With the entire starting lineup other than Shake Milton either injured or out for rest, there clearly wasn’t much at stake tonight if you ask the Sixers—which is correct, there really is nothing to play for at this point in the seeding schedule.
The only reason to keep an eye on the team through these final seeding games is to see how the supporting cast plays with increased minutes and touches. Whether it’s Burks, Thybulle, or Milton just trying to find a groove before the playoffs; or Scott, Neto, and KOQ simply fighting for a spot in the rotation, there’s still a decent amount to be determined in these next few days.
Here’s three players who impressed in tonight’s loss to Phoenix:
1. Alec Burks continues to cook—23 pts, 9/17 shooting
One of the bigger revelations in the absence of Ben Simmons has been the emergence Burks, and predictably so. After Ben’s injury the Sixers were in need of supplementing a huge chunk of their offense (and defense), and with few options to turn to, Burks—whose need for the ball made him a poor fit with Simmons and Embiid—made the most sense.
While he isn’t able to create for others in the way that Ben could, there’s no doubt that he can create for himself at a high-level. 65 points on 46 shots and 6/16 from deep in three games is nothing to sneeze at for a player who wasn’t initially supposed to get consistent run. If you’re wondering which area the team may be able maintain the best without Simmons it’s hard to argue against the offense being easier to replace than the defense he provided, and Burks should play a big role in that.
2. Mike Scott shot the ball well, connecting on 3/4 threes
It’s a small, small sample size, but one of the better “what if” questions in Ben Simmons’ absence is ‘what if Mike Scott started hitting from three at or above his career 40% rate.’ At this point nothing short of knockout shooting around an elite Embiid can guide us through the East, and Mike Scott would play a big role in the alternate reality where that happens.
Again, 3/4 and 7/12 overall from the field is too small to truly read into, but this is an indication that Brett hasn’t given up on Scott despite him not being in the initial rotation, and it was good to see him get mostly strong run here against Phoenix (he did lead the team in +/-, for what it’s worth).
Keep an eye on Scott in these final two matchups vs Toronto and Houston. He could shoot his way right back into the rotation, and frankly, he’s low-key one of the bigger variables in this whole equation—if he hits from deep, the supporting cast looks a lot more capable around Embiid.
3. Glen Robinson III displayed his two-way/3-and-D ability
I will say that at moments it was obvious that GRIII hasn’t played a ton of ball lately, though a little rust is natural, and frankly you wouldn’t even know it based on the box score. Robinson was going to be depended on as one of the only two-way players off this bench, and his 3-and-D ability made him a lock for rotation minutes. Throw in an injured Ben Simmons and suddenly GRIII is the only defender on the roster who naturally matches up with 3s.
He played just ‘okay’ defense tonight, but what I was glad to see was 3/6 from distance. Robinson will more often than not be set up in the corner as a spot-up shooter, and his ability to connect on those opportunities is going to go a long way in determining how well the supporting cast performs around Embiid in the playoffs.
All in all there wasn’t a ton to take away from this game. Without the starters this was really just about getting reps for the bench and an opportunity for Brett to give his playoff rotation some extra testing. That being said, it was encouraging to see the team play relatively well in the absence of the top half the roster.
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