Philadelphia 76ers: Tyler Johnson could help to fill in for Ben Simmons

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

With Ben Simmons’ immediate future still up in the air, the Philadelphia 76ers should waive Kyle O’Quinn and sign Tyler Johnson to a 10-day contract.

Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?  When you make a bit of a gamble and it goes off without a hitch?

That was the Philadelphia 76ers three games into the Alec Burks/Glenn Robinson III-era.

Despite surrendering only a trio of second-round picks to give their bench a facelift, the team’s woes were seemingly fixed; with GRIII looking like the perfect fifth starter, and Burke’s serving a maybe even more important role as the team’s certified sixth man.

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Heck, Brett Brown was so undeservingly confident that he opted to finish out the Sixers’ post-All-Star break overtime win over the Brooklyn Nets with a three-guard lineup – a sacrilegious act that clearly angered the basketball gods.

Such a boastful deed could not go unpunished.

So when Ben Simmons reaggravated the back injury that kept him out of the Nets game minutes into an ABC televised contest against the NBA’s high watermark the Milwaukee Bucks, it felt like yet another hurdle to overcome for a team desperate for consistency.

Good news? Simmons’ injury doesn’t sound too severe, and the team’s next three games are against the Hawks, Cavs, and Knicks. Bad news? The 76ers’ following two contests are on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. Going 3-2 over that stretch wouldn’t be the worst-case scenario, especially with trips to Sacramento and, um, the Golden State (San Francisco) to close out the Western Conference roadie. Still, at some point, the Sixers need to pick up ground to even have a chance at the fourth seed.

After watching that putrid 21-point loss to the Bucks – the worst possible way to spend a Saturday night – what Philly really need is… stop me if you’ve heard this one before… more players who can create their own shot.

I know, I know, Elton Brand‘s comical omission of viable point guards when constructing this iteration of the Sixers has become the cruelest of jokes, but with Simmons out against a top-tier defense, that deficiency became impossible to ignore. Sure, the team still has Burks and Josh Richardson, who are more or less the same player. That will help. Playing Shake Milton and/or Raul Neto for big minutes against the Clippers defense? Yeah, that probably isn’t going to work out well.

No, if the 76ers are going to take this, shall we say, opportunity to run an Embiid-centric offense over the next five games, they really, really need to figure out how to field a viable backcourt without their fearless co-leader.

That may not happen with the 16 players currently under contract.

What Philly could really use is a player like fringe-starting-caliber point guard like Reggie Jackson to come off their bench, but unfortunately, he is already spoken for by the Clippers no less. Hm… maybe the 76ers should have addressed this at the trade deadline when they-

*sigh* I digress.

First things first, the Sixers need to release Kyle O’Quinn. He doesn’t want to be on the team, he barely plays, let him walk and soak up some of the Rockets‘ backup center minutes. That would free up a roster spot, and let Philly get creative with some 10-day contracts.

Then, logically, the Sixers should comb through the buyout market and determine which of the two players still unsigned would make the most sense in a red, white, and blue jersey.

Based on this very article’s headline, it’s pretty safe to say I’m not advocating for Dion Waiters. I am, however, advocating for his former South Beach teammate Tyler Johnson.

Measuring at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Johnson came up in the Heats’ player incubator, where he transformed himself from an undrafted free agent out of Fresno State, to a then D-League standout, to a reserve scorer coming off the bench, and finally the proud owner of a four-year, $50 million deal. That deal would eventually become an albatross around the team’s neck but at the time, matching an offer sheet from the Nets made sense. The Heat were still looking for a post-Big 3 identity and retaining talent was a priority over preserving cap space for external stars.

And to be fair, Johnson certainly played like a $12.5 million player.

Over his final two and a half seasons in Miami, Johnson averaged 10.25 points in 28 minutes of action as a part-time starter. Playing alongside everyone from Dwyane Wade to our very own Josh Richardson, Johnson’s grit and positional versatility made him a favorite of Erik Spoelstra, but his contract? Yeah, that put him on a very short list of moveable assets the Heat could move at the 2019 NBA trade deadline to free up cap space going into free agency – cap space they would eventually use to take back Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade.

From there, Johnson appeared in 44 games for the Phoenix Suns, where he played pretty well under Igor Kokoskov, and then not so well in an injury-shortened campaign under ex-76ers assistant Monty Williams. After trying (and failing) to pull off a deal at the deadline, Phoenix bought Johnson out of his deal and allowed him to test the open market as a midseason acquisition to bolster a playoff team’s bench.

So far, Johnson did participate in a tryout for the Lakers, but despite being waived on February 9th, he remains aggressively unsigned, if such a term is applicable.

Maybe the 76ers can fix that.

Again, Johnson is kind of a weird player. He’s a solid defender and can go toe-to-toe with opposing point guards, and even some smaller two guards, but he’s never averaged more than four assists over a full season. Johnson has outside range as a shooter, but only hits his 3.4 attempts from 3 a game at an NBA average 36 percent clip.

But Johnson can get his own shot, and without Simmons, that skill is beyond valuable to the 76ers.

With Johnson in the fray, Brett Brown could bump Alec Burks into the starting five and give Embiid some additional spacing to start out the game. Heck, Brown could even opt to start Johnson alongside Richardson in a throwback to the 2017-18 Heat, a move I’m sure the duo would appreciate based on this video:

Now that is some wholesome content.

There’s a lot to like about Johnson as a player. He’s averaged a usage rate between 15 and 18 over the last two seasons in three different schemes, which is a fancy way of saying he can score buckets without having to dominate the ball as a ball handler. Johnson is also a solid driver, as he averaged the second-most shot attempts within five feet of the basket for the Suns last season as the team’s late-season starting point guard – attempting the same number of shots in the paint as from 25-29 feet away from the basket.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to pencil in Johnson as a long-term starter, but it’s hard to identify a better short-term band-aid for what currently ails the 76ers, both in Simmons’ absence, and potentially even after he returns.

Next. Al Horford for Buddy Hield feels all but inevitable. dark

Ben Simmons’ current situation is very fluid. He could miss just the Atlanta Hawks game, or be out until mid-March, it really depends on how his medicals check out. But in my humble opinion, the Philadelphia 76ers shouldn’t sit on their hands and wait to react. No, the team should continue to actively look for ways to make their roster better, regardless of BS’s future. Tyler Johnson can make the Sixers better. Is he good enough to make Brett Brown’s nine-man bench rotation? Only time will tell, but winning now should rise above that concern, if you even want to call it that.