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How the James Harden trade changes the Sixers’ rotation

You got your guard, Doc

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets ePhoto by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

It finally happened! Daryl Morey did the thing and traded Ben Simmons, along with Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and two first-round picks, to Brooklyn for James Harden and Paul Millsap. The announcement kicked off a day of jubilation for Sixers nation, who wanted Simmons gone eight months ago, but now appreciated the patience Morey showed in waiting for the desired superstar return package to emerge.

While the vibes are unmistakably different in the City of Brotherly Love, the on-court product will obviously be as well. Here, let’s examine what will change as far as the rotations at Doc Rivers’ disposal (as soon as James Harden’s hamstring is fully healed and he’s ready to hit the hardwood).

First, Ben Simmons was clocking in at a robust zero minutes per game this season, as NBC Sports Philadelphia was only too happy to point out:

So no change there with Ben packing up his PS5 to head to the trendiest of the boroughs. Franklin the Dog impacted games this season as much as Simmons (probably more if you consider Franklin’s role as lead cheerleader in Frosty Freeze Out distractions). Moving on.

At the starting guard position, Harden replaces Curry, who was logging 34.8 minutes per game, whereas the Beard is averaging 37.0 minutes per game on the year. One or two of those extra minutes will probably come from Furkan Korkmaz’s court time, which brings me to the difference in roles from the Harden-Curry exchange.

The Sixers’ backup point guard position has been a problem all season. They’ve tried Point Furk, Seth had gotten some burn as the lead ball handler, and Danny Green has even brought the ball up on occasion. Korkmaz and Curry had some nice moments in the role, each averaging career-highs in assists, but it was clear an upgrade was needed.

Fortunately, the star the Sixers just acquired has averaged at least 10 assists per game each of the last four seasons. Hopefully (I mean, HOPEFULLY, please, Doc, tell me you’re going to do this), Rivers will stagger Harden’s and Maxey’s minutes so that one is on the court at all times. Start both, give Maxey an early hook, and then bring him in to let him cook as the lead of the second unit. It’s the same thing we’ve called for all season long, except maybe Doc will finally be inclined to do it now that Harden can stay out there alongside Joel Embiid with the first unit. For every minute Doc has someone other than Harden or Maxey running point in a competitive game with both available, the top-15 coach loses a spot in the all-time rankings.

The other rotation shake-up concerns Andre Drummond’s departure and what the Sixers will do at the backup center position. Drummond was having an excellent season in the role, probably the best backup the team has had during Embiid’s tenure. The Sixers received 6-foot-7 Paul Millsap in return, but the 37-year-old had fallen out of the Nets’ rotation, and was probably only situationally an option at center even in his younger days. Millsap might receive some looks for a few minutes here or there, but I wouldn’t expect him to be an option.

Instead, in the short-term, Philadelphia will likely look to rookie Charles Bassey, who had a couple very good games back in November and received high praise from Rivers for his basketball IQ and defensive communication. I think it’s realistic to expect 12 minutes or so per game from Bassey, with a few minutes featuring Georges Niang as a small-ball five in the right matchups. Down the road, however, backup center is the spot I most anticipate Daryl Morey will scour the buyout market to address. An additional benefit of having a second superstar join the roster is that Philadelphia just became a hotter destination for ring-chasing veterans.

Bringing James Harden to town is undeniably a huge talent upgrade and brings a marked increase in the Sixers’ odds as title contenders. Fans are and rightfully should be thrilled about the move. Still, the team did give away two valuable rotation players while receiving just one in return, on a roster that wasn’t exactly very deep to start. It will be up to Daryl Morey to find one or two other helpful parts in the buyout market, and Doc Rivers to make all the pieces fit together.