Three key things to watch ahead of the Sixers’ season opener

The Philadelphia 76ers are one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA.

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid lead the way, but what’s important is the Sixers’ core. This group features JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, and T.J. McConnell as the key returning players on this roster.

And with Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala as newcomers, Philly could arguably have the best depth in the league.

The Sixers will start their preseason this Friday, September 28, when they’ll host Melbourne United at The Wells Fargo Center. Here are three things to look out for as the regular season draws ahead.

The shot development of Markelle Fultz

Markelle Fultz’s jumper has returned.

Just ahead of training camp, The Players’ Tribune released a video of Fultz showcasing his new jump shot. During an interview with the company, the former No. 1 pick spoke about how he wants to be a player who can score late in games without having a play ran for him.

“I want it to be special when I come back, and I want to have people guessing,” Fultz said during the interview. “This is going to be good.”

Fultz was out for most of last season with a shoulder injury, but he played in 14 regular season games and averaged 7.1 points per game on 40.5 percent shooting. When he returned last season, Fultz’s shot mechanics were off and his follow-through wasn’t where it needed to be in his old form.

Now, though, he has a solid form and good follow through. Fultz has worked on his shot with NBA player development coach Drew Hanlen over the summer, and it seems like his work is paying off.

If Fultz can show an ability to be another option for the Sixers offensively, perhaps the entire unit will see a boost. Last season, the Sixers ranked No. 7 in the league in points per game (109.8).

Joel Embiid’s potential to have his best year yet

Joel Embiid is a throwback big man, but he’s also not.

He can score in the low post, block shots and grab rebounds, but he can also knock down jumpers and handle the ball a bit – he’s a modern big man, too.

As one of the game’s “unicorns,” a player who boasts a unique skill set, Embiid led the Sixers in points per game last season (22.9) as well as rebounds per game (11.0). For this upcoming season, though, Embiid will need to elevate his game to the point where he’s garnering legitimate MVP consideration. And if the Sixers truly become top contenders to win the East, it’ll be largely due to Embiid having his best season yet.

The potential for him to do it is there, too. On September 18 while at his preseason media luncheon, Sixers coach Brett Brown predicted that Embiid will be dominant this upcoming season. As Rich Hofman of The Athletic quoted, Brown said Embiid’s summer workouts have blown him away.

If Embiid can continue to be a dominant force and one of the top players in the league, the Sixers will be in a good position to come out the East.

Ben Simmons’ jumper

While Embiid needs to have an MVP caliber year, Ben Simmons needs to elevate his game in his own way.

Simmons is a quality facilitator, but he’s not a scorer by nature. Still, if he can develop a serviceable jump shot, his offensive game would open up immensely. Simmons can already drive to the hoop whenever he wants. He’s athletic, and he regularly came through the lane for dunks last season.

He doesn’t need to be an elite shooter. But if he can develop a consistent mid-range jumper, it would take pressure off Embiid to score, and would also open the floor for the rest of his team.

The 2018 Rookie of the Year is unlikely to ever be a top-five scorer in the league – that’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Last season he led the Sixers in assists per game (8.2), while also ranking fifth in the league for the category.

Simmons is one of the best facilitators in the game, and that’s his best strength. But a serviceable jumper being added to his repertoire could add another element to the Sixers’ offense.

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