For the first round of the playoffs, I looked at the possible rotations that the Sixers and the Nets might use in their first round matchup. Injuries and things of that nature caused me to be slightly incorrect about some things, but for the second round, we’ve got some more #information available, so — barring more injuries — we should have a good idea of what these teams will look like on the floor.
Let’s look at some lineup-related things for this series.
Based on the first round, and assuming Joel Embiid is healthy enough to go, here’s what we should see for the starting units in this round:
The Sixers had the starting lineup advantage against the Nets in round one by a pretty considerable margin, but things are a lot closer against Toronto. I’m not one to make grand pronouncements about which players are better than which players, but I think it’s safe to say that the center matchup — Embiid vs. Gasol — is the only spot where the Sixers definitely have an edge. This upcoming series marks a big departure from a first round where you could pretty easily argue the Sixers had the advantage at all five positions.
Another interesting aspect of these lineups is how both are relatively new, having been impacted by trade deadline moves. A lot has been made about how the Sixers’ starting lineup played just 161 minutes together during the regular season, but thanks to Joel Embiid’s injury status, they also tallied only 49 minutes as a unit in the first round against Brooklyn. That’s still a small sample size, meaning while numbers like an offensive rating of 127 and a defensive rating of 64.8 look really, really good, there’s so much noise there that we can’t draw much overarching meaning from it.
Ditto for the Raptors lineup. Like the Sixers, these five guys also played just 161 regular season minutes together, posting a net rating of 12.2. The small sample showed this lineup to be an improvement over the version that swapped Gasol for Serge Ibaka — Toronto’s most-used lineup — but again, not a huge amount of minutes here. In the first round, the Raptors starting lineup was the team’s most used lineup and produced a net rating of 46.3 in 96 minutes. But...well, you know...
The takeaway here? Both teams have starting lineups that looked stellar in 4-1 first round victories against teams that did not have great starting lineups, which doesn’t tell us nearly as much as we want it to tell us.
When will certain guys come in and other guys come out? I looked at the substitution patterns from both teams’ first round series and came up with something that looks like this:
James Ennis, Boban Marjanovic, and Mike Scott (provided he’s healthy) are likely to come in midway through the first quarter. Those three plus the starting lineup should make up the bulk of the 76ers’ rotation in this series; in the four games Embiid played, the only other players to see first quarter minutes were:
T.J. McConnell: Played first quarter minutes in Game 1 and Game 5. McConnell is unlikely to stay in this rotation in this series considering he was barely in it in the first round and only played early in Game 5 because the score was something like 56-4 at that point. Jimmy Butler stays in while Simmons sits, so expect Point Jimmy. This changes in the event of a Mike Scott injury. We saw in Game 5 that Scott’s absence could lead to McConnell and Ben Simmons sharing the floor, which isn’t a great thing as the Sixers had a minus-4.8 net rating in the 549 minutes that McConnell and Simmons played together this season.
Jonathon Simmons: Played in Game 1, but that was mainly because James Ennis was out. Simmons won’t be on the floor for crucial minutes unless injuries occur.
So if we assume Mike Scott is good, we’re looking mainly at an eight-player rotation. I looked back at Game 4, to when Ennis was healthy and Embiid played his most minutes of the series, to see how things broke down in that one, though the second half was disrupted by Jimmy Butler’s ejection. Here’s the rotation with plus/minus numbers listed for each lineup, per Basketball Reference:
Expect less Scott and probably not Ennis in the fourth quarter unless Butler gets ejected again, but otherwise this seems like a pretty good indicator of what the Sixers will put on the floor.
The Marjanovic/Harris/Scott/Ennis/Butler unit was the second-most-used five-man group in round one and I’d expect we still see a good amount of it in this series. I think you can make a valid argument that Marjanovic is less playable in this series, but I don’t really know if you can make a corresponding argument that Jonah Bolden or Greg Monroe are any more playable for those backup five minutes. Maybe, if this lineup — which fared well in round one — struggles early, we see some changes at the backup center spot, but it’s probably going to be Bobi behind the 30-plus minutes of Embiid every night.
Like the Sixers, expect to see a rotation that’s primarily just eight guys — the five starters mentioned above plus Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell, and Fred VanVleet. Those guys come in for Gasol, Leonard, and Lowry a little later in the first quarter than the Sixers make their first subs, which could be a thing the Sixers will need to adapt to in this series.
Pascal Siakam will play the whole first quarter. Danny Green may play the whole first quarter. Jodie Meeks will probably sub in for a very brief time while Lowry is off the floor, but he won’t see many minutes.
The Raptors, barring injury, won’t need to experiment much with their rotation. Ibaka is a very solid backup big. VanVleet and Powell are solid. Meeks gives them some spot minutes just to get through their substitutions and give the right guys rest, but the rest of the roster is exclusively garbage time guys. Jeremy Lin and Eric Moreland aren’t playing any serious minutes.
The Raptors also, aside from the first quarter, like to have at least two starters on the floor at all times. Therefore, the Sixers, who also like to do that, won’t be able to count on taking advantage of Toronto going to the bench. For a team that was known in the Dwane Casey era for its depth, this is a top-heavy rotation.
Any Potential Changes?
Is there anything that might change in the second round for either team?
From the Toronto side, I don’t think so. Maybe some slight shifts to the first quarter rotation to keep them from needing some Jodie Meeks minutes, but overall I think we have a good idea of exactly what the Raptors are going to do.
For the Sixers, some things could change, but...probably not.
As mentioned above, the backup five role is a question. If Boban Marjanovic struggles, Philly might be forced to do something else, but that something else would have the unenviable task of matching up with Serge Ibaka.
Maybe you run more small ball five with Mike Scott, but then you have to figure out some other things with the rotation, and if any of those things include T.J. McConnell minutes, you’ve got to go back and rethink some more things.
Overall, barring more injuries — and the Mike Scott one could be a serious thing! — I’d expect the rotation to look more or less like we expect, just because I can’t see this team giving serious run to Jonathon Simmons or Zhaire Smith or playing Jonah Bolden as anything but an emergency number three center.