Brett Brown said he plans to use a 9-man playoff rotation and that he anticipates competition for the final 2 spots.— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) February 20, 2020
After last night’s thrilling (and somewhat relieving) overtime victory against the Kyrie Irvingless Brooklyn Nets at home last night, Head Coach Brett Brown suggested that for the upcoming playoffs he wants a 9 man rotation, per Noah Levick of NBCS-Philly. That Brown added he anticipates competition for the final two spots implies he has settled on seven names but not the final two.
Who Brown feels he can turn to is an intriguing question with ramifications that could impact the team’s ultimate closing unit when they’re in crunch time vs elite competition down the road. Given his awkward pairing with Joel Embiid, Al Horford found himself on the bench in crunch time last night. The gamble to bench a player the front office placed a monumental ($97M guaranteed) bet on paid off as bench scorers like Furkan Korkmaz and newcomer Alec Burks absorbed some of Horford’s minutes and delivered:
Alec Burks just took a dribble, then took a 3-pointer, and the ball went in. I wasn't aware that both teams were allowed to do that.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) February 21, 2020
Burks’ skillset is like fresh water to the herds of parched camels marching along through a desert that harshly and violently devalues guard skills:
The Sixers have rattled off 4 straight wins and trail the Miami Heat by a half a game, however they do not own the tie-breaker. So as Coach Brown guns for home court advantage in the first round, he’ll have to ask himself questions like “who helps gives us the best chance to win tonight?” and “is that the same player that I can turn to by the playoffs?”
A year ago Boban Marjanović was the answer to the first question. But he was not the answer to the second one. Late last season coach Brown largely relied on Boban to fill the middle when Embiid took a rest. Had he done more experimentation there and predicted that Boban would not be as useful against a team like Toronto, he may have learned that Greg Monroe could be relied upon even less. Instead, he took the risk that Monroe could play a couple of minutes in a game 7 and the Sixers were infamously throttled in that mini-span. A product of Brown being given a very weird roster with too many big men and not enough guards, and his own miscalculation to not tinker more with lineups in February and March that might be better in May.
So if Brett Brown’s job depends on this playoff run, he cannot afford to make the same mistake again. He needs to win games now. But also learn who will give him the best chance to win in a potential game 7 vs. a team like Milwaukee, Miami, Boston or Toronto.
We can use pen for these names
Here are the guys we can be sure will see some playoff minutes.
Joel Embiid- The crown jewel of the Process.
Ben Simmons - One of the world’s best two way players and the potential Defensive Player of the Year, Simmons helps his team on offense contrary to popular belief.
Josh Richardson - Relieves Simmons of having to defend shifty and quick point guards, and is often asked to play big roles offensively also.
Tobias Harris - The highest paid Sixer this season is not going to be a DNP in playoff games.
Al Horford- The second highest paid Sixer this year is hopefully saving his best for last, as he also would unlock some massive cash bonuses for himself is he helps deliver a championship.
Alec Burks - It may be ambitious to use pen here. A week or two before acquiring Burks from the Warriors, it would have been much safer to project Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, or even Raul Neto for these minutes. But his ability to dribble, pull up, and drive and draw fouls means he is now an essential component of the Sixers’ playoff attack. There will still be times when the team will have cold spells and struggle to score (like they did against Brooklyn last night). But he is a more reliable ball-handler and slasher than some of the names to follow. I’m comfy with the prediction he’s gonna get some run in the biggest games of this year come April then hopefully May and June also. Hopefully he won’t be sought and targeted defensively like JJ Redick once was because he does offer a softer spot on defense now.
This one doesn’t reallllly feel like it should be used in pen. One could make a case that if the top seven players were now set, that Matisse Thybulle might be the final player. But it feels to me like Korkmaz has earned Brown’s trust more than Thybulle in crunch time. This is probably because of the gravity/spacing he provides, his knack for hitting huge buckets, and the budding two-man dynamic he’s developing with both Embiid and Simmons. I just get the sense he’s one of the few guys that both stars really enjoy sharing the floor with. Offense is often where players have fun. And there hasn’t been a ton of fun this year. Furkan just appears to make life more fun for the team’s superstars with his shooting and passing.
