Following Wednesday night’s 119-103 defeat, the Philadelphia 76ers now trail the Miami Heat 0-2 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinals. The most obvious reason has been the absence of Joel Embiid, as the MVP finalist is no longer around to be the rising tide that lifts all boats on both ends of the court. At least in respect to Joel, there’s hope that he might be on track to return Friday and turn this series around, even with just one working thumb and zero unbroken faces. The second biggest reason is the simple lack of shot-making by the Sixers. Philadelphia has shot 14-of-64 (21.9 percent) on three-pointers across the two games; Danny Green and Georges Niang are a combined 3-of-24 (12.5 percent). If you want to head down to your local place of worship and light a votive in prayer to the small-sample-size gods, it couldn’t hurt.
However, another reason is that the Sixers’ roster just doesn’t contain enough dudes. Matisse Thybulle is playing like he would prefer crossing half court to play offense to be an elective course of study, and hasn’t even been good defensively. Ice-cold shooting aside, Niang is getting absolutely pummeled on the glass. Shake Milton vanished from the rotation altogether in Game 2. Furkan Korkmaz has emerged out of cobwebs to rejoin the proceedings, and, well, he hasn’t been terrible, but that’s where we’re at with things.
Meanwhile, the Heat are missing a starter as well in Kyle Lowry, and still have waves of guys to throw out there. Gabe Vincent and Max Strus both went undrafted and have started each of the first two games, serving as effective contributors. P.J. Tucker was a terrific signing last summer, making $7.35 million this season and spearheading the James Harden assignment in this series. Re-signing Victor Oladipo on a one-year deal for a little over $2 million was a gamble that looks to be paying off now for Miami. The Heat picked up Caleb Martin on a two-way deal after Charlotte released him last September. Those players are all performing so well that Duncan Robinson is now a $90 million victory cigar. None of these players are world-beaters by themselves, but collectively, they seamlessly knit together to form effective units on both ends of the court.
Miami’s depth highlights the fact the Daryl Morey hasn’t done a great job on the margins of the roster the past two seasons. Last season’s “big” deadline move to bolster the roster was George Hill, which, to be fair, I thought was a fine deal for the Sixers, but it obviously didn’t work out. This year, Morey was seemingly so tied up with getting the James Harden deal across the finish line that he didn’t have time to allocate to other parts of the roster. The wing depth was known to be shaky, and instead of bolstering what should be the most flexible segment of a team’s rotation, the Sixers are using four roster spots on backup center options.
Two of those backup center options, DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap, though wonderful human beings and possessing very fine career CVs, should not be on playoff rosters in anno domini 2022. Another, rookie Charles Bassey, has never been given an extended look by head coach Doc Rivers, an outcome entirely predictable to anyone even remotely familiar with the tendencies of the veteran coach. Last but not least is second-year player Paul Reed, who Rivers finally turned to with just a week left in the regular season, negating any real chance for Reed to adequately find his footing and rhythm with the rest of the roster.
Now, I’m not going to say that having someone like Torrey Craig on the roster would have made all the difference, but it wouldn’t hurt. The important thing to remember is that there were many other avenues the organization could have walked down that would have offered higher-ceiling outcomes. People bagged on the Sixers’ rosters of Process past, but if you look back, there were many guys on those teams that went on to become real NBA contributors. Those finds came from doing some significant churn at the backend of the roster. I realize you can’t do the same thing when you’re working to form cohesion with an aspiring contender, but I would argue the team has gone too far in the other direction. Regardless, the mismanagement of roster spots in regard to the center-perimeter player ratio was always a glaring wart.
The roster issues obviously can’t be addressed until the offseason. For now, Sixers fans can only hope a masked Embiid can return to mask these roster shortcomings in the present.