The Philadelphia 76ers‘ bench is an unusual bunch.
Sure, the Sixers’ second unit has a number of quality players who are really good at one or two aspects of the game – be that defense, shooting, scoring, rebounding, or passing – but when the starters leave the court and Doc Rivers hockey line shifts it into his reserve unit, things can get ugly real quick.
How ugly? How about a 0-4 stretch through the first 33 minutes of the Sixers’ Game 2 win over the Hawks, a stretch that was eventually broken by the Gandalf the White-esque return of peak Shake Milton (more on that here).
Now granted, there aren’t a ton of teams who do have a legit two-way sixth man who can come into the game and take things over when the starters leave the court. The Hawks boast one of the best sixth men in NBA history in Sixers draftee Lou Williams, and he’s one of the worst defenders you’ll find. Still, the Sixers can’t expect to win a lot of shootouts when they are averaging 78 percent of their points from their starting lineup – unless, of course, they start playing one of their high-volume scorers a little more often with the reserves than the starting five.
Considering Ben Simmons is more of a facilitator than a scorer, and Joel Embiid is essentially the engine that keeps the Philadelphia 76ers’ starting five running, that just leaves Tobias Harris, who played the role with gusto in Game 2 versus Atlanta. Though it may get overlooked in the shadow of “Miltonmania,” this deviation from Doc Rivers’ typical rotation paid massive dividends and could continue to do so moving forward.
Tobias Harris should run the Philadelphia 76ers’ second unit more often.
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Tobias John Harris; does any player not named Ben Simmons generate such polarizing responses from fans, foes, and outside observers alike?
To some, he’s an overpaid combo forward who doesn’t really hit 3s or play D well enough to be mentioned in the same conversations as players like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, or Jayson Tatum. He’s an odd fit both on the ball and off it and isn’t necessarily the modern NBA prototype for either forward position.
If you fall into that camp, it’s cool; maybe you just haven’t seen him play enough basketball to get the full picture.
Since reuniting with Doc Rivers in his third season with the Philadelphia 76ers, Harris has really come into his own as an NBA player. He’s taking better shots, making quicker choices, and playing a more engaged brand of defense than he did over his first season and a half with the 76ers. Does Harris still post up way outside of the paint and bleed away valuable seconds early in a possession a bit too often for some fans’ likings? Sure, but as a general rule, you’ll take those minor bads with the goods.
And now, if Game 2 versus Atlanta is of any indication, Harris can add “second-unit floor general” to his already impressive resume.
After having his initial run cut short at the 6:01 mark in the first quarter in favor of defensive dynamo Matisse Thybulle, Harris re-entered the game exactly four minutes later to play alongside Thybulle, George Hill, Tyrese Maxey, and Dwight Howard.
*spoiler alert* it went pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Now the star of the offensive show, Harris racked up six quick points in nine minutes of action and kept the Sixers competitive despite a total lack of offensive input from any of their bench players whatsoever.
While Harris’ second-half performance wasn’t quite as prolific, as he only picked up four points on 2-5 shooting from the field, that had more to do with the surprise re-emergence of Shake Milton as a point-per-minute scorer than any issues with Harris’ game. Considering the Sixers road their starters pretty hard for six of the final eight minutes of the game – only subbing out Ben Simmons for Shake Milton to avoid another Hack-A-Ben situation – Harris’ minor expectations with the second unit were minimal.
Considering Harris played 11 of the final 12 minutes of the game and recorded a particularly nice block on his former Clippers teammate, Danilo Gallinari, only fantasy basketballers and user-specific parlay players should fret too harshly about a zero point fourth-quarter performance.
Based on how things shook out in Game 2, I think three things are clear: 1. The Sixers are going to play Ben Simmons on Trae Young early and often, 2. Shake Milton will play much earlier than the 2:46 mark in the third quarter and 3. Tobias Harris is going to split his time pretty evenly playing alongside Doc Rivers’ starters and reserves.
Now sure, is it a bit counterintuitive to break up the most efficient heavy-usage lineup in the NBA? Maybe so. Philly’s starters were a +215 on the regular season in 656 total minutes of action and a +92 in 105 minutes during the playoffs, but unfortunately, teams can’t play their starters for 48 minutes a night. Giving Thybulle some run with the starters to free up second units is a worthy tradeoff, especially when Seth Curry is shooting 5-6 from beyond the arc.
Is the Philadelphia 76ers’ rotation perfect? No. Ideally, most teams would like to have one dedicated sixth man who can enter the game coming off the bench and make a serious impact on both the stat sheet and on-court momentum, but unfortunately, that just isn’t how the Sixers are currently composed. While Doc Rivers could surely continue to ride the hot hand and hope for a big game out of a bench player like Shake Milton, Tyrese Maxey, or even Furkan Korkmaz, giving Tobias Harris an extended run with the reserves provides some insurance if that doesn’t happen and a chance for the team’s third starter to get some extra run as the number one offensive option when Joel Embiid leaves the court. If it wasn’t so obvious, it would be a revelation.