The Philadelphia 76ers are approaching the NBA restart with a new starting lineup. During their practices in Orlando, Brett Brown has been starting Shake Milton at point guard, Ben Simmons has primarily played at power forward, and Al Horford has moved to the bench.
At the Sixers’ practice on Tuesday, Brown explained that Horford and Joel Embiid have not played together at all in practices yet.
When asked how Horford has taken his possible move to the bench, Brown simply said, “Al has been great.”
Horford spoke with reporters on Tuesday as well, and shared his own thoughts on his move to the bench, focusing on the importance of the team’s health and strong depth.
“It hasn’t [been new for me], just because before the All-Star break, at some point in the season, this happened,” Horford said. “So, you know, this is the way that that coach wants to go about it. The biggest thing for us is that we’re all healthy now, you know, the team is healthy. We’re ready to go and teams are going to have to deal with our depth.”
Horford added that while he hasn’t had a conversation with Brown about how much he could play with Embiid in games, he said it can be expected that they’ll share the floor sometimes.
“The reality is it’s going to happen, you know, at some point. I think we’ll be fine. I do understand the changes and things like that, but I don’t want people to make more of this than what it is. The reality is that we’ll be fine, and we’ll be playing together at times, and at times we won’t. That’s just it.”
Brown has said that he hopes to play Embiid around 38 minutes per game in the playoffs (the coach acknowledges that this is an ambitious target). If Embiid is able to play almost 40 minutes a night in the postseason and his time with Horford is significantly limited, Horford could be on the floor for as little as 12-15 minutes.
While it sounds like the two will be staggered even more moving forward, we could still see them share the floor at times, as Horford said — at least depending on matchups. Brown has mentioned the Sixers’ 110-103 win against the Clippers on February 11 as a good reference point when considering what his rotations and the use of Horford and Embiid could look like.
Obviously Milton wasn’t in the rotation for that game (he only played 42 seconds), but it’s still worth looking at. It was Horford’s first game off the bench and he only played 9 minutes with Embiid, down from an average of 14.3 per game beforehand. Minimizing the Simmons-Horford-Embiid trio is essential as well. The clunky, interior-based nature of this grouping hasn’t worked whatsoever, resulting in a useless 98.8 offensive rating (and -0.8 net rating) for the Sixers when they’re together. Against the Clippers, Simmons, Horford and Embiid shared the floor for just 6 minutes, down from their previous average of 13.6 per game.
For now, Brown is sticking with Horford as a backup, and the veteran big man seems accepting of the change. He has health on his side, too, which wasn’t always the case earlier in the season. Horford mentioned that even though it was good to have the time off over the last few months, he already felt the best he had all year just before the season was suspended. “Those last few games is when I started to feel like I was turning the corner, health wise,” he said. Over the team’s last six games, Horford quietly had a quality stretch of play, averaging 15.8 points, 9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.2 blocks, shooting 50 percent from the floor and 48.1 percent from three (on 4.5 attempts).
Along with Milton entering the starting lineup to add more shooting and complementary playmaking next to Simmons, these rotation changes should give the Sixers’ offense a much-needed boost in spacing and fluidity.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.