Sixers preview: 5 things to watch for when 2018-19 NBA season tips off

Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons Joel Embiid Markelle Fultz NBA

Since the 2017-18 season came careening to an end against the upstart Boston Celtics, the Sixers have been searching for answers.

They still are.

Sound harsh?

Well, the “star hunting” Sixers added very little to a 52-win team. There was so much to like about the Sixers.

They won 52 games, a 24-game improvement from the previous season and won a round in the playoffs, defeating the gutsy Miami Heat.

When the Eastern Conference semifinals concluded, the Celtics captured the series in five games. The Celtics were clearly better in just about every way. And they have Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward returning from injuries to join a stacked roster this season.

Furthermore, the Sixers didn’t add LeBron James, Paul George or Kawhi Leonard. Instead, they acquired Wilson Chandler in a trade from the Denver Nuggets.

The Sixers just didn’t seem to improve all that much while other teams in the East such as the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, and Washington Wizards all appeared to get better.

As the 2018-19 season is about to begin, here are five things to look for:

1. Joel Embiid must step up and become the franchise cornerstone he’s expected to be

Embiid had a solid season across the board, but his flaws were exposed in the playoffs. He turned the ball over too much and his conditioning was questionable.

Embiid will need to lead this young group from Day One. He must last through the marathon NBA season and push through when the schedule gets tough. The young center will post terrific statistics, but being a leader is much more than numbers. If Embiid can stay healthy, his potential is incredible.

2. Ben Simmons has to start hitting the mid-range jumper

Simmons had a fantastic rookie season and proved worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick. He was fearless in every way and improved steadily throughout the entire season. Simmons accomplished all of this without a jumper.

At some point, teams are going to pack their defenses in the paint and will force Simmons to shoot. He doesn’t need to make three-pointers. But he has to show the ability to hit a 12-to-15 foot jumper.

3. Dario Saric must become a larger figure in the offense

Saric does all the little things that don’t show up on the scoreboard – setting screens, diving for loose balls, boxing out, taking charges and etc. He has looked more and more comfortable in head coach Brett Brown’s system.

There will be nights when Embiid and Simmons will need other players to step up. Saric has the drive, both physically and mentally and the fan base already loves his passion.

4. Markelle Fultz has to show something. Anything

Yes, he’s still just 20. But Fultz is also a No. 1 overall pick who has struggled physically with his shot. No one truly knows if he’s ready emotionally to recover from last year. The preseason means nothing.

Once the real games start, Fultz has to play well and continue to prove his mettle. He wants to be the team’s third star. He just needs to be a consistent player, which will help immensely.

5. Brett Brown taking Philly to the next level

Brown has done a remarkable job of keeping this team together through many tumultuous moments over the last five seasons. The Sixers finally began to trend up, but taking the next step is going to be even harder.

Without a star addition in the offseason, the Sixers have to rely solely on player development. Brown is tremendous at motivating his players. This will be yet another challenge.

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