With Friday night’s Game 3 win the Sixers took what feels like a commanding 2-1 lead against the Hawks, but weren’t able to escape without injury. Danny Green left the game limping in the first quarter with an apparent calf strain, and after an MRI confirmed as much he’s expected to miss two-to-three weeks (at a minimum).
Green is a role player in a cast of many, but you could argue that he’s been the most important of the bunch—providing elite catch-and-shoot skills and plus team-defense all season long. After shooting 40.5% from three on 150 more attempts than the next most on the roster, the spacing that he creates for Embiid and the offense is undeniable. While he‘s mostly struggled on the defensive end in this series, it goes without saying that he’ll be missed moving forward.
For the time being Green’s spot in the starting lineup will need to be replaced along with the 25 minutes per night he’s averaging in these playoffs. The popular candidate for this spot is Furkan Korkmaz, who started the second half in replace of Green in Game 3, and delivered to the tune of 14 points of 4/9 shooting (3/6 from three)—playoff career-high marks.
The decision of who to start here truthfully isn’t that important. It won’t have an impact on how Doc chooses his closing lineups around Joel, Ben, & Tobias—he’ll continue riding hot hands—but it will change the makeup of his bench units.
Ideally, Doc doesn’t want to shake up the team’s rotation too drastically with this switch, especially considering Green is expected to return at some point. For example, in this series against Atlanta (and in a future series vs Brooklyn) it’s wise to stagger Simmons and Thybulle as much as possible (for obvious defensive reasons), therefore keeping ‘Tisse on the bench makes good sense from a practical standpoint despite him naturally feeling like the next man up and having already made a start in these playoffs.
On the other hand, Korkmaz has seen his minutes fluctuate in this series, and wasn’t afforded a steady diet of looks until Friday night when Green went down. Put simply, he wouldn’t disrupt the Sixers regular rotation in the same way that starting Thybulle or George Hill would, both of whom have consistently been the first names off the bench in these playoffs.
Another option that would be equally less disruptive to the regular rotation is Shake Milton, who has obviously been heating up over the last six quarters of basketball. While I wouldn’t oppose this decision—Shake did log the sixth most minutes on the roster this season—I don’t think it’s wise to put too much on his plate just as he’s finding his groove again. If the Sixers wanted to go outside of the box they could start Tyrese Maxey and instantly add a kick to the starting lineup, but there’s too many potential pitfalls in starting a rookie, and Doc knows that.
That leads us back to Korkmaz, whose recent performance and ability to slide into the starting spot without upsetting the current rotation makes him the most obvious candidate for this job. Ultimately, what will the Sixers miss more with Green off the court, his defense or spacing? That answer is obvious, and Furkan goes the furthest of anyone left on the roster in replacing Danny’s shooting threat.
The Sixers will likely survive the rest of this series with Atlanta without missing a beat from this injury, but it’s hard to imagine his absence going unnoticed against Brooklyn, where it‘ll be all-hands-on-deck for the Conference Finals. Two weeks from today will either be Game 3 or 4 of the ECF, and it’s hard to imagine Green rehabbing his calf in time for that. The Finals are set to start a little over three weeks from today, and that’s probably the most hopeful timeline we can have for his return.