When Ben Simmons left a game last week with what turned out to be an AC sprain in his shoulder, it left some important questions on Head Coach Brett Brown’s table. For starters, who would be his starters? And how exactly would his rotation look. What we learned was that Brown went with Raul Neto in the starting unit, and began to incorporate Trey Burke into the rotation. We learned that Furkan Korkmaz would see a bump in his playing time and he certainly earned the additional minutes and more. We learned that Matisse Thybulle has (at least temporarily) become relegated to garbage time may not be thrilled about it.
Raul Neto and Trey Burke
Brett Brown confirms that Thybulle’s playing time is “connected to the Ben Simmons injury. I ended up going with the two small point guards.”— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) November 11, 2019
There’s no mistaking who this quote from J Blevins of The Painted Lines is talking about. Neto and Burke have both stepped up with Ben Simmons out. Neto in particular has played well enough to (perhaps permanently) cut into the “Josh Richardson at backup point guard” experiment we saw earlier in the year:
Raul Neto pushes the ball up the floor and makes a perfect pass to Al Horford, who drains the corner buzzer-beating three to give the Sixers a 2-point lead at the end of the 1st! pic.twitter.com/JvjQlSBT2f— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) November 5, 2019
The Sixers have appeared to not lose a ton defensively when their Brazilian Blur enters the game, and he certainly looks good knifing through the lane and finding open looks for teammates both in transition and when things slow down. He’s offered some much needed penetration for a team that has struggled to create in the half court. He’s even better on the run:
RAUL NETO NA PONTE AÉREA!— Coast to Coast Brasil (@BrasilCoast) November 9, 2019
Já é o MELHOR armador do 76ers desde Iverson, QUEM CONCORDA RESPIRA! pic.twitter.com/jRw5lGm5sa
Furkan Korkmaz has played a huge role on the Sixers so far, something very few saw coming. Not only did he hit a monster game-winner in Portland, he’s maintained his hot shooting and displayed his flair for creativity and spirit of unselfishness. Fans of his knew he had some of this in him from the Summer League explosion or his Turkish Basketball exloits:
His confidence appears to be growing. He’s hit 19 of 42 three point attempts. Undoubtedly, he’ll see some regression from the 45.2% he’s currently shooting from deep. But a look at the film has exhibited some extremely encouraging evidence. He has a beautiful, quick and high-release that appears quite repeatable. His shot has looked a little bit like a cross-between Klay Thompson’s (I’m not saying he’s anywhere near as accurate I just mean he has a similar very high and quick release without much dip) and Marco Belinelli’s, a guy who Sixers fans know did not need much room to feel comfy jacking one up and knocking it down under duress. That could serve them very well moving forward since players like Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson and Al Horford all need much more space and time to get a shot off from the catch.
There is perhaps more good news. It seems likely that when Ben Simmons is in the lineup, and we know defenses will pack the paint to thwart him and Embiid they will be able to get Furkan some better looks than he has recently seen. Notice the tail-end of this Mixtape by a fun Sixers twitter follow, how little room he had on some of his makes:
The Furkan Korkmaz Mixtape Volume 1: pic.twitter.com/Xe2EvJaLcz— Vote The Process (@VoteTheProcess) November 10, 2019
Is it too greedy to imagine him running more of the dribble-hand-off action with Embiid that was once a staple of the offense with JJ Redick? Maybe but I don’t think it’s impossible.
Thybulle relegated to the bench
With Simmons out it has been Thybulle who has seen the biggest dip in playing time. After averaging almost 22 minutes per game over the first 4 games of the year, he only saw 3 minutes over the last two. Although the rookie was struggling so much prior to Ben’s ailment that it seems like it could be a bit more than simply Brown wanting a smaller point guard in the game.
Certainly, if he were knocking down shots the team would allow him more opportunities to find his way defensively. But he’s only 5 for 21 from deep. He has 15 turnovers and 22 personal fouls over the 8 games he’s appeared in.
It sounds as if he may be a bit frustrated with the new rotation:
While he certainly is not the first rookie to struggle for minutes on a team with title aspirations, it sounds like a situation to monitor. This quote from Jack McCaffery of DelcoTimes.com makes it seem as if he’s pretty frustrated and you’d hate to see him lose any confidence or wind up in Brown’s doghouse.
Light at the end of the AC Sprain tunnel
Finally, in case you missed it, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweeted that Simmons was making progress over the weekend:
Yes the three-game skid was tough to watch given how close the team was to winning them all. And it was especially hard to lose a game where you’re up by 21 with 11 remaining like in Denver on Friday. But here are the positives to come from that: Simmons’ injury does not seem terribly serious. And while he was out, players like Korkmaz and Neto really have stepped up and project to be integral rotation pieces moving forward; at least for the regular season grind and likely for the playoffs. As for Thybulle, it seems he’ll get another chance to carve out a role once Simmons is back. My guess would be at the expense of Trey Burke. That the Sixers nearly beat some very good teams in their own gym without Simmons shows they have really improved their bench from a year ago when they assuredly would have been roasted in a couple of these games.
The team hosts the Cavs on Tuesday. It seems like a game they should be able to follow the same recipe they used to beat the Hornets last night, that is to limit Embiid’s minutes, and get a win using a pretty deep rotation. It’s the first of a back-to-back as they’re in Orlando on Wednesday. That game wouldn’t be easy if they were without Embiid (who figures not to play in all the back-to-backs) and Simmons. We’ll see how they decide to play that scenario soon.