One of the biggest storylines surrounding the 2022-23 Philadelphia 76ers has been health — or lack thereof. The opening night starting five has only started a grand total of eight games together.
With everyone healthy, we are only just now seeing the different types of lineup combinations this team can roll out. In a new weekly series, I’ll be evaluating the supporting cast around Joel Embiid, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris to see who in the Sixers rotation is trustworthy.
I thought I’d start with an easy one. After signing a three-year, $33 million contract in the summer, many Sixers fans have been disappointed by Tucker’s play. For the longest time, I was not one of them. While Tucker has been almost a non-factor on offense, he still showed his worth on the defensive end, highlighted by two impressive performances against Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetekounmpo in November wins. His defense has felt less effective as of late, the latest evidence being the 35-point night Lebron James had on Jan. 15 while mostly being guarded by Tucker.
The last month and half hasn’t been as kind to Tucker, who has been reported to be dealing with a nerve issue that is giving him a dead right hand. On top of that, it feels like Tucker is heading to the exercise bike every other game to deal with a new injury. Whether it’s his hand or something else, Tucker has gone from non-factor on offense to a liability. Despite that, Tucker has still started every game he’s been available for.
This is P.J. Tucker's shot chart from 3 this season. He doesn't look at the rim above the break whatsoever. The Sixers need to stop letting him initiate Delay sets up top. He's a total nonfactor and the defense knows it. pic.twitter.com/lCBB2ba8Im— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) January 7, 2023
While it appears for now that Tucker’s spot in the starting lineup is safe for now, he has been in the lineup that closes games less and less. With everybody healthy and back in the lineup, the Sixers could definitely afford to give Tucker some rest to make sure he is at his best defensively come playoff time.
Outside of their stars, Melton has easily been the Sixers’ most consistent player this season. His most important trait, outside of his smothering perimeter defense, may be his versatility. Melton was originally tagged as the team’s sixth man, but has started 31 of the 40 games he’s played in so far this season and at 29.5 minutes per game, he seems to consistently br on the floor to close games.
Head coach Doc Rivers was asked about keeping Melton in the starting lineup or if he prefers Melton to come off the bench.
“We like him at both, and he can play both,” Rivers said previously. “There may be nights when he does, but the other way you put Tobias and Tyrese out there and they’re an elite group offensively, so we’ll see.”
How many games Melton continues to start will be worth monitoring, as Rivers said he has three different starting lineups he wants to use based off matchups moving forward.
Milton really stepped up when Maxey and Harden were out with injuries, which made a lot of people nervous about how he would adjust to having the ball in his hands less with Maxey and Harden returned.
So far so good, with the SMU guard averaging 7.5 points on 40 percent shooting in the nine games since Maxey’s returned. This is easily the most comfortable Shake his looked with another ball handler on the floor in his entire career.
Thybulle did not start the season in the rotation, but he seems to have taken Danuel House Jr.’s spot over the last couple of weeks. Evaluating him is still a tough task, as he can be so hit-or-miss depending on the night. While his offensive game has not developed as much as Sixers fans would hope, his athleticism has made him more useful on that side of the ball.
Even with Thybulle playing more, the Sixers have still gotten torched on the perimeter as of late. Jordan Clarkson, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Zach Lavine all put up video-game scoring numbers against Philly in the last two weeks. If Thybulle wants to see the floor in the playoffs, he is going to need to be a lockdown defender.
Niang and his 40 percent three-point shot have been an absolute necessity for this Sixers team. On top of that, Niang has looked notably better on the defensive end as well as taking the ball to the basket in his own, slow way. Niang has been on the floor for some big moments down the stretch, times I’m not sure he would have been trusted last season.
Our editor-in-chief even Old Takes Exposed himself in real time during the Lakers game in regards to Niang being in the closing lineup, as he hit a big three then stopped Russell Westbrook at the rim to end the game.
January 16, 2023
Like Thybulle, we won’t really know how much we can trust Niang in big minutes until the playoffs arrive. Last year he was unplayable in the Miami series, though he was dealing with a lingering knee issue. While he may struggle against athletic teams such as Cleveland or Boston, I wouldn’t be surprised if Niang has a larger role this postseason.
Montrezl Harrell and Paul Reed
It wouldn’t be a Sixers rotation piece without talking about the backup centers. Reed started the season with the lion share of those minutes, but Harrell has seen the majority of the time in the past month or so.
Harrell has been effective offensively in that time. He had a three-game stretch to start January where he scored at least 17 points. Despite that, he is still a turnstile on defense. Opposing offenses are scoring 113.4 points per 100 possessions with Harrell on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. There is nothing wrong with Harrell eating up minutes in December and January, but this could be a problem when the playoffs role around.
Danuel House Jr. and Furkan Korkmaz
Despite taking up the James Ennis role of most chaotic Sixer on the court, House has fallen out of the rotation. He has yet to play non-garbage time minutes since the team’s win in OKC on New Year’s Eve. It is probably for the best that him and Korkmaz have become this team’s human victory cigars, only seeing the floor when games are well out of reach.
What do you think are the strong spots of the Sixers’ rotation? The weak spots? Who do you trust?