We’re slowly fleshing out a 2018 roster for your team, your town, your Philadelphia 76ers.
The rumored Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot trades make the picture a little more clear after the will-he/won’t-he mini-saga of Nemanja Bjelica.
I sensed some disappointment on Twitter over the Anderson news, and I can understand it. Justin was a solid defender, a depth wing who gave you some decent minutes last year when healthy. He played a role in the Miami playoff series. I think the shin injury, which kept him out of the lineup for a while, probably played more of an issue than most people realize. He did, after all, undergo offseason surgery to correct the issue. Anderson was a good quote, a good locker room guy, and someone who was pretty easy to cheer for.
TLC had his moments. There was a nice stretch of starts where he put up some good numbers with the first unit, but his shooting was spotty and I’m not sure he ever took hold of the opportunity to elevate himself above the other bench wings on the team.
So here we are with those guys reportedly headed out and Mike Muscala coming in as a late replacement for Bjelica, who said he wanted to stay in Europe but is now talking to the Sacramento Kings, who are definitely not located in Europe.
Here’s what the depth chart looks like right now, and I put some guys in multiple spots since Brett Brown will obviously show a bunch of different looks next year. This is very loose so please just roll with it:
Joel Embiid, Amir Johnson, Richaun Holmes, Mike Muscala
You’ve got a superstar on the first unit and 31 year old Amir Johnson backing him up on a veteran minimum contract. Richaun Holmes feels like the odd man out again.
Muscala was the #2 behind Dewayne Dedmon last season and is a decent stretch five who I can see fitting in next to Embiid and also being able to give you a smaller look with Dario Saric. You’re also looking at throwing Jonah Bolden into this logjam if you sign him to a contract.
Dario Saric, Mike Muscala, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Wilson Chandler
The issue behind Dario is that Brett really likes that European stretch four. Ersan Ilyasova was a nice fit in that spot. Nemanja Bjelica would have been as well.
So it seems like the strategy here is to give Muscala the second team power forward minutes, since he has the best skill set to emulate what those guys do.
Prior to the Muscala trade rumor, it felt like the backup power forward minutes might go to Simmons and Covington in staggered portions, which would probably allow Markelle Fultz and T.J. McConnell to get some more time at point guard. Same thing with Wilson Chandler, who has played a large chunk of power forward minutes over the course of his career. Brown still does have that flexibility, and as an example, he can bump Simmons down to the four, use Chandler at the three, and bring in a guy like McConnell to run the point, giving you good defensive flex to combat smaller lineups.
Mike Muscala 2017-2018 pic.twitter.com/fm0YomeKjS
— Kevin F. Love (@KevinFLove) July 19, 2018
Robert Covington, Wilson Chandler, Zhaire Smith, Furkan Korkmaz
Looks good on paper. You’d like to see some more consistent shooting from Covington this season, but Brown loves his defensive utility and ability to switch 2-4. Chandler is a veteran two-way wing who gives you better defense than Marco Belinelli.
I think the Sixers felt like Smith’s floor was very similar to what they already had in Anderson, which is probably why they feel comfortable moving him. I know people are sort of decrying the lack of wing depth here, but what did you really get from TLC and Anderson last season? If you’re bringing Chandler and Smith off the bench with McConnell and Fultz, that’s a pretty good nine-man rotation right there, much more defensively sound than what the Sixers rolled out against Boston in the playoffs.
JJ Redick, Markelle Fultz, Zhaire Smith, Jerryd Bayless, Furkan Korkmaz
Inevitably, if Fultz earns first team minutes, it’s going to be playing off the ball while Simmons runs the point. The only other way is if he handles the rock with Simmons moving down to power forward in specific situations.
So it’s another year of JJ Redick, who was excellent last season as a 42% three point shooter who put up 17 points per game. He recently turned 34 and his defense is going to be a question mark should the Sixers run into Boston in the postseason again, but it’s hard to argue against the decision to re-sign him. The Sixers had to do it after missing out on other high-priced stars, and Redick comes back with a full understanding of Brown’s system and existing chemistry with the first unit.
As for Korkmaz, he showed some flashes in Summer League while also going ice cold at times. Bayless is being linked to Cleveland in a trade for Kyle Korver, so I think a 1-2 shooting guard punch of Redick and Korver would be offensively sound, if defensively questionable, though I think Korver is a little better on the defensive end than most people give him credit for.
I was anti-Korver for the team earlier in the offseason as a Cavs salary dump. But if it would be buying out Bayless at the cost of the 3.4M Korver buyout next summer, seems more palatable. Wouldn't compromise a max slot, is the thinking?
— Hesi Pull-Up Jimbo (@_JimmyMcCormick) July 20, 2018
Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, T.J. McConnell, Landry Shamet
Fultz/McConnell is the main issue here. T.J. is on the final year of his contract and ceded time to Markelle towards the end of last season before making a late return in the playoffs.
Like I said, if Fultz proves himself as a core piece for this team, he’s going to have to play alongside Simmons somehow, so I’m interested to see whether Brown begins the season with Markelle as the second unit point guard or starts him off the ball instead. I thought it made a lot of sense last year, playing point, since it was a way to force the ball into his hands and get him going after missing the majority of the season.
Shamet is coming off the injury and would slot in as 4th on the PG depth chart.
Way too early conclusions
If I counted right, I think this puts the Sixers at exactly 15 players for next season. A Bayless/Korver swap wouldn’t change that number, but if the Sixers want to add Bolden, someone else needs to go. I’m not sure if Holmes is long for this world, but I also have no clue how the front office rates Bolden. Shake Milton is on the periphery as a second round draft pick coming off a summer rehab program.
That’s about it. This was just sort of a stream-of-consciousness thing, a mid-July look at a not-yet-complete depth chart.
If there’s one takeaway, I do think the Sixers are better now than they were last year. Sure, missing out on the stars hurts, but you’re bringing back one of the most effective starting lineups in the league, a defensively sound and much more experienced unit. Simmons is no longer a rookie, Embiid is fully healthy, and Saric and Covington are solid contributors. Brett Brown now has a pair of playoff series as a head coach under his belt.
I also think they’re defensively better on the wing with Chandler and Smith. You’re not going to have Belinelli’s scoring off the bench, but I think this team is better equipped to deal with the likes of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. I see some question marks at the backup front court spots and the #1 issue, of course, is what kind of player Markelle Fultz turns out to be.