Sixers need to bolster their bench
The addition of Jimmy Butler has provided the Sixers with a legitimate clutch scorer and go-to guy from the perimeter position, but it has also worked to expose the team’s glaring lack of depth.
The Sixers weren’t the league’s deepest team prior to the Butler addition, and then they traded two starters in Robert Covington and Dario Saric for one in Butler, leaving them down a rotation player. The team has since been forced to rely on a bench unit consisting of T.J. McConnell, Landry Shamet, Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Muscala, and Amir Johnson. Markelle Fultz was initially expected to be a contributor, but his status moving forward remains a question mark at this point in time.
A third of the way into the ’18-19 season, the Sixers rank 22nd league-wide in bench point production (35 bench points per game), and 15th in bench plus/minus (-0.3). Ideally, they would boast a bench that could maintain a lead.
This isn’t an indictment on any of the team’s current reserves individually, but as a unit the Sixers’ bench is lacking. Lacking a player or two capable of creating their own offense, lacking physicality on the defensive end, and lacking in serviceable bigs.
Shamet and Korkmaz have both shown potential this season – especially in their ability to knock down shots from distance consistently – but both are young, inexperienced, and slight of frame, leaving them vulnerable on the defensive end and limited offensively. McConnell provides the Sixers with a substantial spark, and plays as hard as anyone on a nightly basis, but he has his own physical limitations as well.
A positive byproduct of the Sixers’ thinness is the added experience it has granted players like Shamet and Korkmaz, both of whom have taken advantage of on-court opportunities and shown that they could be legitimate pieces moving forward. However, come playoff time their lack of experience and defensive dexterity could be exploited.
And while Johnson has his moments and possess a solid basketball IQ, he is clearly on his last legs after a fourteen-year NBA career, and he often lacks the quickness and explosion necessary to be an effective reserve rim protector. Muscala has been the Sixers most versatile reserve player this season, as he can play either as a stretch-four or small-ball five, depending on the situation. In fact, it has often worked in the Sixers favor when Brett Brown has opted to go with Muscala at the five over Amir Johnson, as he provides additional floor spacing from the center spot.
But, there are situations when the Sixers need a mobile, able-bodied big capable of protecting the rim and banging on the glass when Embiid is out, and those areas aren’t Muscala’s strengths. (It’s ironic that a team one prodded for its glut of big men is now lacking in that area).
The Sixers can look to bolster their bench either through a trade - though at this point their assets are somewhat limited, and it is yet to be seen what they would be willing to give up for what would likely amount to as a rental as they want to keep their cap space open moving forward - or the buyout market. Last season, they didn’t fully form into the team that won 17-straight games and got to the Eastern Conference Semifinals until after the additions of Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli solidified the second unit. I would expect some similar additions this season.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.