There are probably plenty of metaphors that could be used to describe the Sixers’ shortcomings as a team from the last two seasons, but I think one that’s most apt is, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” With the Toronto series serving as the barometer, the team’s fatal weakness was having to rely on their bench to survive when Embiid was off the floor, contributing to Joel’s ridiculous +90 stat while on the floor in that series.
Now, after a year of wheeling and dealing by Elton Brand, the Sixers have almost completely turned over their roster from the beginning of last season in an effort to re-roll the dice on a potential title run. Jimmy Butler ultimately decided to retire this offseason, but Josh Richardson, Al Horford and a host of new additions to the bench have put the Sixers in position to be one of the top teams in the East once again. But how much better is their bench now than it was before? We’ll take a look at each bench lineup the Sixers had from last two seasons and compare whether this is the strongest bench Brett Brown has had to work with since the team began contending.
The Sixers bench on 10/18/17:
Dario Šarić, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, Markelle Fultz, Amir Johnson, T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Justin Anderson, Jahlil Okafor.
In comparison to the way the Sixers are currently constructed, the bench at the beginning of the 2017 season feels ... weird. For whatever reason Jerryd Bayless was a starter, and Justin Anderson and Amir Johnson got a decent chunk of the bench minutes. Fultz slowly beginning to disappear as the season wore on weakened an already uninspiring bench, and by Christmas they couldn’t manage to get above .500 at 15-18.
The Sixers bench on 3/15/18
Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, T.J. McConnell, Amir Johnson, Richaun Holmes, Justin Anderson, Jerryd Bayless, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot.
After a favorable buyout period yielded Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, the Sixers made significant upgrades to their bench before the final months of the season. The veteran additions would help the Sixers win 16 straight games to close the regular season and earn the 3rd seed in the East. They would get exposed by the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs, but the shooting added around Simmons and Embiid was enough of a shot in the arm to get the post-process Sixers to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
The Sixers bench on 10/16/18:
J.J. Redick, Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler, T.J. McConnell, Landry Shamet, Amir Johnson, Jerryd Bayless, Furkan Korkmaz, Jonah Bolden, Demetrius Jackson, Shake Milton.
Man, what a bench this was. With Markelle Fultz “back”, J.J. Redick was pushed to the bench for the early part the 2018-19 season, with T.J. and Muscala logging minutes as the 7th and 8th guys off the bench. Now as barren as this group may look, the Sixers were still given the third best odds to win the 2019 title by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook to begin the season. However, the team would start the season 9-6 and eventually shake things up by trading for Jimmy Butler.
The Sixers bench on 2/7/19
Mike Scott, James Ennis III, Boban Marjanović, T.J. McConnell, Jonathon Simmons, Amir Johnson, Furkan Korkmaz, Jonah Bolden, Greg Monroe.
The trade deadline brought some new blood into the Sixers bench, swapping Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala and Landry Shamet for Mike Scott, James Ennis and Boban. Scott would shoot 41 percent from deep with the Sixers and would become an instant fan favorite, and Ennis was a serviceable two-way wing off the bench. But without another capable two-way shooter off the bench and Greg Monroe being the only semi-playable center ultimately came back to bite them against Toronto.
Sixers 2019-20 projected bench
Mike Scott, James Ennis III, Kyle O’Quinn, Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle, Raul Neto, Trey Burke, Shake Milton, Jonah Bolden, Furkan Korkmaz, Marial Shayok (two-way), Novel Pelle (two-way).
Elton Brand didn’t waste much time in bringing back the Sixers’ leaders in playoff minutes this offseason, re-signing Scott to a two-year contract and getting Ennis back on the veteran minimum within the first few days of free agency. And while a few Sixers fans (myself included) had wished the Sixers used their four second round picks to fill out the roster, Brand alleviated many of those concerns as he made other moves around the margins to solidify the rotation.
With Zhaire Smith returning and Matisse Thybulle joining the fold, Brett Brown now has three capable wing defenders to spell the starters. Compare that to only having Ennis, Jonathon Simmons or Furkan Korkmaz last season, or to just Marco Belinelli and Justin Anderson a season before, and it would appear the Sixers’ wing depth is the best it’s been under Brown.
Looking at the guard spot, the Sixers should at the very least have more playable options than they did last season. Although T.J. McConnell’s departure saddened Sixers fans alike, Brand replaced him with ex-Jazz guard Raul Neto, who figures to add more as a perimeter threat as well as a defender.
Impressive defense against Bledsoe despite a size / strength disadvantage, leading to a turnover pic.twitter.com/L0ssJJRHy9— adam (@SixersAdam) July 4, 2019
Competing with Neto for backup point guard minutes are Trey Burke, who adds a lot of offensive versatility, and second year guard Shake Milton. Burke, despite being defensive liability for the most part, adds an aspect of offensive creativity that could prove useful for a team lacking many on-ball creators, while Milton’s combination of size, passing, and shooting make him an intriguing candidate as well.
But regardless of who wins the new “quiet tournament” for the backup point guard job, Brown will at the very least have a few choices to turn to off the bench rather than having to rely on just McConnell or a non-point guard to take those minutes.
And for Kyle O’Quinn, he can’t be much worse than what the Sixers already had before. Despite setting career-lows in MPG (8.2) and PPG (3.5) with Indiana last season, O’Quinn projects to be a significant defensive upgrade over the likes of Amir Johnson, Greg Monroe and Boban Marjanović. With Al Horford likely occupying most of the backup center minutes anyway, O’Quinn offers value as a plus-defender off the bench (+4.1 DBPM last season), who also happens to be handsome.
However, if last season was any indication, Brand won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a deal he thinks puts the team closer to winning a title, so what the team will look like after the trade deadline is anyone’s guess. But having addressed three of the bench’s perpetual weaknesses in the lack of a capable backup center, ball handlers who can keep teams honest, and plus defenders off the bench, this Sixers bench is shaping up to be one of the best Brett Brown has had at his disposal yet.