Depth remains an issue for the Sixers
After two separate midseason blockbustrer trades orchestrated by general manager Elton Brand, the Philadelphia 76ers boast one of the most – if not the most – formidable first fives in the entire NBA. In Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and J.J. Redick the Sixers are teeming with talent and have harnessed the type of fire-power that fans that watched the 10-win team from '15-16 dreamed of during those darker days.
However, in order to build that strong starting unit, the team had to make some major sacrifices in the depth department. Now, with the playoffs rapidly approaching, that depth – or lack thereof – remains a major concern for a Sixers squad with lofty aspirations.The issue has plagued the Sixers all season, and while the trades introduced new faces into the reserve roles on the team, they didn't directly address the issue, and may have actually exacerbated it.
In terms of point production over the course of the season, Philadelphia’s bench in 27th in the NBA (31.2 bench points per game), and 29th in offensive rating (48.8). For comparison’s sake, all of the Sixers chief competitors in the East – the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, and Boston Celtics – all have higher scoring bench units. The Sixers are going in the wrong direction here, too. Since the All-Star break, they are dead last in the league in both bench points per game (25.1) and bench offensive rating (44.5, h/t NBA.com/stats).
In addition to offensive production, reliability is also an issue when it comes to the Sixers second unit. Guys like Mike Scott and James Ennis are streaky shooters, and thus inconsistent contributors. One game Scott could hit five three’s off of the bench, and no one would be super surprised. But, the following evening he could go scoreless on 0-for-8 from the floor and the surprise level would be the same. Same with Ennis. That isn’t ideal.
You typically know what you’re getting from T.J. McConnell, but his ability to make positive contributions is limited, and circumstantial. Johnathan Simmons appears to have played himself out of the playoff rotation, and doesn’t appear to be a player that the Sixers will lean on for any sort of meaningful production. Brett Brown will juggle Boban Marjanovic, Amir Johnson, and Jonah Bolden behind Embiid, but all three have their own glaring deficiencies, and collectively leave the Sixers without a backup big that they can use proactively.
In general, it feels like the Sixers are treading water when they turn to their bench, and Brown has ruled out the possibility that rookie Zhaire Smith or G-League standout Shake Milton will crack the playoff rotation, citing lack of reps/experience. So, help isn’t on the way either.
It’s true that rotations shrink in the playoffs when starters are relied on to play more minutes, and this works in Philly’s favor. Brown should be able to stagger the minutes in such a manner that at least two starters could be on the floor at nearly all times. But ultimately basketball is a team game, and most championship-caliber teams can count on some sort of reliable, positive production from players beyond the starters. As currently constructed the Sixers don’t have that, and it could prove to be the team’s Achilles heel this season.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.