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Sixers’ second unit seems improved — and they’ll need it to be

Doc Rivers might have the perfect mix with three intriguing prospects and two savvy veterans coming off his bench.

Milwaukee Bucks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

CAMDEN, N.J. — Daryl Morey raised an interesting point on media day Monday.

The Sixers are in a much different position than most teams that captured their conference’s top spot the previous season. They have several intriguing prospects that contributed last season and will factor into the rotation this season.

It appears Doc Rivers will give the first crack at filling in for the absent Ben Simmons to one of those prospects in Tyrese Maxey. Rivers has mentioned that he feel comfortable with that starting group, and is actually more concerned about the domino effect it will have on the second unit.

During training camp last season, Rivers was the conductor of the Shake Milton hype train. While it’s been a little quiet on the Milton front to start, Rivers went out of his way to praise his young reserve guard after practice Wednesday.

“Shake had a great day overall leading the second team,” Rivers said. “You could tell he’s put a lot of work at that position, where last year he came into the year and had no idea he’d be a point guard. So he’s been fantastic for us.”

With Simmons out, it could mark a golden opportunity for Milton. During the 2020-21 season, Milton uncharacteristically struggled with his jumper, hitting just 35 percent from beyond the arc. If he can regain his form — which looked pretty good on Wednesday after practice — he can combine that with the strength he added last season to get to his spots.

While Milton focused more on his defensive game over the summer, Matisse Thybulle was expanding his offensive game at the Olympics with Team Australia. Thybulle helped the Boomers capture the bronze, the first time the nation medaled. Rivers spoke at length Wednesday about the wealth of experience Thybulle got not only from the Olympics, but also from working out with Tobias Harris.

It seems Thybulle has a different mindset heading into his third NBA season.

“He’s got a medal, jealous of him,” Danny Green said. “It was great to see. But he’s come back a more mature player, a more confident player. We’re going to need that from him.”

And speaking of maturity, this will already be Furkan Korkmaz’s fifth NBA season. He’s the third-longest tenured Sixer after Joel Embiid and Simmons.

And what a strange ride it’s been. From requesting a trade his rookie season to signing a three-year deal this offseason, Korkmaz has been here through some bizarre times. He noted that there’s continuity here now and players are feeling more comfortable with the Sixers and playing for Rivers.

While last season ended in disappointment — and the team will have to overcome Simmons’ absence — Korkmaz made it clear what the team’s goal is.

“You guys know, I’ve been through a lot of things,” Korkmaz said. “As an organization we’ve been through a lot of things, not just me personally. … We’re trying to win the championship every year, but in different ways. But right now we’re at the point that we should go get it this year. This should be our year.”

In addition to the second unit triumvirate of Milton, Thybulle and Korkmaz, Morey signed veterans Georges Niang and Andre Drummond. Neither signing got much fanfare, but both players represent upgrades at the backup four and five spots, respectively.

It’s only been two days, but both are already making an impression on their new teammates.

“It’s been great,” Milton said of playing on the second unit with Niang and Drummond. “[Niang] is a smart player and he can shoot the ball really, really well, so it makes it really easy to play with him. Drummond, just his skill set, he has so much skill for that position. I didn’t know how good of a passer he was either.”

Korkmaz agreed, and noted that both players are coming in with winning attitudes.

“I think they’re good additions, Georges and Andre,” Korkmaz said. “They’re really good guys, especially off the court, we are talking a lot too. They’re here to win. I can definitely say that. Especially in the scrimmages. They’re talking. They’re not quiet guys. They see something wrong, they’re speaking.”

Not having Simmons will obviously have an enormous impact, but Morey might be onto something. The Sixers might have enough intriguing young players to go along with a couple savvy vets to make the second unit legitimately better than last season.

If Rivers is still tempted to use his all-bench lineups, his personnel should be much better equipped.

For more on the bench and the latest Simmons news, check out Wednesday’s Coming in for a Landing podcast with Jas Kang.