The Sixers are going to look different this upcoming season compared to last and it begins with the starting lineup. With a new rookie and veteran free-agent additions, what you saw in the past will not be what you see when the team takes the court this fall.
Last season, the Sixers rolled out 30 — yes, 30 — different starting fives. They wrapped their final game with T.J. McConnell, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Justin Anderson, Alex Poythress and Richaun Holmes. Not exactly what you would have expected back in training camp.
Who the Sixers will start for the 2017-18 season has been a hot topic this summer, especially when it comes to the roles of Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Robert Covington. Let's look at the questions surrounding the projected starting five.
Point guard/power forward
How the Sixers address these roles will be an ongoing storyline. The two positions are linked because of Simmons.
Simmons said he is a starting point guard. From president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo’s point of view, Simmons doesn’t necessarily have to start at the one-spot to be the main ball handler.
The Sixers drafted point guard Markelle Fultz No. 1 overall because of his ability to complement Simmons’ playing off the ball. That doesn’t mean Fultz has to start at the two.
It remains to be seen how the Sixers make their defensive assignments: 6-foot-4 Fultz or 6-foot-10 Simmons on opposing point guards? It seems likely Fultz will take that matchup. If Simmons did, there would be mismatches at power forward. Several NBA point guards I spoke to last season said they did not expect Simmons would defend the one.
The Sixers' lineups are going to be positionless in many instances and this is one of them. It really doesn’t matter who is labeled the point guard when it comes to Fultz and Simmons. They have the backcourt skill sets to play off each other, but defensively, Fultz is the better matchup to guard the one.
The Sixers got a shooter, a veteran leader and a starting-caliber player when they signed JJ Redick to a one-year, $23 million contract. Redick was a starter for the last four seasons on the Clippers. He has not come off the bench since April 2014 when he was returning from a lengthy injury.
Redick will give the Sixers another go-to scorer in the starting lineup in addition to Joel Embiid. Redick averaged 15.0 points last season and will spread the floor in this system.
There are some who believe Redick should come off the bench in a scenario in which Simmons and Fultz start at the one and the two. One of the biggest impacts Redick will make, however, will be the way he makes his younger teammates better when he is sharing the court with them — leading by example, in-game huddles, those short conversations shared during free throws. The development of Fultz, Simmons and Embiid will be enhanced from playing alongside this proven veteran.
Covington vs. Saric: This has been one of the bigger debates on social media. A starting five needs more than just offense. Brett Brown is a huge fan of Covington’s defense, especially for the criteria on the Sixers’ “effort charts.” Take away those recurring three-point struggles that Covington gets criticized for, that’s not why he’s on the court.
Last season, Covington averaged 12.9 points and 6.5 rebounds. He led the NBA with 4.2 deflections per game, ahead of John Wall and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green (both averaged 3.9).
Speaking of that award, Covington finished fourth in the voting. Green, Rudy Gobert and Kawhi Leonard ran away with the ballots. Covington received a second- and third-place vote to finish one point better than LeBron James. Covington also garnered two All-Defensive first team votes.
So where does Saric come into play in the small forward discussion? Let’s say Covington retains his starting role from last season and Simmons starts at power forward. That would mean Saric would come off the bench. Saric really thrived in the second half of last season in the starting lineup. He was doing it at power forward, though, and also as the main offensive go-to because of injuries. Saric, at this point, is better suited to defend fours.
People will compare Covington and Saric because in many hypothetical lineups this would be the position up for grabs, but why force him to play small forward just to keep him in the starting five? There is potential for Saric to succeed in a sixth-man role where he most likely would receive more touches. If the Sixers are going to make a push for the playoffs, they will need depth in their second unit and Saric can anchor that.
Given Embiid's restrictions last season, there is the possibility Simmons will have them as well in his first season back from a foot injury. The Sixers can turn to Saric in those situations.
The question about the center position is not who will be the main starter, but rather who will be the backup.
The starting role belongs to Embiid when he is available. It remains to be seen just how many games he will play after only 31 last season and if he will be under restrictions (he previously could not play in back-to-backs).
And so here we are again: Jahlil Okafor or Holmes? There was no clear-cut answer to that question last season, and each player had varying roles.
Will the Sixers start Okafor when Embiid is out and bench him when Embiid is starting? Will Holmes only be Embiid’s backup or did he do enough to earn a starting spot when Embiid is out? It is hard to overlook Holmes’ 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks after the All-Star break.
The starting five will change throughout the season, whether through experimentation, injuries, trades or finding unexpected combinations that click. At this time in the offseason, Fultz, Redick, Covington, Simmons and Embiid seems likely.