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How to split playing time among the bench big men

The Sixers have a franchise star in the middle, but his backups will also play important roles.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Having a franchise player at any position makes it much easier to build a complete team. Because of Joel Embiid’s ability to take over a game, the Sixers don’t have to put as much emphasis on bringing in ultra-impactful big men. Much of this offseason has been about building a deeper roster than last year, and for the most part, it has been successful in that area. The team needed to find a way to not fall apart when superstars like Embiid or Ben Simmons weren’t on the court, so giving head coach Brett Brown more options throughout the season seems to be a good idea.

With the return of Amir Johnson along with the additions of Mike Muscala and Jonah Bolden, the Sixers could have a different look on the second unit. Since the Sixers seem to always stagger their starters so that not all five bench players are together, the combination of Johnson and Muscala/Bolden may not be seen much, if at all. Nevertheless, these guys should still get some decent run throughout a long season. By season’s end, as long as Embiid stays healthy, the Sixers may look to go less traditional and use Embiid as the only true “5” on the team, spreading out the offense by using both Muscala and Bolden together.

Once the season starts, it seems reasonable to believe Johnson will be locked in to his role as backup center, but that may change down the road. A great veteran presence, he just doesn’t do much more than provide a body to clog up the middle and give the team someone to put in for Embiid when he gets tired. Both Muscala and Bolden have more upside, and with the unknown of how much the Sixers bench guards can or cannot shoot, Muscala can give them some much needed touch from outside as a big man that Johnson cannot.

Muscala may fill the role of backup power forward from the start, but Jonah Bolden is in a much different situation. After an underwhelming Summer League performance, he will have to show improvements in order to get on the court. That time should come eventually, but it may not come for a while. By the end of the year, if Bolden can impress coaches, he should be able to take minutes from Johnson. More and more teams around the league are embracing the idea of small ball, and now the Sixers have the perfect roster to ease into that mindset as well.

It feels as if the Sixers have a deeper team going into this season. Now with the different combinations of Johnson, Muscala, and Bolden off the bench, the team can try different lineups and roles that they couldn’t afford to do last year. The moves may seem inconsequential, but if the Sixers can find players who can pick up the slack when superstars aren’t on the court, that should help take them to the next level.

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