players on the floor. The Sixers will roll out a starting five of Jerryd Bayless, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid

Bayless and Redick provide a veteran presence that the Sixers have long lacked. Bayless was actually on the Sixers roster a season but a wrist injury early in the season cause him to miss the rest of the season. Bayless's mentoring duties did not fade with him not on the floor, however. 

Bayless hosted the whole team over to his house in Phoenix last Christmas Eve while he was forced to spend time away from the club. In his one year with the team it has become clear that he takes the role of being a veteran leader very seriously. Bayless will be asked to play off the ball on offense and guard the opposing team's point guard on offense. 

J.J. Redick came to the Sixers via free agency after signing a one-year $23 million deal. Redick has been a truly elite long range shooter in his career and has shown his perfect shooting stroke off plenty in the preseason to get Sixers fans excited. Redick shot 85.7 percent from three-point range this preseason, including 5-of-6 in the final game against the Miami Heat. It was no secret that the Sixers needed a reliable shooter and they finally found one in Redick. 

Robert Covington will likely benefit from Redick's inclusion in the offense. Redick will now be the primary shooting option on the perimeter, a role that Covington had held for the past two seasons. With Redick helping space the floor Covington should see some more open looks. 

What the Sixers can be sure of is Covington will bring lockdown defense each and every night. Covington finished fourth in defensive player of the year voting a season ago while leading the NBA in passes deflected. 

A major reason why we can expect good shooting from Redick and Covington is because of the long awaited debut of Ben Simmons. Simmons has wowed with his distributing ability in his summer league and preseason appearances, and now he will get to in games that count. 

There were questions surrounding Simmons ability to score but he quelled the fears of fans with a 19 point outburst in the preseason finale against Miami. Simmons displayed an ability to get to the net at will and set up his teammates with open looks by drawing the defense away from the other Sixers players. 

Of course the linchpin of this Sixers team is Joel Embiid. Embiid's value was on display last season. With Embiid on the court the Sixers posted a net rating of 3.2. Without the Cameroonian big man the Sixers had a -7.9 net rating.

Embiid is the definition of a difference maker. We saw it last season, and we saw it again this preseason. The Sixers were 0-3 in their first three preseason games and played some really ugly basketball in those games. Embiid returned and the Sixers went 2-0 to close out preseason with the team suddenly looking like they were in midseason form. 

This is a lineup with a lot of versatility both offensively and defensively. The shooting and distributing is vastly improved over last season. Embiid and Covington bring defense at an elite level, and the spacing ability of Redick, Bayless, Covington, and Embiid on the floor at the same time with a passer like Ben Simmons could result in a lot of big nights from the Sixers' offense. 

The Sixers will open the season tonight in Washington when they face John Wall and the Washington Wizards. 

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