Philadelphia 76ers: Leave all-bench lineups in the regular season

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

After the Philadelphia 76ers thoroughly wiped the Wells Fargo Center’s floor with Jahlil Okafor and the Detroit Pistons sans about half of their team, Doc Rivers took the mic as he usually does post-game, and needless to say, he was feeling himself after extending his team’s undefeated streak to five in the month of May.

While many of the questions presented to Philly’s winningest head coach weren’t particularly out of the ordinary, ranging from queries about on-court decisions to team chemistry, one in particular rose above the rest: How many players will the Philadelphia 76ers rely on come playoff time?

“We have 11, maybe 12 guys who could continue to see heavy minutes down the stretch,” Rivers said to the digitally assembled media. “We don’t get stuck in our rotation… we’re going to play the same way we(‘ve) played all year.”

Oh boy… a lot to unpack there.

The Philadelphia 76ers need to tighten things up heading into the playoffs.

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As things presently stand, the Philadelphia 76ers rank 11th in bench scoring for the 2020-21 season.

I know, crazy, right? After suffering through years and years and years of anemic bench units and going absolutely ballistic when a player like Marco Belinelli rolls into town and drops an average of 13.6 points per night, the Sixers finally don’t have to exclusively rely on their starting five to provide 80 percent of their points and can instead play a more balanced brand of basketball.

But just because you have a bench who can produce points on occasion doesn’t mean the team should suddenly forgo the tradition of shrinking rotations come playoff time in order to… honestly, I don’t know.

Now for the most part, NBA teams play between nine and 12 players in the regular season out of necessity. While a coach could certainly push his starters minutes into the high 30s and even 40-plus range if need be, say an overtime contest or a game that decides a tiebreaker, since the season consists of so many games, risking putting extra wear on a player is seldom worth it.

Mathematically speaking, that makes sense. Even in the shortened, 71 game 2020-21 NBA season, 1/71 only accounts for 1.4 percent of the total season. Why risk losing a player for a week due to a soft tissue injury over such a small segment of the season?

In the playoffs though, one game can change the entire fabric of a postseason campaign.

Lose Game 1 at home and suddenly, you have two of your next three games on the road at a competitive disadvantage. Drop an easy Game 5 up 3-1 and it could be all the momentum needed to spark a massive comeback a la the Cavs back in 2016.

Granted, it’s an exact science, as teams will occasionally shuffle bodies around in hopes of getting something going, but as a general rule, you usually want your best player on the court as often as possible, and to do so, some bench players naturally have to surrender their minutes to facilitate it.

Depending on how the final seedings shake out, the good Doc may not have the luxury to ease into the playoffs against a lollipop opponent to start things off.

Sure, the Sixers could still end up with the injured/young Hornets, or a Pacers squad in the middle of a head coaching mutiny, but they could just as easily find themselves facing Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook coming off a pair of wins or a Celtics squad who seemingly always play Philly hard come playoff time. If either of the latter situations come to pass, or even if the Hornets land the eight seed, the Sixers may not be able to give players like Mike Scott 16.5 just to “show some size” when the team holds a -3.2 box plus-minus when he’s on the court.

So, let’s take Rivers at his word and say the Sixers want to roll 11 deep. Who would those players be? Surely the starters- Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and the impeccable Joel Embiid – but who else? Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, and Dwight Howard surely, but players like Tyrese Maxey, George Hill, and Furkan Korkmaz all deserve consideration as well, as each presents a unique trait that the team could surely use come playoff time.

As of late, Maxey has been the Sixers’ best sparkplug coming off the bench. He’s scored double-digit points in eight of the last 10 games he’s appeared in, and has finally started to show the defensive upside many admired during the pre-draft process.

While Hill hasn’t been as effective of a scorer, his presence has helped every player around him get in the right position and get set up for shots splitting his time off and on the ball. Considering the Sixers are sorely lacking in two-way bench performers, utilizing Hill makes a ton of sense in virtually any lineup Rivers could cook up.

And as for Korkmaz? Well, at times this season, he’s been the Sixers’ best outside shooter and can be incredibly valuable as a volume scorer when he’s locked-in. If Philly finds their offense lacking in pop, inserting Korkmaz into the fray presents upside few other bench players can offer.

Each player brings their own upsides, talents, and fit strengths, but none bring an elite quality to the table on the same way as Shake’s scoring, Thybulle’s defense, or Howard’s energy. Could all six players somehow make it work, with each averaging 10ish minutes a game? I guess that’s possible but personally, I don’t see it.

No, in my humble opinion, the Sixers would be better served relying on their big eight in more expansive roles, with one of the their next tier of players – probably Hill – picking up the slack depending on the situation. If the 76ers find themselves matched up against a team like the Bucks who can score near three points per minute, maybe giving Korkmaz the nods makes since. Alternatively, against a team like the Knicks with a few speedy point guard options, maybe Maxey makes sense over Furkie and even Hill.

Honesty, I’d rather have 11 viable players than seven, even if it creates some minor headaches along the way. It’s a good problem to have.

Next. George Hill has been just what the Doc ordered. dark

Maybe Doc Rivers was simply blowing smoke when he praised the depth of his inaugural roster with the Philadelphia 76ers. Maybe he genuinely does believe he has 11-12 players that can play quality postseason minutes and may even try to get additional players involved if the score balloons in fourth quarters. But after watching Rivers remain far too rigidly committed to his lineups even when they clearly aren’t scoring more points than they allow, it might be wise to start thinking about a leaner, meaner look come playoff time before he has to do so on the fly at a series deficit.