As we barrel toward the 2021-2022 NBA Playoffs and the Sixers jockey for seeding, James Harden looks to find his footing (and his shot) amongst his new teammates, and Tyrese Maxey continues to methodically steal the hearts of each and every fan in the Delaware Valley, many onlookers have now commenced with the time-honored tradition of clutching their pearls about exactly who is going to comprise the Sixers’ pared down postseason rotation.
We can begin with the no-brainers, the starters: Maxey, Harden, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.
After that, beloved minivan and local podcast host Georges Niang and his deadeye three-point shot are sure to maintain first-guy-off-the-bench status in the springtime. That puts us at six guys. Let’s say we need three more guys, given that Doc Rivers is likely to use nine guys in the first round, eight in the round(s) after.
Somebody has to play backup center, and that somebody, my friends, is going to be DeAndre Jordan. The main issue with DeAndre Jordan — I’ve found — is that he’s terrible. For such a massive human, he misses everything at the rim, he’s as stiff as a board, and his defensive awareness is terrible. He makes me yearn for the days of Paul Millsap, who is also terrible. But he’s old and very large, so he will almost certainly be Rivers’ choice for backup center no matter what. Write him in pen.
So that leaves two available spots in this exercise as we fill out the theoretical playoff rotation. Candidates for these roles appear to be Shake Milton, Isaiah Joe, Furkan Korkmaz and Danny Green.
I think we can go ahead and cross Joe off the list, since his full, government name is actually Isaiah Joe (Did Not Play - Coach’s Decision). Maybe next year.
So let’s say two spots between Korkmaz, Milton, and Green.
Concern-trolling about the Sixers’ bench is a national pastime, but it’s been especially rampant this year, mainly because the players coming off the bench haven’t been especially good — which is to say that this decision is a difficult one because nobody’s exactly running away with these jobs, here. Korkmaz was floating away in the abyss until this week’s unlikely win versus Miami when he regained his form and his mojo, and now he may be back in Rivers’ good graces. If he actually did find his shot on a consistent basis for the first time this season, he would fit perfectly next to Harden, Embiid and Maxey. But if he suffers another dip in proficiency from beyond the arc between now and round one, he’ll find himself stapled to the bench once again.
As for Shake, despite his three-point shot faltering all year (only 29 percent from beyond) he’s mostly stuck around the rotation thanks to his ability to work on and off ball as a reserve, despite missing a chunk of time midseason due to injury. He had a big night with 20 points against Miami, baptizing Tyler Herro again and again for all to see. The guess here is that Shake sticks in the rotation as a Swiss army knife guard who offers the Sixers just enough utility with and without the ball, and pliability in different lineups to keep things interesting.
Now we get to Green. After shooting 40 percent from three last season, Danny is at only 36 percent this season. Rivers has transitioned Green to a bench role, I believe in part to help try to stave off injury — Green has been in and out of the lineup at times this season. Defensively, where Green once looked like a metronome of a consistently solid, lunch-pale, semi-switchable wing you could occasionally put on an opposing star player, he seems to have taken a noticeable step back on that end, to my eye. The years really seem to be catching up with him, as do the injuries. So the calculus becomes: if he’s making fewer threes and also playing poorer defense, how wedded should Doc be to his rotation spot in the playoffs? He still shoots threes at a high volume, and there’s value in that. But so does Korkmaz. And the playoffs only last so long, so they need to ride whichever one of them gets hot. I do think that even a compromised Danny Green is a much better defender than Korkmaz, and the Sixers are perilously thin on wing defenders. As I said before, there really isn’t a perfect answer among these options.
In the end, Green likely edges out Korkmaz as the Sixers’ bench shooter given his ability to defend adequately on the wing and make just enough threes off the catch, combined with his big game experience. I’d simply argue that given the slippage we’ve seen in Green’s shooting efficacy and his defensive prowess this season, his rotation spot should no longer be a foregone conclusion.