Following last night’s 119-111 win over Sacramento (on the back of strong 4th quarter shooting and second-half defense) the Sixers remain atop the East with an 18-7 record.
While they continue to win and close out games at a high-level, the same problems with some of our second unit lineups continue to be exposed, and there are holes on the roster that need to be addressed for the playoffs.
Just last week Daryl Morey admitted in an interview with Stephen A. Smith that the Sixers were, “pretty much championship or bust,” seemingly indicating that the team was willing to make additional moves to improve the roster. Just how far Morey and the front office go to address their holes is anyone’s guess, though I’m not expecting anything drastic.
Here’s three types of players/skillsets they could look to add to fill out their second unit before the trade deadline (six weeks away from tomorrow).
1. Point-of-attack defender who can modestly space the floor/contribute off-ball (more reliably than ‘Tisse/Maxey)
Losing Josh Richardson has left a small hole atop the Sixers defense, and we’ve seen quicker penetrating guards exploit that at times this season (i.e.: DeAron Fox last night).
Danny Green is a valuable defender, but isn’t an ideal fit defending quicker penetrating guards; Matisse Thybulle continues to be stellar defensively, but hasn’t made the strides on offense to pass in the playoffs; and while Maxey has mostly been as-advertised (penetrating at a high-level, playing strong on-ball defense) we can’t reliably pencil a rookie in for playoff minutes.
What the Sixers need is someone who brings similarly strong point-of-attack defense as Thybulle/Richardson while also providing some sort of value offensively—spot-up shooting, dribble-penetration, anything that can threaten a defense consistently.
Does this player need to be a backup point guard? Not necessarily. Any competent veteran two-way guard/wing will do, but some ball-handling would be ideal. Obviously if they don’t provide ball-handling you’d want that player to have a little more size and be capable of switching up and down the lineup.
2. A self-creator/ perimeter scorer
While an improved Tobias Harris has been a welcome sight for a team lacking self-creation on the perimeter, the Sixers need a scoring punch in the second unit. Shake Milton has failed to fully break out as a reliable bucket-getter, and Tyrese Maxey (while still providing bursts here and there) has cooled off since the beginning of the season.
When the Sixers go to any of their second unit lineups they strain for consistent offense outside of riding whichever of Tobias or Embiid remains on the floor, and they could use a chess piece off the bench who can get a bucket—even if that’s all they’re good for.
The team had the same need last year and ultimately traded for Alec Burks, and with the roster yet again lacking a go-to scorer in the second unit who can create for himself and get a shot late in the possession, Morey could look to add that skillset before this year’s trade deadline.
3. Stretch big/small ball 5
As it stands right now the Sixers lack a body who can reliably protect the rim and stretch the floor when Embiid is on the bench (or misses games), and while Dwight Howard has been passable as a traditional rim-rolling big, having him share the floor with Simmons in the playoffs will be untenable (as those lineups have been for much of the season).
On top of that, attempts to play Simmons at the 5 have historically disappointed (though there have been bright spots in limited run this season); and while Mike Scott has the right mix of traits for this role, the Sixers need someone slightly bigger and more capable defensively (Scott just doesn’t have the vertical ability to threaten at the rim).
Considering Simmons’ lack of a jump-shot it‘s always been understood that the team would need their backup 5 to be able to stretch the floor (something Illyasova and Horford both provided) and this season has provided more evidence of that need.
It’s important to understand that this piece won’t be needed to play heavy minutes off the bench—I can’t imagine any backup 5s will get more than 10-12 minutes of run on average in the playoffs. Furthermore, whichever stretch big we potentially add will be in a platoon with Howard for those minutes as dictated by matchup.
Regardless of how Morey decides to improve this roster for the playoffs, I have confidence in his ability to identify the team’s holes and, more importantly, acquire the right player to fill that hole.