"I really felt it today. I just made it rain." -- Furkan Korkmaz— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) February 8, 2020
Switching to pencil now
Matisse Thybulle- Thybulle really brings it defensively. And I certainly wouldn’t stake my job without him getting some burn. I’d want to give him as many chances as I could get away with. Playing Thybulle in the biggest games of the season just feels like a smart risk to take. He gambles, he wins and loses those gambles, his shot is shaky and difficult to rely on. His decision making with the ball isn’t great. But he’s also simply electric, has this quiet and measured ferocity to his demeanor. Remember when Gregg Popovich had Steve Kerr? He didn’t play a ton every night. But because Pop knew he might come in and hit six triples, he gave him chances. Thybulle is sort of the defensive equivalent. His steals and deflections lead to breaks for Simmons and the crowd goes insane. He’s got to have a rotation spot.
Brown says the final two spots are open, and we’ve now named 8 players. He may well have set aside roles for Korkmaz and Thybulle in his count but not Burks. I’m merely projecting that Burks role is vital. I do think all three will be in the rotation come April.
And then, if he indeed sticks to nine total, one more from this next list:
Glenn Robinson III - Coach Brown has coached his dad and now he’s coached him twice in two stints in Philly and says he trusts him. He’s not great at anything but he’s not as bad defensively as some of the names above or below him here. He may be a more reliable shooter than a couple names above and below him also. It would not be surprising to see him earn one of the nine spots. It wouldn’t be surprising if he didn’t.
Mike Scott - Scott was a key part of the rotation a year ago. He played closing minutes in huge spots and hit clutch buckets. He’s got a Hive. But even in a game Ben Simmons didn’t play, and Al Horford was eventually benched, he still couldn’t get a single minute vs. the Nets. That doesn’t bode well for his chances rest of season. But he does make a few million more dollars than some of his “quiet tournament” mates and he can get hot from deep so he’ll probably get more chances to prove himself. I’m not sure Sixers fans should be rooting for him to win any big playoff minutes though over the rest of these names, since he has played so poorly this season. Even if he gets hot against a bunch of bad teams coming up, he would be hard to trust again vs. elite ones.
Shake Milton - Shake can handle the ball. He’s a capable shooter. He’s a savvy cutter. He often appears overmatched defensively. It’s difficult to guess how much he’s earned Brown’s respect. Did he play big minutes last night because the team was short handed without Ben Simmons? Or is he a thing now? He’s started a handful of games this year so it would be a mistake to dismiss him entirely. But I guess I still wouldn’t bet on him being 1 of the 9 over ‘the field.’
Buyout player- March 1st is the deadline. It’s always difficult to say who this might be. Mo Harkless seems like a name that could get bought out from the more-foundering-than tanking-Knicks. He seems like the type of vet who could crack the ro’. Definitely someone to keep an eye on.
Raul Neto - Yes I’m putting Neto below a potential buyout candidate. Neto has had a rollercoaster year. Brown prefers him over Trey Burke. Then he does not. Then he does. He plays great alongside Ben Simmons sometimes when Embiid is hurt. Now they acquired two more guards. And then this quote:
Brett Brown said Alec Burks stood out to him tonight as far as guys in competition for bench minutes, especially in terms of his pick-and-roll passing.— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) February 21, 2020
He’s interested in Burks re:backup PG/“primary ball carrier” minutes going forward.
I think this just about seals his fate and makes him one of the longer shots for a playoff role. If he’s not going to get back up point guard duty, he’s probably not going to get any duty. No duty for you.
I think all of these wildcard names above, however, will at least get another chance, especially if there’s another injury.
Probably won’t get a chance
Zhaire Smith, Kyle O’Quinn, Norvel Pelle. Barring injuries these guys just haven’t been involved much and I don’t see that changing. But you never know. It sure would be fun to see Smith get a chance to steal that 9th playoff role since he’s an electric athlete and the team may need some serious upside to win the whole thing. If you only wind up with home court in one series you’re going to need some magic to win on the road. Smith has more upside than many of the names above.
Let us know in the comments or on twitter who you think the final 9 should and will be.