So far this season, the Philadelphia 76ers have played a total of 456 minutes without either of their two All-Stars on the floor. Half of these minutes (227) have been all-bench lineups, with Tobias Harris, Danny Green, and Seth Curry joining Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons on the bench. Of the remaining minutes, the graph below shows how many minutes each of the Sixers’ three other starters have played without Embiid and Simmons.
While Tobias Harris has gotten significant run in lineups without Embiid or Simmons, it may surprise some to see that Danny Green and Seth Curry have played less than 20 percent and 10 percent of such minutes, respectively. That becomes much less surprising after looking at their success in these lineups, shown in the graph below.
As a team, the Sixers unsurprisingly struggle without Ben and Joel, but they’ve been absolutely awful in the limited action that Curry and Green have seen without the two All-Stars. Tobias Harris, on the other hand, has been able to pull bench units up to a positive net rating. Of anyone who’s played at least 200 minutes for the Sixers this season, Shake Milton and Matisse Thybulle are the only two other players to post positive net ratings in lineups without Embiid and Simmons.
This isn’t all that surprising. Harris can take on a bigger role when the team’s two best players are off the court thanks to his ability to hunt shots for himself on-ball. To a slightly lesser extent, the same can be said about Milton, and Thybulle’s elite ability to force turnovers has occasionally led to him taking over games on the defensive end.
Unfortunately, Green and Curry do not have the skillsets to take on larger roles without Embiid and Simmons. Green is a poor ball handler, forcing him to rely on others to find him for spot-up looks. Curry doesn’t do a ton with the ball in his hands either, and his inability to get off contested 3s means his most potent skill is highly dependent on creation from teammates.
The Sixers’ bench has looked awful at times, and the best solution is to acquire a fourth high-end starter with the skills to take on a larger role without Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid on the floor.
Of course, there’s no guarantee such a player will come available before the deadline, especially with the play-in tournament giving more teams playoff aspirations this season. But depending on cost, a trade for someone like Kyle Lowry, which my friend Steve Lipman has written about, would come with an improvement to not just the starting lineup (simply by adding a better player) but to the bench as well.
A move to solidify the All-Star-less lineups has positive trickle-down effects as well.
Throughout the season, lineups with Ben Simmons on the court and Joel Embiid on the bench have posted an ugly minus-9.33 net rating in 297 minutes. A lot of this is due to lack of spacing — if Joel Embiid isn’t in, that means Dwight Howard, another non-shooter, is. Simmons and Howard lineups have largely been fine, but in the 100 minutes Matisse Thybulle has been added to them, they have net rating of minus-7.18.
Adding another player who could take on a larger role when Embiid and Simmons rest would allow their minutes to become more coupled, meaning less of the Simmons-Thybulle-Howard lineup and more minutes dedicated to the plus-14.73 net rating lineups when the two All-Stars share the floor.
Lineup stats aren't everything, but in this case, they are an accurate reflection of fit issues we have seen from the Sixers all season. Ideally, the team can add a high-end starter and still have the assets to pick up a couple of quality bench pieces. But if the team can only make one move, adding a starter-caliber player who is more capable of carrying bench units would put the Sixers in the best position to make a playoff run.