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Constructing the Sixers’ ideal playoff rotation

James Harden’s arrival vaults the Sixers into true contender status, if they maximize the right on-court combinations.

Washington Wizards v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA trade deadline is now behind us, and aside from a buyout big man (presumably) filling the final open roster spot created by the trade with Brooklyn, we know the roster the Philadelphia 76ers will be working with come playoff time. The Sixers have 24 regular-season games remaining to incorporate James Harden into the lineup and figure out the best combinations of players for postseason play. In the moment, though, I wanted to put together what I would consider to be my ideal playoff rotation for the Sixers.

I have a couple of ironclad rules I wanted to follow with my rotation. They are:

1) James Harden or Tyrese Maxey must be on the court at all times.

The Sixers now have two lead ball handlers I trust to bring the ball up the court and initiate the offense. Harden is a recently celebrated top-75 player all-time, and is currently second in the league in assists per game. Maxey is still a bit green and learning the ropes of the point guard position, but he’s a quick study and features a ceiling as a creator that no perimeter player on the roster outside of Harden possesses.

Point Furkan was a fun November quirk, but please, not in the postseason. Neither is Shake Milton a playoff point guard, and I don’t want to see Danny Green point guard minutes ever again under any circumstances.

2) Matisse Thybulle or Danny Green must be on the court at all times.

This rule is less ironclad than the first, but without Ben Simmons this season (first due to a self-imposed leave of absence, now because he’s employed by the Brooklyn Nets), perimeter defense has been a weak point for the team, particularly on the wings. Thybulle is far and away the best option for the team, and if his off-ball work offensively continues to grow and be just enough to contribute, he would warrant even more minutes than I outline below. Green is getting up there in years and shouldn’t be counted upon in all matchups (Trae Young comes to mind immediately), but he’s the next best option after Thybulle on the wings.

Now, adhering to these rules, particularly the first, will require some rotation staggering. Will Doc Rivers see the light and actually do it in Year 23 as an NBA head coach? I don’t know. That’s between him and his coaching diary. But hope springs eternal.

Here’s the overall minutes breakdown I suggest for the playoff rotation:

Joel Embiid (36 minutes)
James Harden (37 minutes)
Tyrese Maxey (37 minutes)
Tobias Harris (37 minutes)
Matisse Thybulle (27 minutes)
Danny Green (24 minutes)
Georges Niang (23 minutes)
Backup big three-headed hydra - Paul Reed/Paul Millsap/Buyout guy (12 minutes)
Furkan Korkmaz/Shake Milton combo platter (7 minutes)

I chart out the rough rotations for each half below. Obviously, one or two minutes here or there for each player would be tweaked; it wouldn’t break down perfectly into three-minute increments:

1st/3rd quarter:
Maxey/Harden/Thybulle/Harris/Embiid
Harden/Thybulle/Harris/Niang/Embiid
Harden/Green/Thybulle/Niang/Embiid
Maxey/Korkmaz-Milton/Green/Niang/Embiid
2nd/4th quarter:
Maxey/Thybulle/Harris/Niang/Backup-big
Maxey/Harden/Green/Harris/Backup-big
Maxey/Harden/Green/Harris/Embiid
Maxey/Harden/Thybulle/Harris/Embiid

Other notes on the rotation:

  • If it’s a Game 7 or elimination game, you ramp Joel up a couple extra minutes.
  • You can make the Thybulle versus Green argument with the starters, with Green’s ability as a quick trigger spot-up guy definitely helping Embiid, Harden, and Maxey. I think you have to go Matisse, though, because any opposing star wing is going to start and you want to match up those minutes as much as possible.
  • I understand the desire to have more Korkmaz/Shake minutes at the expense of Niang. I don’t relish having Tobias playing minutes at the three any more than the next person. But Niang’s outside shooting is so beneficial to the Sixers’ high-usage guys, and I don’t see his minutes decreasing at all from the regular season. Maybe in the right matchups, the Sixers could buy a few minutes and go small with the Harris-Niang frontcourt. I would expect to see Doc go that route rather than cutting Georges’ minutes.

Of course, all of this is just a rough outline. We haven’t even seen James Harden take the court in a Sixers uniform yet (stay tuned for Friday). The team still has close to two months to sort through the most effective combinations and pairings. The point is, however, that the Sixers absolutely have the pieces to match up with any true contender. It will be up to Doc Rivers to assemble them correctly in order to maximize this roster’s ceiling. We’ll see what he and the rest of the coaching staff come up with in the weeks and months to come.