Calling the Sixers first 55 games a roller coaster would be an understatement, as the team has seen the highest highs and the lowest lows, but still manages a respectable 34-21 record. Not the record most people imagined at this point in the season, but amid all the injuries and dysfunction among the roster, credit is still due for being 13 games over .500. With that said, the remainder of the season has the potential to be a success based on a few minor tweaks. Welcoming in some new additions, a favorable schedule, and seemingly healthy, Philly looks set up to make the deep playoff run we all expected.
Figuring out Al Horford
The Sixers reached a turning point with the benching of Horford in their last game before the break against the Clippers. The change seemed to emphasize the main reason Horford was brought in; to provide excellent big man play for the minutes Embiid isn’t playing. This idea has been dampened throughout the season with Joel Embiid and Horford sharing the court far too often. The Clippers win provided a successful blueprint for how to use Horford, Embiid, and even Ben Simmons together in the rotations throughout the game. If Brett Brown and the coaching staff can commit to Al coming off the bench and only allowing his minutes with Embiid to be purely matchup based, it can be a recipe for success. There is something to be said about doing the same with Ben Simmons, just to a lesser degree. Ben will still play plenty alongside Jo, but we have seen him at his best without Embiid, and he has had success playing with Horford. A Simmons/Horford with bench pieces as a second unit could prove very effective. While the hope is Brown continues to ride with Horford off the bench, the biggest point of emphasis is keeping the minutes down where Al, Joel, and Ben are all on the court at the same time. Having one move to the bench to allow the team to get off to a faster start makes the most sense, and since Horford is the only guy you’d consider moving out of the starting lineup, that’s what should continue to be done.
Establishing a 5th Starter
If the above adjustment holds true, someone will have to take Horford’s spot and there are several candidates to do it. In the Clippers game, Brown turned to Korkmaz to start and while he was held scoreless, his shooting gravity drew him a lot of attention. That in itself is more of a positive than Horford being there, but it also seemed to basically negate your best shooter. Opening up lanes for Ben and post ups for Embiid should both be possible without Korkmaz being shadowed for the entire game. However, the numbers show that Korkmaz is a much more efficient shooter off the bench, where his FG% is more than 7 points higher, as well as his 3P%. (Stats via nba.com/stats)
Another option is Matisse Thybulle, who has started ten games this season as a rookie. His point of attack, and off ball defense can’t be understated, as he caused Paul George problems all game long, but it seems his offense isn’t polished enough to be reliable with the starters. In his ten starts, he is shooting 14% worse from the field and 22% worse from three. (Stats via nba.com/stats)
The main problem with Korkmaz and Matisse is they both bring one established skill with little besides it. Both seem to be more effective deployed against 2nd units where they can carry their traits against inferior competition than starting caliber wings. This brings us to the superior option to start: Glenn Robinson III. Robinson has started 48 games this season and is shooting 39.5% from three while still showing the capability to stay in front of most forwards, something neither Korkmaz nor Thybulle can claim. Robinson doesn’t require any offensive plays run through him, as he makes himself open through off ball cuts to the basket and being a strong catch and shoot option when Simmons drives. While the team has plenty of time to figure out who they think fits best, as of right now, Robinson III looks to be the best option for the role.
Incorporate Ben more off ball
Ben Simmons has done everything that has been asked of him in running this offense (editor’s note: except shooting the one three per game Brett requested), and while it hasn’t always been perfect around him, he has stepped his game up significantly to make up for it. As a result, there has been an uptick in minutes played, as he led the league in that category in the month of January, averaging just below 39 minutes per game. While it appears there is not going to be any signs of his minutes going down (37 MPG so far in February) a way to keep him fresh going into the playoffs is incorporate him more off ball. This is where a new addition like Alec Burks can help, as in short stints he could potentially be the backup ball handler. There is no reason to believe they can’t share the court as well, with Burks being an excellent pull up 3-point shooter (37.2% on 2.6 Attempts per Game), as well as catch and shoot guy (38.3% on 2 Attempts per Game). His ability to pull up off the dribble or shoot off the catch shows he can play on and off ball, combined with Ben already showing he is an excellent roller, running more pick and rolls should be emphasized. Simmons thrives on his down hill drives with vision that allows to him to dish out looks to open guys along the perimeter, but adding guarding the opposing team’s best player each night puts a lot on Simmons’ shoulders. Taking advantage of a skill set he has always possessed but hasn’t had a running mate to fully unlock it should get him easier looks to the hoop, as well as get Burks more pull up options as well. Burks isn’t a true point guard and he shouldn’t be relied on as such, but a new dynamic to throw at opposing defenses can be valuable. Giving him and Richardson time to figure out when to be the back up ball handler and when to cater to the other will be important in getting Ben Simmons as much rest as he need without seeing a significant dip in the flow of the offense.
Follow Process Potables contributor Carson Fowler on Twitter (@cafowler13)!