By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)With it only recently beginning to feel like fall in the Philadelphia area, you may not have realized, but the NBA season is right around the corner. Things have been quiet for the Sixers since the trade sending Thad Young to Minnesota was finalized last month, but that’s all about to change next week. The team’s Media Day will take place next Monday, with training camp exactly one week away at Stockton College beginning September 30th. We’re also less than two weeks away from actual on-court action as Brett Brown and company will head to Boston for the preseason opener October 6th.
Before the losses start piling up and it’s much easier to take an optimistic stance about the great rebuild, let’s take a look at 3 questions which will hopefully be answered in the coming weeks.
The team has 3 starters penned in with last year’s Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, this year’s Rookie of the Year candidate Nerlens Noel, and 2nd-year swingman Hollis Thompson. The absence of 5 names leads us to are first two questions:
1) Besides Hollis Thompson, who will be the team’s starter on the wing?
Looking first on the perimeter, there are a number of ways Brett Brown could opt to go. The one the casual fan might be most comfortable with might be to slot Tony Wroten in as the shooting guard alongside Carter-Williams. Wroten started 16 games last season, both filling in for and playing next to MCW. For stretches of time, Wroten was the most exciting player on the roster, recording a triple-double in a win against Houston and flirting with it on a few other occasions. However, given how his lack of consistent outside shooting might further hamper a starting unit poor in that area, Wroten might be best served as the back-up point guard / combo guard off the bench.
An entirely different option would be to go big on the wing, sliding Hollis Thompson to two-guard and having Luc Richard Mbah a Moute at small forward. Mbah a Moute’s inclusion wouldn’t help the shooting concerns any, but having two 6’8″ wings to pair with the team’s 6’6″ point guard would mean limbs everywhere and a tough night for opposing offenses. Of course, the Sixers could also look to see what they have in new acquisition Alexey Shved, or go with a wildcard like K.J. McDaniels. We’ll know more when training camp gets underway.
2) Who will start alongside Nerlens Noel in the frontcourt?
Still, in my opinion, the more interesting starting decision takes place down low, where the Sixers again have the option to go big or small. The more conventional option would be to slot Nerlens Noel at the four, where he would eventually have to play next to Joel Embiid, while leaving him unexposed to having to bang down low with opposing centers. Noel at power forward would likely mean Henry Sims would resume his position at the starting center, where he performed admirably down the stretch following his acquisition from Cleveland last season.
However, coach Brown could also run out an extremely fast lineup, putting Mbah Moute or someone like Jerami Grant at the 4-spot, and see if Noel can hang at center. This option is unlikelier simply because I don’t anticipate the Sixers wanting to expose Noel to the added injury risk of dealing with opposing centers, in addition to his presumed spot alongside Embiid in the long-term. Still, the idea of Noel as your center, after he showed off his tremendous ability getting up and down the floor in summer league, is a tantalizing proposition. I look forward to those eventual line-ups, even if it’s not how the Sixers start out games.
3) What’s the health of Michael Carter-Williams’ shoulder? MCW underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum of his right shoulder in May. As of a couple weeks ago, he was still not cleared for contact, although he was said to be shooting and working out and he hit a home run off Magic Johnson in a celebrity softball game (sorry Phils fans, he’s much too young for Ruben to consider signing him).
With his poor outside shooting arguably the weakest part of his game, being unable to shoot during most of his first NBA offseason was obviously not ideal for the young point guard. The Sixers have remained mum about his status in recent weeks, so we’re not even sure how much of training camp and the preseason MCW will take part in going forward. With he and Noel representing the two building blocks we have to watch develop this season, any uncertainty regarding his status is certainly cause for concern.
Nevertheless, we’re almost back in the thick of NBA action, and that alone is cause for celebration.