In order for the team to take the next step, the bench is going to need to step up.
The idea this offseason was for the Sixers to learn from their mistakes in the playoffs and fix them. After missing out on the star hunt, that strategy now focused on the bench, as many of the moves made centered around fixing flaws and gaining more depth to combat deeper, stronger teams. Trades were made, free agents were signed, and now, we have a good idea who will be in the rotation consistently. Last year, bench players put up decent numbers, but when it came down to crunch time, they faltered. The group of players this year that will command the second unit won’t have that problem, and if they can all put up consistent numbers, then the Sixers could have one of the best bench units in the NBA.
The secondary cast isn’t without their questions of course. Where will Markelle Fultz play? Is his shot back to normal? Are the Sixers willing to embrace a small ball approach? These are all fair questions to ask, and some we may not figure out until opening night or later. With all the hard work we’ve seen out of Fultz, plus the hype that Drew Hanlen has been giving the young guard, there is hope that he can get back to being the player fans thought he was going to be out of Washington. With that said, there is almost no chance of Fultz getting starting minutes, at least in the beginning of the season. With a strong starting five there is no need to push Fultz out of his comfort zone. Let him play the role of sixth man and get comfortable with the NBA game.
By season’s end, a 11 PPG-3 RPG-5 APG should be seen as a big step in the right direction. Since Fultz is such a mystery, there is a chance that none of this happens. As a result, the Sixers needed to focus on bench production and consistency this offseason, and they hit the nail on the head.
One of the most pleasant surprises of this past season was the play of T.J. McConnell. The undersized, scrappy guard gave the Sixers great minutes from the second unit, as well as some impressive starts come playoff time. Although he played a vital role in the successes of the team previously, his playing time actually dropped off last year, as the Sixers relied more heavily on their starters and young building blocks, forcing McConnell into a second unit point guard role. Taking it in stride, McConnell showed the same consistency he had been known for over the prior two seasons, actually improving on his three point shot (43%), as well as making his mid-range jumper a real threat to defenses.
Now with Fultz in the mix, McConnell’s role may be in flux once again, but if Fultz can show the shooting ability of his college days, the two could form a backcourt combo that kills defenses. Look for McConnell to put up reduced stats due to the hit his minutes take. A line of 5 PPG-1 RPG- 3 APG over anywhere from 12-16 minutes per game may seem conservative, but with all of the moving pieces, McConnell’s playing time and stats may suffer.
From last year’s most consistent bench piece in McConnell, to hopefully this year’s, Wilson Chandler was a big pick-up for the Sixers this offseason. Moving to a bench role after years of starting for the Denver Nuggets, the hope is that Chandler can bring veteran leadership as well as the ability to play multiple positions on both offense and defense. If the Sixers decide to run with the idea of a small ball bench, then Chandler could slot into the role of power forward who can stretch the court with his shooting ability. Because of the vital role he is expected to fill, you can bet on seeing a lot of Chandler on the court this year. While still not a starting role like in years past, he could still see minutes in the range of 18-22 per game, enough for him to affect the game on both ends without running him into the ground. By years end, a stat line of 10 PPG-5 RPG-2 APG would go a long way to giving the Sixers a respectable, deeper bench than last year.
Last year, the Sixers relied heavily on a few players from the bench and used others sporadically. This could be the case again this season, as deeper rotation players will have to fight for minutes. With Zhaire Smith out for an extended period due to the annual Sixers rookie injury bug, Furkan Korkmaz has the chance to get more run. After a lost rookie season, any contributions Korkmaz can give would be welcome. After tearing up the Summer League offensively, the hope would be for the shooter to come in and score at an accurate clip, while not hurting the team on defense. The defensive side of the ball is what’s going to make him go in and out of the rotation throughout the season, but if he can give the Sixers around 5 points per game over the span of the regular season, they should be thrilled.
Another new face in the rotation that will need to fight for minutes is Mike Muscala. The big man will have to stave off Amir Johnson for backup center minutes in a possible small ball five role, but if he can, then he will bring a unique game to the table. An outside shot that will force traditional centers to come out and defend on the perimeter with the length and weight to get shots around the net, Muscala could be the perfect spacing center for the second unit. Depending on how the team uses Amir Johnson, Muscala’s minutes could fluctuate. With the skill set he possesses, Muscala should be given the opportunity to run with the backup center role, which is why giving him 16 minutes per game could result in seeing a stat line mirroring 6 PPG-5 RPG-1 APG. The numbers won’t jump off the page, but there are much worse options than a center who can space the floor and help give his teammates room.
The Sixers struggled mightily scoring the ball off the bench, which is why they reshaped the group like they did this offseason. Now with much more impactful offensive players, the team looks poised to improve in an area that saw them place 24th out of 30 teams in bench production last season (31.2 PPG). With just a few extra points, the team can at least get up to the middle of the pack, and while it doesn’t sound overly impactful, you have to be reminded that the deepest teams usually end up winning games. None of the moves may have been splashy, but the Sixers did a nice job overall finding impact players to help the bench this offseason, something that should help them in the long run.