If indeed the Sixers are set to face a long-term holdout, they’ll be wise to lean on their young core during the beginning of the season. The situation with Ben Simmons doesn’t seem to be getting much better. Simmons recently “liked” an Instagram post detailing how much money he could lose by holding out. Brian Windhorst of ESPN suggested the Sixers fining Simmons would be a “declaration of war.” Between Kyrie Irving potentially missing all home games because of his vaccination status, and Simmons potentially missing an entire season simply because he wants a new team, there’s more than enough drama to go around these days. Kind of makes you nostalgic for a much simpler time, doesn’t it?
Agent to ESPN: Markelle Fultz had fluid drained from shoulder, "literally cannot raise up arms to shoot ..." Story: https://t.co/ZIksfte5cu— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 24, 2017
[Podcast title pitch: Scapular Dyskinesis Blues].
But if there is a 6-foot-10 Defensive Player of the Year candidate-sized void on the roster at the beginning of the year, the Sixers have every reason to lean on their young core. Let’s look at a few.
They’ll need some upside in order to surprise opponents
Doc Rivers has not traditionally been a coach who loves splashing around with rookies. And perhaps some of that reputation is fair. He was criticized for not utilizing Terrance Mann more in L.A. Perhaps some of it is not fair. He deployed Tyrese Maxey a bunch last season, and let’s be honest, how many coaches whose teams are always in contention (like Doc’s teams are) lean heavily on young players? Maybe if he tanked a few seasons he could play young guys and change the narrative there, but nobody wants that. But the Sixers aren’t true contenders if Simmons is on the team but not in the lineup. With that in mind, there is more incentive to develop young guys than Doc may be used to, and more incentive to showcase them for possible trades.
Let’s look at a couple of the key names.
I thought the Sixers underutilized Thybulle last season and that he was the the type of game-wrecker who might have let the team try some unique switch-heavy lineups they never really embraced. Well, they can’t afford to make that mistake again. This is a pretty unique set of circumstances. We know that Matisse Thybulle’s development carries even greater weight for the Sixers now. Without Simmons around, the Sixers will absolutely need to rely on Matisse and hope he can build upon his Second-Team All-Defense honor from last season.
It’s been noted that Thybulle, much like Robert Covington, is an exceptional team defender, but being a pitbull on-ball isn’t his greatest strength. Maybe he can improve there. And maybe there’s a player who can complement him by taking on some of that role, and letting Matisse cause havoc.
Sticking with the defensive side of the ball, let’s move on to Jaden Springer. According to Derek Bodner, of The Athletic:
“Let’s start off with the positive, and that’s Springer’s perimeter defense. If the Sixers do wind up trading Ben Simmons this summer, Springer likely would step in and be the team’s best point-of-attack defender. That’s not meant as a knock on Matisse Thybulle, who would still be the best overall perimeter defender, but in terms of getting in a ballhandler’s face and having the foot speed to stick with the quick, athletic guards who have given the Sixers problems over the years, Springer excels at that.”
If it’s possible that the Sixers found a player 28th overall in the draft who could immediately be a better on-ball defender than Thybulle they may have really hit paydirt here.
According to Daryl Morey, speaking back in July:
“We’re really excited about Jaden and in a position where you can see a path to him, potentially getting on the floor,” he finished. “Usually it takes more than a year, but you never know.”
Would Simmons not playing change Morey’s mind a little, where we expedite the time range here? It makes sense to see if Springer can contribute right away.
Tyrese Maxey is probably the most obvious candidate to get a bump, and he’s the most likely to absorb some of the primary initiator minutes currently available.
“He stopped relying on his floater as much, drove all the way to the rim more, became more confident with his jumper and off-ball relocation, refined his playmaking somewhat, and sharpened his defense. He even became more of a defensive playmaker. Maxey spent a lot of time talking about defense with Matisse Thybulle last season to learn from an expert, and started deterring more shots with a few rearview blocks of his own.”
Maxey’s biggest moment came in Game 6 at Atlanta with Simmons dealing with foul trouble. He seemed made for the big moment:
Big Game 6 & Maxey is BALLING— Swingman Pod (@SwingmanPod) June 19, 2021
Embiid & the Sixers are on the road in Atlanta trying to force game 7!
Tyrese Maxey is seeing more minutes due to foul trouble on Ben Simmons and is BALLING
Latest Pod > https://t.co/3c9pUbzsZV#NBATwitterLive #HereTheyCome #TrueToAtlanta pic.twitter.com/vlYjyvcB6m
And of course, there is also Paul Reed, Charles Bassey, Isaiah Joe, Aaron Henry, Grant Riller, and a couple of others (you already know Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz) we might consider here as key members of the young core. Their young core is pretty deep for a team that has been as good as the Sixers have been.
Showcasing the young core for potential trades
But here’s the other element to this. By playing and playing well, the Sixers’ young guys might change the conversation in terms of consummating a potential blockbuster trade.
If the Sixers want to keep things afloat without Simmons, they’ll need to hit on a few of the youngest players. If they were to lean too heavily on veterans, their range of outcomes would be predictably limited. As good as Joel Embiid, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Seth Curry are, you kind of know what you’re getting with them. The same goes for the bench vets. The little upside the team has resides in its under 25 members.
There is the chance the young guys can surprise us, and there is also the chance one, two or three of them might increase their trade value early in the year.
What if Bradley Beal discovered the Wizards stunk sooner rather than later? There would of course be a bidding war for his services. And it wouldn’t hurt the Sixers’ chances of acquiring him if Springer put some things on film other teams took notice of. Springer might play well enough to catch the eye of a GM in Minnesota, Portland or Washington. Or he might play well enough that the Sixers felt could feel better including a player like Shake Milton in a bigger trade; they need to put themselves in a position to find serendipity. That’s less likely to happen by learning entirely on veterans; even if you might squeeze a few more wins that way during the first months of the season.
I’m not saying Simmons’ situation can work out in the team’s favor. But this is the best way to make lemonade out of some lemons.
Thybulle was apparently headed to Houston along with Ben Simmons last season for James Harden. At least that’s what the Sixers thought ... until they didn’t. Daryl Morey will do what it takes to improve the team, even if it means parting with an exciting young prospect or four. If two members of the team’s young core were balling, it might help the team. And it might help Morey sleep easier making a difficult trade. OK, I feel better trading so and so now that I see this other dude is balling.
It’s a gift and a curse for the young core. It’s a gift in that they may get far more minutes than they would have otherwise. It’s a curse in that they have to play knowing that if they ball out, they may wake up in a new city playing for a new team. But then again, that new team might have even more minutes to offer.
The Sixers have so many reasons to give the youngest players a huge opportunity. Rivers can enjoy one of the things he does best, which is pushing young guards and sharing his own wisdom from his playing days. Rivers wasn’t just a crafty scorer, he was a playmaker and a floor-general who knew how to set up his Hall-of-Fame teammates (Doc had Dominique Wilkins, and later Patrick Ewing). Determining just how to deploy his young core can be sussed out in preseason.