(Hi, I’m Justin! This is my first post as a contributor to Liberty Ballers. I grew up a Rockets fan, but I’ve admired the Sixers ever since they hired Sam Hinkie away from Houston’s front office. I used to pretend I was Sam Hinkie on 2k and immediately go into a multi-year rebuild in MyGM and that video game version of The Process was always worth it. Anyway, I’m here to talk 76ers. Sometimes I’ll be a Very Serious Person with film breakdowns and sometimes I will just try to have some fun. I’m excited to be part of this community!)
Last week, BBall Index’s Jacob Goldstein put out this year’s version of his lineup predictor tool. If you haven’t had time yet to explore it and make up all kinds of intriguing lineups — like one with five LeBron’s! — then hey, what are you doing? Go have fun with it. Make some lineups for the 29 teams who are not the Philadelphia 76ers and see what cool combinations you can concoct.
Wait, the other 29? Why not the 76ers? Well, that’s my job! I ran through a lot of combinations — from the normal and likely lineups to the, uhh, less normal and likely ones — and picked out the most interesting ones to discuss. Goldstein’s formula brings in a lot of various data points that I don’t actually fully understand, but it spits out an offensive rating, a defensive rating, and a net rating.
Ready? Let’s get to lineup-ing!
The Starting Lineup
Okay, this one is a pretty obvious one to go with because people want to know how the starting lineup will play together.
Among projected starting units in the league, this lineup ranks sixth. There are a pair of Eastern Conference opponents ahead of it — the Raptors and the Celtics — but those teams are also betting on some players returning back to full health after a season away from the game. This 76ers starting lineup doesn’t have those questions. It’s a good lineup. We already know this, though. There’s not really too much reason to keep talking about it. Let’s get some less predictable rotations going.
Shoot a Three
That whole “Ben Simmons, shoot a three you coward” meme is funny once you realize that Simmons didn’t make a single three as a rookie and the 76ers won 52 games. Even if he doesn’t develop one, the rest of his game brings so many good things to the table that I think Philly can continue winning. Sure, Simmons developing a three point ball — or even an efficient mid-range jumper — would be great! But if it doesn’t happen, is there a lineup that Philly can unleash when he’s off the court that takes advantage of their shooting to give the defense a different look.
Sure! Here’s one possible one:
That lineup is obviously worse than the starting unit because you lose your two best players, but it also isn’t terrible when you consider that it doesn’t have your two best players!
Mike Muscala is a player who really interests me. Per Pro Basketball Reference, he played at the five last year for the Hawks a little over 50 percent of the time. Still, he’s not a good enough defender to be the backup five for a contending team, even if he brings shooting, which is why the 76ers will likely use him mostly at the four this year. But Muscala brings shooting — 37.1 percent from deep last year on 3.2 attempts per game, 41.8 percent the year before on 1.6 attempts. This could be an intriguing lineup if Philly ever needs some pure, unadulterated shots from deep.
(By the way, before anyone suggests I should have used Jerryd Bayless as the point guard in this lineup — I tried it and the net rating was just 1.6.)
One With All The Best Players
Okay, taking Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid out of that last one wasn’t great, so let’s put them back in.
For the record, the three Simmons lineup produced a net rating of just +6.6. A five Simmons lineup has a -10.5 rating because yes, having one Ben Simmons not taking jump shots is perfectly fine, but having five Ben Simmons not taking jump shots is much less fine.
Let’s Get Wilson Chandler Involved
I would like to start this off by saying I loved the Wilson Chandler acquisition when it first happened, but the more I think about Chandler and research Chandler, the more I don’t feel great about him. He’s versatile and can be used at the three or the four, which is important since that’s a spot where the depth is a little lacking, but his three-point field goal percentage last season ranks behind the following players from last year’s 76ers squad (minimum of one attempt per game, so McConnell’s 43.5 percent on 0.8 attempts is left out): J.J. Redick, Dario Saric, Marco Belinelli, Jerryd Bayless, Robert Covington, Ersan Illyasova. Maybe moving to a bench role will help Chandler’s efficiency, but last season was also his best three-point shooting season since 2012-2013 so...we’ll see.
Chandler has also gotten credit for his ability to defend, switch, and do all those things a modern NBA defense needs. He has also sported a negative defensive player impact plus/minus in six consecutive seasons. But anyway! Let’s find a basic lineup that we can expect to see Chandler in this season.
Just kidding. I’m not picking out just one because I’d rather talk about this larger trend. According to the Lineup Predictor tool, every reasonable lineup I could think of with Chandler looked worse the moment I replaced anyone else with him. Even the players who shouldn’t be in the rotation — Furkan Korkmaz, for instance — only made the lineup slightly, slightly worse. This exercise has me very, very not sold on Chandler.
The Young Guns
Last one. Let’s see what it would look like if we put an incredibly young 76ers team on the floor:
Hey, that looks exactly like you would expect a team that young to look! It really makes you appreciate guys like Covington, Saric, and Redick, but I’m also not going to sit here and take this Korkmaz disrespect. I watched the 40-point game. It happened! Don’t give me your Justin, it was just Summer League takes.
So, there we have it — some realistic and some not realistic things the Sixers can do next season. The starting lineup should be one of the best in the league, but this exercise helps illustrate that the team could use another player on the wings to help alleviate some of the stress on their starters and avoid the potential issues that come along with a declining Wilson Chandler being the big offseason addition.
There are plenty of other lineup combinations that you can create with this tool, so if anyone has any ideas for some — interesting bench lineups, five versions of Markelle Fultz, or even some experiments with putting free agents, trade targets, and buy-out candidates in there — let me know!