When this season started the Philadelphia 76ers were a team with plenty of upside but also several questions. One of the biggest concerns was who would have a significant role off of the bench. With so many young players looking for minutes no one would be given anything, everything would have to be earned. With the regular season almost done I am still a firm believer that some of the players who have been passed up on this season are not lost causes. There is still potential to be found, and with the Sixers playing with a short bench, these guys need to be ready to take on a bigger role if injuries strike at an inopportune time.
With the additions of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova at the trade deadline, some bench players who were already given sporadic minutes were basically forced out of the lineup. Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Richaun Holmes all have upside and can help the Sixers fill certain roles, but inconsistency has plagued them all year, hurting their chances at making a difference. It’s not known how long both Belinelli and Ilyasova will be on the roster, they have been positive additions for the most part so far, which makes many believe some of these younger players can be expendable if they don’t turn a corner quickly.
Each player has a role, and while none of them gets a ton of run, when they are given the opportunity to receive minutes they usually step up and fill the role needed. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is a streaky shooter, but when given the opportunity can give some high energy and create shots for himself. Blocked from significant minutes by Belinelli, TLC usually doesn’t leave the bench unless there is garbage time. His streakiness is what has really hurt him, this year he has shot 37.5% from the field and 33.5% from three point range. The reason why the Sixers brought in Belinelli was to bring stability to the bench, whether he has done that is debatable but what he has done is brought a more consistent outside shot, shooting 42.4% from the field and 36.8% from behind the arc. In order to gain relevancy on this team TLC needs to find a way to be more consistent. With so many other outside shooters on the roster he can be quickly replaced. Being a former first round pick should give TLC the benefit of the doubt enough to stick on the roster, but he needs to improve if he wants a role.
Richaun Holmes is the player I have been pounding the table for all season. His play style meshes well with the second unit, bringing a spark as well as much needed athleticism. What has hurt Holmes is the fact he can’t guard NBA level centers effectively. In order for Holmes to etch out a role on this team he’s going to need to find ways to go up against bigger guys or learn how to guard both of the forward positions, because the energy he brings on offense can make up for his deficiencies on defense in short spurts.
The player closest to breaking out of his role as depth player is Justin Anderson. Lately Brett Brown has given Anderson solid minutes with the second unit because of his motor and ability to score from all three facets of the offense, the three point line, mid range, and at the rim. He needs to keep up the high level of play in order to stay in the rotation, but for both now and in the future, Anderson has the best shot at creating a consistent role on the team. Both Luwawu-Cabarrot and Holmes have deficiencies in their games, Anderson’s isn’t a deficiency, what hurts his chances are past injuries. Suffering from shin splints and a high ankle sprain for most of the season, every time Anderson proves he can play at a high level he ends up back on the shelf. Both TLC and Holmes need to look at what Anderson has done this season if they want to eventually crack the rotation, make the most of your chances because they don’t come often at the professional level.
Even if none of these players make a big impact on the rest of this season I don’t think it is time to give up on them. The Sixers seem pretty set on their rotation at this point, so any time given to end of the bench players should be looked at as a possible tryout for next years team. The bench is still near the bottom of the league in scoring, averaging only 27.8 PPG (26th in the NBA), giving young guys like Anderson, TLC and Holmes may not fix that problem, but with a playoff spot pretty much wrapped up the Sixers can at least give them a few more chances to put themselves in the good graces of both the front office and fans before decisions on the roster are made in the offseason.
The upside is there, but in order to capitalize on that upside the players need to be put in a situation to succeed. That success can’t happen on the bench, minutes need to be given to see any type of growth. Anderson, TLC and Holmes can have a big role on future Sixers teams, but if the opportunity isn’t given then these players could become just another missed opportunity. I’m not saying by giving these guys another shot they will become world beaters, but if given the chance they might be able to make a difference with the playoffs around the corner. They’ve been pushed out by players with more experience, and for the most part fans are souring on their games. The Sixers aren’t the deepest team, so some reliable backups would be a nice thing to have and as we all know, the city of Philadelphia loves a comeback story.