Philadelphia 76ers: After an ugly loss, the bench can no longer be ignored

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

After dropping a potentially ‘changing of the guard’ game against the San Antonio Spurs, Brett Brown and the Philadelphia 76ers need to address their depth.

The narrative was almost perfect.

After spending almost half a decade at the helm of a perpetually losing squad, Brett Brown was awarded an opportunity to lead his new-look Philadelphia 76ers squad back to where it all began in San Antonio, and finally dethrone Gregg Popovich and the Spurs in a real ‘changing of the guard’-type moment typically reserved for Hollywood screenplays.

All of the parts were there; a wildly inconsistent Spurs squad still searching for an identity in the post-‘Duncan, Ginobili, Parker‘-era, a statistically favorable back-to-back scheduling following an afternoon bout the day before, and as Sixers squad with all three of their stars finally back on the court.

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But that’s the beautiful thing about sports; on any given Monday anything can happen, and on this particular Monday, Philadelphia 76ers got embarrassed by Pop & Company.

But why? Was it because Brown’s scheme is just an extension of Popovich’s, so the master knew precisely what his apprentice would throw at him? Could it have been Philly now-chronic inability to cover opposing guards?

No. The Sixers lost for one reason and one reason alone: they have no depth.

Sure, the team has three All-Stars, which only the Golden State Warriors can also say, but unlike Steve Kerr‘s squad, that’s about all they have. If the Sixers can get big performances out of there for best offensive players, J.J. Redick, Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, and Ben Simmons then they have as good a chance as anyone to win any particular game.

However, when Butler and Embiid combined for 9-30 from the field like they did against San Antonio, the team really has no chance to pull out a win against even an average team.

Sure, players like Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala, Furkan Korkmaz, and even T.J. McConnell can occasionally give you 10 off the bench, but most good teams have as many as six players score in double digits in a typical win. The Sixers, on the other hand, are lucky if all five of their starters can get into double figures, as Wilson Chandler is currently averaging 6.4 points a game.

Unfortunately, this is the curse the team’s current construction.

As highlighted here, the Sixers have gone out of their way to upgrade their roster by making a series of 2-for-1 deals in an attempt to procure more immediate role players. While this strategy has worked occasionally, as Muscala has been a nice find, it’s left Philly without a true sixth man to strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses coming off the bench.

The Spurs have the opposite problem.

After losing sophomore point guard DeJounte Murray for the season with a torn ACL, Kyle Anderson to the Grizzlies, and Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors, Popovich’s squad just doesn’t have enough top-tier talent to compete with the like of Golden State or Denver for a spot atop the Western Conference.

However, much like against Cleveland the afternoon before, the Spurs did have a deep enough bench, with a variety of different role players, to give the 76ers fits, resulting in an uncharacteristic 123-96 win over a team many assumed could run the Eastern Conference by season’s end.

No matter how you slice it, this team needs to fortify their bench if they want to have a prayer of making it deep into the playoffs.

Whether by trade, free agency, or even a G-League elevation, the 76ers have to find a player who can give them 10 off the bench and provide the starting unit with a bit of leeway moving forward.

Really, it doesn’t even matter what position they play at this point; they just need points.

Whether the team decides to add a bench big like Zach Randolph, a sharpshooting wing like Terrence Ross, a combo guard like D’Angelo Russell, or even a true backup point guard like Dennis Schroder, whom the OKC Thunder would probably consider trading to free up future cap space, the team just needs someone, anyone to get them a few points off the bench, even if all they can do is score.

Maybe Bill Simmons wasn’t so crazy when he suggested the team flip Markelle Fultz for Antonio Blakeney and a second round pick after all.

While Fultz is without a doubt the better player, Blakeney, Ben SimmonsLSU teammate, has made the fourth most corner 3s of any player in the league, and could fill that ‘Lou Williams‘-role off the bench as a do-it-all scorer. With an uptick in minutes from 16.6 to, say, 24 minutes of action a night, it’s very possible his 9.6 points per game could jump up into the 12-14 range, a major upgrade for a team like Philly who’s best bench scorer is averaging 8.3 points a night.

The Philadelphia 76ers should be jealous of Cleveland’s depth. dark. Next

But no matter who the team decides to target as a mid-season acquisition, it’s clear the Philadelphia 76ers can’t win it all with their current roster. If this team is going to find a second wind in the new year, and dominate down the stretch, Elton Brand is going to have to inject the depth chart with some new blood, especially players who can score the ball effectively.