Philadelphia 76ers 2022-23 NBA preview: Joel Embiid, James Harden look to lift team to new heights

After an underwhelming conclusion to their 2021-22 campaign that saw them again fail to advance past the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Philadelphia 76ers retooled the roster over the offseason with an emphasis on adding tough, versatile players. Now, they’ll again enter the new year with championship aspirations. In addition to bringing back James Harden (the 2018 MVP) to pair with last season’s MVP runner-up Joel Embiid, the Sixers also made several other offseason additions to their roster including P.J. Tucker, Danuel House Jr., De’Anthony Melton and Montrezl Harrell. Now, the new-look Sixers will look to advance to conference finals, at least, for the first time since 2001.  

Here’s a quick glance at Philadelphia’s offseason, and a preview of what things will look like when the 2022-23 season tips off.    

Key changes


Top of the key: Another step for Maxey 

After receiving inconsistent playing time during his rookie season, Maxey took over the starting point guard spot in Ben Simmons‘ absence last season, and he never looked back — even after James Harden was added to Philadelphia’s roster. His numbers swelled with his increased role, and he quickly established himself as an integral part of Philadelphia’s offensive attack.   

From his first to his second season, Maxey’s scoring jumped from eight to 17.5 points per game, and his assists doubled from two to 4.3. Most impressively, his 3-point shooting skyrocketed from 30 percent as a rookie to 42 percent last season. This improvement helped to solidify him as an excellent complement to All-Star center Joel Embiid, and his ability to play both on and off of the ball should greatly help him fit alongside Harden in Philadelphia’s backcourt moving forward.  

It remains to be seen just how much more of a jump Maxey will be able to make while playing alongside Embiid and Harden, but it certainly sounds like the Sixers are expecting big things from him. 

“The biggest inflection point is, probably, we need Maxey to take another step forward,” Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said recently of the upcoming season. “And he can do it. He’s putting the work in. … His rookie year was way ahead of schedule. His second year was way, way ahead of schedule, and to ask him to do another leap forward is asking a lot, but we do need it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does it given how much time he puts in.”  

Next up: A healthy Harden

James Harden was healthy over the offseason for the first time in a couple of years, and it appears as though Harden took full advantage of his healthy summer, as he appeared to be in very solid shape at media day. He joked that he lost “100 pounds” over the summer, and while he was obviously exaggerating, he was clearly svelte. By all accounts, Harden really got after it over the offseason, and he even organized team-wide runs in L.A. “James put in just a ton of work this summer,” Doc Rivers said of his star guard at media day. 

Harden credited his productive summer to dieting, rest and just being healthy enough to put in the necessary work. 

“It’s dieting,” Harden said at media day. “It’s proper rest and then it’s just, for me, I think it’s strengthening my muscles and gaining more muscle mass, which I always had. It’s just this last year and a half, I wasn’t healthy enough to put the proper work in like I’m used to. This summer was huge for me in that aspect. The hill runs and the weight lifting were important and adding the skill on the court as well.”  

It will be extremely interesting to see how Harden’s offseason training manifests on the court throughout the season. Despite dealing with a lingering hamstring injury and getting traded from Brooklyn to Philadelphia in the middle of the campaign, Harden was the only player in the entire NBA to average more than 20 points and 10 assists per game last season. 

One more thing: Embiid’s time for MVP? 

Embiid finished second in MVP voting to Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic in each of the past two seasons, but perhaps this season will finally be Embiid’s time to claim the league’s highest individual accolade for himself. Jokic was a worthy winner, but Embiid has clearly been dominant enough to win the award. Last season, he became the first center to lead the league in scoring since Shaquille O’Neal and the first to average 30-plus points per performance since Moses Malone. He also played in a career-high 68 games, which is extremely important, as durability has been an issue for him in the past, especially when it comes to winning the MVP award. 

As long as Embiid is healthy, he can be expected to put up dominant numbers as he has over the past couple of seasons, and that will again have him right in the thick of the MVP conversation. Perhaps the fact that Embiid came so close to winning the past couple of years will be a factor in the mind of some voters. Plus, history is on Embiid’s side. Only two players in NBA history (Jerry West and George Gervin) have finished second in MVP voting more than once and not ultimately won the award. 

Key games

76ers at Celtics, Oct. 18: The Sixers start out with a bang as they open in Boston, home of the Eastern Conference champions. It’s an early-season measuring stick, but if the Sixers are going to make their first NBA Finals appearance in over 20 years they’ll have to get past the conference’s elite teams. For what it’s worth, Philadelphia was 2-2 against Boston during the regular season last year. 

Nets at 76ers, Nov. 22: Anyone who has been paying attention to the team recently knows exactly why this game is on the list — it could be Ben Simmons‘ first time facing off against the Sixers in Philadelphia after he refused to play for the team again until he was ultimately traded to the Nets in February. His behavior prior to the trade catapulted him to the status of one of the most hated athletes in Philadelphia in recent memory, and thus the fans’ vitriol will be palpable when (and if) Simmons takes the floor. 

Heat at 76ers, Feb. 27: Revenge game alert! This will be the Sixers’ first time facing the Heat since being eliminated by them in the Eastern Conference semis last season. Had Embiid been healthy for the entirety of that series things might have turned out differently, but hey, we can’t re-write history. The Heat project to be a legitimate player in the East so this relatively late first meeting (which is actually the first game of a home-and-home series) will be a good barometer of whether the Sixers’ adjustments are working. On the Miami side, this will be P.J. Tucker’s first game against his former franchise after the Sixers poached him from Miami in free agency.

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