Philadelphia 76ers: Wilson Chandler is not a great fit in the starting five

(Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images) /

Wilson Chandler has been an excellent addition for the Philadelphia 76ers so far this season, but could he actually be better suited coming off the bench?

Wilson Chandler is a great basketball player.

If you were to look up the definition of a ‘glue guy’ in the classical sense in a basketball dictionary, you’d surely be met with the cheesin’ face of the Philadelphia 76ers starting forward gleaming back at you.

However, Wilson Chandler just isn’t a great fit in the Sixers’ starting five.

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This declaration may seem harsh, but it really isn’t meant to be; that’s just the life of a fifth starter in the NBA.

Slotted in at ‘power’ forward in Brett Brown‘s topsy-turvy starting five next to Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid, Chandler is typically tasked with doing the dirty work at both ends of the court; setting hard screens, delivering the ball where it needs to be, and switching off on the defensive end of the court.

While this certainly hasn’t been amazing for Chandler’s personal statistics, as he’s averaging the fewest points, rebounds, shot attempts, and even 3-pointers of his career, so far, Chandler has taken on the ‘Robert Covington‘-role about as well as anyone could have hoped.

However, this situation isn’t tenable for either party longterm.

When the clock eventually runs out on the Sixers’ season, whether that be in the first round, Eastern Conference Finals, or as NBA Champions, Elton Brand and company will certainly be in the market for a new switchable forward who’s a better fit next to Ben Simmons, Butler, and Embiid. While this certainly doesn’t mean that Chandler can’t still be in the team’s plans moving forward, but it’s hard to commit $12 million a year to a player who’s in the midst of the worst statistical season of his career.

Since entering the Sixers’ starting five on Monday, November 12th, Chandler has only scored in double-digits four times, with his season-high, a whopping 14 points, coming in a 106-111 loss to the Orlando Magic. Just for comparison’s sake, Mike Muscala has scored in double-digits nine times, and even Furkan Korkmaz has outpaced Chandler with six, including a pair of 18 point outings against the Detroit Pistons and Brooklyn Nets.

While a team’s fifth starter doesn’t have to be a straight up scoring dynamo, especially when they are as valuable as Chandler all over the court, getting double-digit performance out of only four starters consistently is hardly a winning formula for any team, especially one desperate for auxiliary shooters.

However, there is a solution to this situation; move Chandler to the bench.

At 6-foot-9, 225 pounds, Chandler can certainly play either forward position at both ends of the court, but his primary role over the first 11-years of his NBA career has been small forward. Now granted, in the modern switch-heavy NBA, there isn’t that much of a difference between any wing position, but after spending a decade playing with a size advantage on smaller forwards, it has clearly been an adjustment moving to the paint to cover bigger, well, bigs.

If Coach Brown were to sub out Chandler for, say Mike Muscala in his starting five, it could help to provide both units with some much-needed support without altering too many of the team’s already in place sets.

By relegating Chandler to a bench role, he would be able to serve as a direct replacement for Jimmy Butler; a two-way small forward with plus-sides at either end of the court. While it’s certainly nice to have a pair of switchable forwards capable of guarding 2-4 in the starting five, by staggering their minutes more dramatically, it would allow the Sixers to retain one of their best defenders on the court at all times, and keep the duo fresh with a slightly lower workload.

Furthermore, by inserting a player like Muscala into the starting five, the Sixers could add some much-needed size in the post to help take some pressure off of Joel Embiid.

Even though Embiid is certainly playing at a near-MVP caliber so far this season, he’s clearly being overworked in the paint as the team’s only elite rim protector. While Muscala isn’t going to make anyone forget about Dikembe Mutombo anytime soon, he is noticeably bigger than Chandler at 6-foot-11, 240 pounds, and could help to clog up the lanes and give Embiid a break throughout the game on defense.

Right now Embiid is clearly the Sixers’ best player at both ends of the court, but could you imagine just how dominant he could be with a more traditional stretch four lined up next to him in the paint? He could average 35 points in 34 minutes a night while haunting opposing centers’ dreams.

Sigh, I guess these are the challenges that arise when a team trades two starters for one without an offseason to get things together.

While only time will tell who will eventually fill out the Sixers’ starting five next season, as Butler, Chandler, and J.J. Redick can all technically be free agents if they so chose, it’s clear the team needs to target a fifth starter that better fits with their unique brand of basketball, be they a forward or point guard.

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However, baring some outrageous trade for a Kevin Love-type player in the lead-up to February’s trade deadline, the Philadelphia 76ers should do everything in their power to optimize the players they already have on the roster to keep things moving; and one way to do so may be to send Wilson Chandler to the bench, allow him to revert to his tried and true role as a 3-and-D small forward, and give Mike Muscala a shot in the starting five.