Sixers: 3 position battles to watch in preseason

Shake Milton, Paul Reed, Sixers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Shake Milton, Paul Reed, Sixers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

The Sixers kick off the preseason on Monday, Oct. 3 in Brooklyn — a game that will have no shortage of national attention as Ben Simmons makes his first NBA appearance in over a year… against his former team. In theory, at least.

With four preseason games on the docket, Philadelphia will have a chance to incorporate new pieces, build chemistry, and wage position battles before the games count. Even with the Sixers’ vastly improved depth, Doc Rivers will have difficult decisions to make.

We know the starting five: Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, P.J. Tucker, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey. The bench unit becomes much more difficult to pinpoint. The only reserve who feels absolutely, unequivocally cemented in his role right now is De’Anthony Melton. The rest of the rotation is in flux.

Here are three position battles to keep your eyes on this preseason.

Sixers preseason position battle — Matisse Thybulle vs. Shake Milton

Doc Rivers went nine-deep after James Harden’s arrival last season. The Sixers’ depth, however, could tempt him to return to his beloved 10-deep structure (as has been hinted at in training camp), even if the stars are staggered.

With Melton locked at guard and Danuel House Jr. the house favorite at wing (a truly accidental pun), there are two “wing” positions up for grabs. Heck, I’m not sure House is guaranteed his spot either, but the Sixers signed him to the bi-annual exception and his skill set is a clear fit.

For now, we will pencil in Georges Niang as the third wing behind Melton and House. And thusly, we arrive at Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton. It will ultimately depend on what Rivers wants out of his fourth wing: Melton and House both hit plenty of 3s, and Melton can handle the rock a little bit. Does he want more playmaking and self-creation a la Shake, or does he want to further expand the second unit’s defensive ceiling with Thybulle.

The clear favorite here is Thybulle, who has been praised glowingly by Rivers and teammates at camp. He appears to have “fixed” his jumper to some extent, and he does have two All-Defensive teams on his resumé — that’s nothing to scoff at. On the flip side, Shake was the Sixers’ best reserve in the playoffs and he’s not a complete zero on defense. He’s a better shooter than Thybulle and provides another source of on-ball dynamism behind Harden and Maxey.

Until we see extended proof of Thybulle’s jumper in actual games, I think it’s fair to argue that Milton is the better player. That said, Thybulle’s defense is hard to ignore and Melton does essentially do Shake’s job better than Shake. There is also a world in which both play, and either House or Georges Niang is the odd man out. But, this does feel like the real battle.