By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
The most exciting Philadelphia 76ers season in recent memory is almost here. While the regular season opener against the Wizards in two weeks is what Sixers fans are really looking forward to, the newly condensed preseason slate of games should be a nice way to whet the appetite.
First up on the exhibition schedule is the Memphis Grizzlies, who have officially moved on from the Grit ‘n’ Grind era following the departures of “the Grindfather” Tony Allen and Zach Randolph this past offseason. Still, despite the greatness of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies will likely be hindered by their same, old problem: a lack of shooting and offensive creativity on the wings.
To compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference hellscape, Memphis will need a Comeback Player of the Year-type season from $94 million man Chandler Parsons. Parsons has been more active on Instagram than the basketball court since joining the Grizzlies, stymied by knee issues that have led to multiple surgeries. Parsons says he’s his best shape of the past few years; anything above “barely ambulatory” would be a welcome change for Memphis.
Marc Gasol won’t be playing after hurting his ankle in the EuroBasket tournament. Tyreke Evans sat out Memphis’ preseason opener Monday with a migraine, but is expected to play in Philadelphia (update: Evans has also been declared out).
For the Sixers, the team has already confirmed both Joel Embiid and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot will not be playing against Memphis or Friday against Boston. Dario Saric will not play against the Grizzlies for DNP-rest; he’s in great game shape after playing in EuroBasket so this will give Brett Brown some extra minutes for other players. Amir Johnson sprained his ankle in practice Tuesday and is questionable to play.
Key Things to Watch:
- Everything Ben Simmons – We’ve waited over a year to see the former first overall pick against opposing NBA competition. How will Memphis choose to defend a unique offensive threat like Simmons? Will they play off him considerably given his lack of outside shooting? Will Simmons show flashes of the defensive dominance Brett Brown has raved about in training camp? Which hand will Simmons shoot with around the basket?
- The mysterious changing shot of Markelle Fultz – Fultz apparently went off and experimented with a different shot between summer league and training camp, something Brett Brown wasn’t too thrilled about. Fultz said it was just something he was toying with and we should expect his shot to remain similar to his Washington days. Something to keep an eye on.
- Battle for bench minutes – Unlike years past, the Sixers have a deep roster of NBA-caliber talent on the perimeter. Fultz, J.J. Redick, and Robert Covington are all looked in as the starters. Who will receive the most minutes behind them from a group that includes Jerryd Bayless, T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Justin Anderson, and Furkan Korkmaz (plus TLC when he returns)? That picture may become clearer after Wednesday night.
- Is there any hope for Jahlil Okafor? – Okafor has taken to veganism and slimmed down in an attempt to relieve stress on his knees and salvage his career. Will a lighter Jahlil be more agile defensively? Will he still hold the ball in offensive sequences as slow as something out of Inception? It would be nice for Okafor to enhance his value enough that the Sixers could recoup something in a trade.