Who Should Replace Ben Simmons in the Sixers’ Starting Lineup?

Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Al Horford? Furkan Korkmaz? Glenn Robinson III? Alec Burks?

The Sixers have numerous options to replace Ben Simmons, who went down earlier this week with a “subluxation” of his left knee cap, meaning it popped out of the groove and slid back in.

The answer to the lineup question centers on what we’re actually looking for here, i.e. does this starting unit need shooting, ball handling, or defense? Keep in mind that the Sixers were already in the middle of a Simmons off-ball experiment that wasn’t entirely fruitful, so Brett Brown now has five games to figure this out and carve out a new identity for this team ahead of the playoffs.

For what it’s worth, the Sixers simply put Horford back into the lineup when Simmons suffered his winter back injury, rolling out a starting unit that looked like this in the Detroit game that was played on the night the season wound up being suspended:

  1. Shake Milton
  2. Josh Richardson
  3. Tobias Harris
  4. Al Horford
  5. Joel Embiid

At NBA Stats, data shows that this lineup has played seven games this season totaling 41 minutes of +8 basketball. The net rating of 3.7 is good, but this group has a defensive rating of 119.3, so it’s a lineup that scored a lot of points and gave up a lot of points as well. That’s not surprising considering how good Ben Simmons looked on defense, pre-back injury and pre-bubble return.

Not a fan of that lineup? You could try Furkan Korkmaz or Matisse Thybulle at the three and bump Tobias Harris down to power forward. That gives you some three-point shooting and defense, respectively.

The problem with Burks and Robinson is that we don’t have much lineup data that includes Joel Embiid. The best GRIII lineup I could find included Horford/Harris/Richardson/Milton, which has a +12 net rating over 24 total minutes. Burks has spent the most time on the floor in a Horford/Harris/Thybulle/Korkmaz lineup, and inserting him into the starting lineup means you’re playing relatively small at the three.

Brett Brown was asked on Thursday about splitting up Embiid and Horford’s minutes thus far, and whether he’s inclined to continue that split or pair them together in Simmons’ absence:

If I had to tilt one way or the other, I would pair them. I’m not saying you can do it all, but we’ve played around and just sort of game planned and spitballed what this actually looks like now. If you made me weight one area or the other, I would pair them. But I feel like there are ways I’m going to be able to do a little bit of what I did previously where I suppose the alternative is to split them up. If you want to get some level of a concrete answer, you’d listen to “pair them.”

That would suggest to me that Horford comes back into the starting lineup, but we’ll find out in a few hours.

Regardless, it’s Joel Embiid’s team now. He’s been excellent passing from the post, and if this team can play through him, defend well, and hit some open perimeter shots, they’re going to a tough out in round one. Losing Ben Simmons hurts, but it does make the tactical picture a little more clear, and ends the off-ball experiment, at least for now.

I’ll leave you with the clip I cut Thursday, showing some quality Embiid passes out of double teams:

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