Jimmy Butler is here. A new era of Philadelphia 76ers basketball has begun. That much is true, but there’s something that bugs me about this team and almost every team that has a “big three”.
What happens when that triad of talent is off the floor?
In trading for Butler, the Sixers sent Robert Covington (sad face) and Dario Šarić (sadder face) to Minnesota. While they weren’t “superstars” in the way that Butler is, they were bodies. A team can have a big three, but that dynamic makes bench production so important.
There is no universe that exists where anyone wants Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Jimmy Butler to play for 48 minutes every night. Yes, I understand that wouldn’t happen, anyway, but I hope you’re seeing my point.
At the peak of the Miami Heat big-three (2012-2013) of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, they had a bench that included Mario Chamlers (5.2 win shares), Shane Battier (4.4 WS), Udonis Haslem (3.2 WS), Mike Miller (2.6 WS), and Ray Allen (5.4 WS). (Yes. Ray Allen was on Miami’s bench. He started zero games that year.)
When the Cavaliers had Lebron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, they also had guys like Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova, and Channing Frye. While those names aren’t overly impressive, they all still had WS over 3.0.
Most recently, the Golden State Warriors have made a habit of rounding out their big four (Curry, Thompson, Durant, Draymond) with quality role guys. Last year, the Warriors had Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livningston, Jordan Bell, JaVale McGee, Omri Casspi, Nick Young, and David West. All of these players had a WS of 2.0 or higher.
(Win shares, for those that don’t know, is an estimate of the number of wins contributed to a player. I’m not trying to be condescending or mansplaining. I’m simply informing for those who are thinking, “What the hell are win shares?”)
This year, for reference, the Sixers now have their big three of Simmons, Embiid, and Jimmy Butler. This is the growing concern we should all have:
- Landry Shamet - 0.4 WS
- Amir Johnson - 0.4 WS
- TJ McConnell - 0.4 WS
- Markelle Fultz - 0.4 WS
- Mike Muscala - 0.3 WS
- Furkan Korkmaz - 0.3 WS
Not one Sixers bench player has over 1.0 WS in 16 games.
That’s. Not. Good.
Maybe 25-30 games would be a more solid sample size, but that displays a pretty alarming omen. Although, it’s much better to be close to a fire alarm when there’s a raging inferno going on as opposed to being on the other side of the room.
With a primary bench of Fultz, Shamet, Korkmaz, Muscala, and Johnson (with sprinkles of Wilson Chandler), there is a huge drop-off in offensive and defensive efficiency. That is 100% to be expected, but holy cow, look at this:
That wild swing from +14.1 projected net to -6.3 projected net is NUTS. It could possibly account for the fact that the Sixers blew a 16 point lead in the fourth quarter last night by giving up a 20-0 run. TWENTY. TO. NIL. RUN!.. by the Orlando Magic! Orlando!
Granted, that second lineup won’t be in the game together all the time (or ever) if Brett Brown is smart with staggering when one of his big three are on the floor. Does it matter about staggering if the quality of players aren’t great options? That may be another case of “Is it too early to make that distinction?”
This needs to be addressed, however. The Sixers are 15th in bench scoring (37.6 ppg) and were outscored last night 40-28 -- yet another reason for blowing a 16 point lead. (I cannot express how frustrated I am by that as I’m sure you all are as well.)
Here’s what’s somewhat of a sigh in relief. Maybe the Sixers bench will be better when Wilson Chandler is off minutes restrictions. Him serving fresh yams to Terrence Ross was very encouraging. Korkmaz has looked good in three straight games playing 15 or more minutes (+2 against Memphis, +7 against Miami, and +5 last night). Fultz had eight points and three rebounds off the bench and wasn’t a minus player, at least.
Do the Sixers need to make another move or two? That depends on what their goal is for this season. Are they trying to win RIGHT NOW, or are they just building on the success of last season? There are Courney Lee rumors. (No.) There are Carmelo Anthony rumors. (For the love of all that is good and holy, please DO NOT SIGN Carmelo Anthony.) My personal list begins and ends with Kyle Korver.
The Boston Celtics have a deep bench. The Toronto Raptors have a deep bench. The Milwaukee Bucks have a deep(ish) bench. The Sixers have the best top end talent in the East right now. In a seven game series with either of those teams, the Sixers will have three of the best ten players on the floor when the game tips off. The problem comes when those players come off.
The team and GM Elton Brand should pay attention to this as the season goes on because it could lead to a real disappointing run if the bench quality doesn’t improve between now and April/May.