After Joel Embiid went down for the season with a partial meniscus tear, it seemed as if all was lost for 76ers fans. There was, however, a silver lining to Embiid’s injury. When Embiid went down, it meant that the focal point of the 76ers was gone, and somebody needed to pick up the slack. In the case of the Sixers, many different members of the team stepped up to help replace Embiid’s missing production. First and most importantly, Dario Saric began to hit his stride in March, as evidenced by him winning Rookie of the Month. Rookie guard Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot took a big step forward towards the end of the season, having some of his most productive games as a Sixer in April. Until he was also ruled out for the season, Robert Covington continued his progression into a defensive monster and 3-point sniper. Fan favorite T.J. McConnell continued to display prowess running Brett Brown’s offense and kept developing into a solid pass-first point guard. Stretch-Five Richaun Holmes flashed potential as an outside threat and tenacious rebounder during the last two months of the season as well. As for Big Jah, well… he’s still Big Jah. Going back to the positives, Joel Embiid’s injury gave 76ers players a chance to show how they could fulfill roles in an offense, and many of them succeeded.
Looking ahead to next season, all of the aforementioned players, with the exception of Robert Covington, are expected to come off the bench. With the combination of potential and flexibility each of these players showed last season, Brett Brown (for once) has a bevy of lineups he could roll out off the bench. If the starters were slow coming out off the gate and the Sixers needed some shooting to spark the offense, they could roll with a lineup of:
PG: Jerryd Bayless
SG: Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
SF: Nik Stauskas
PF: Dario Saric
C: Richaun Holmes
Remember Jerryd Bayless? Unfortunately, he only played in three games for Sixers during the 2016-2017 season. However, when the Sixers signed him during the Free Agent Frenzy of 2016, he was coming off of a year in which he averaged 10.4 points per game, and shot 43.7% from the three point line. As for Stauskas, he is coming off of the best year of his career, where he averaged a tick under ten points per game and shot 36% from three point land. TLC, Saric, and Holmes have also shown capability as shooters, and a 4-5 pairing of Holmes and Saric would certainly stretch out defenses.
If Coach Brown was looking for a defensive lineup to frustrate opponents and ruin an offensive gameplan, he could go with a lineup consisting of:
PG: T.J. McConnell
SG: Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
SF: Justin Anderson
PF: Amir Johnson
C: Richaun Holmes
For starters, T.J. McConnell’s grittiness and peskiness on the defensive end make him a headache for any opposing point guard. He and TLC form a defensive pairing that can disrupt the flow of a backcourt with a combination of length (TLC) and ability to steal the ball (T.J.). While a little undersized, Anderson is still a solid defensive option, and is most likely the best defensive backup the Sixers can trot out at the 3. Amir Johnson earned praise from Celtics fans down the stretch, as his he became a valuable defensive player for Boston. Richaun Holmes has flashed potential as a defensive menace, and can improve even more if his shot blocking ability develops to a high level.
These lineups get even more interesting when the starters are mixed in. Joel Embiid and Robert Covington thrived with a number of lineup combinations last season, while Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz will likely need minutes with the reserves to gain experience being the focal point of the offense. J.J. Redicks’s on court leadership and three point prowess make him an excellent addition to any lineup Brett Brown puts on the floor.
When looking at the makeup of an NBA team, a good bench has always been a staple of success. NBA fans watched as the weak bench of the Washington Wizards was largely responsible for John Wall having to carry the load too often, and eventually running out of gas in a Game 7 loss to Boston Celtics in the second round of the playoffs. The undependable and aging bench of the Cleveland Cavaliers forced a 32 year old LeBron James to play far too many minutes in the Finals, and the Cavs ultimately ending up losing to the Warriors, who had a talented bench, in five games. A deep bench, or even a talented player off the bench can make all the difference. In the 2015 Finals, the Warriors were able to bring Andre Iguodala off of the bench and into the starting lineup. They ended up winning games 4, 5, and 6 en route to winning the NBA Finals. Iguodala ending up as the Finals MVP. More recently, Kelly Olynyk famously scored 26 points off the bench in a game 7 victory against the Washington Wizards.
Going back to the Sixers, having an experienced and talented second unit can only be an asset to the team. Many of these players started games for the 76ers last year, and will be able to mesh and develop as a cohesive unit on both ends of the floor. With less pressure to carry the brunt of the team’s work, fans will be able to see each player thrive in the role that will be carved out for them as the season goes on. If the Sixers are able to retain the core pieces of the bench, they could have one of the NBA’s most formidable second unit’s for years to come.
“Photo: Drew McCullough/Arizona Daily Star”