76ers

The 5 best reserves in Sixers history

The 5 best reserves in Sixers history

We all remember the greats like Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Allen Iverson. 

But sometimes, the guys coming off the bench are remembered just as vividly.

With that in mind, we look back on the five greatest reserves in Sixers history:

5. World B. Free

Free’s name is so identifiable with the Sixers that it’s almost strange to think about the fact that he only played four seasons here. The team drafted him in the second round in 1975 out of Guilford College. He spent three seasons here during his first stint, averaging 13.6 points a game as a reserve. He was a key bench scorer for the 1976-77 team that took a 2-0 series lead on the Trail Blazers before ultimately losing in the Finals.

After the team traded him to the Clippers in 1978, Free became an All-Star and one of the best scorers in the league over the next decade. The trade worked out just fine for the Sixers, though. They used the first-round pick they acquired to draft Charles Barkley in 1984.

4. Lou Williams

Drafted in the second round out of high school, Williams’ career started off slow. He averaged just 9.2 minutes a game for the Sixers during his first two seasons. Williams then spent the next five seasons as a dynamic scorer off the bench, averaging 13.3 points a game. He was part of the “Show Ya Luv” Sixers that miraculously took the Celtics to seven games in the second round in 2011-12.

Since departing from the Sixers, Williams has become one of the best bench scorers in the NBA, capturing the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award three times. When his career is over, Williams will likely be regarded as one of the best reserves in NBA history.

3. Aaron McKie

Arguably the greatest Allen Iverson sidekick, the Philly native and Temple grad was acquired as part of the Jerry Stackhouse trade in 1997. The 17th overall pick in 1994, McKie bounced around during the early part of his career. The Sixers were his third team in four seasons ... but boy, did he take advantage of his homecoming. McKie spent parts of eight seasons with the Sixers, winning Sixth Man of the Year during the memorable 2000-01 season.

McKie retired in 2007 and is now the head coach at Temple. Iverson has talked on more than one occasion about the impact McKie had on his Hall of Fame career. 

2. Billy Cunningham

“The Kangaroo Kid” was taken fifth overall out of North Carolina and joined a loaded Sixers team in 1965. Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Chet Walker were already in the mix. Because of that, Cunningham spent his first couple seasons as a reserve. He helped the team win a title 1966-67, averaging 18.5 points a game in the regular season and 19.7 in the Finals.

By 1968-69, Cunningham made his first All-Star team on his way to a Hall of Fame career. He’s also arguably the greatest coach in Sixers history, leading the team to its last title in 1983.

1. Bobby Jones

After making three All-Star teams in Denver, Jones was part of the trade that sent fellow All-Star George McGinnis to the Nuggets. “The Secretary of Defense” was a starter the next four seasons, helping the team reach the Finals twice in that span. In 1982-83, Jones agreed to come off the bench and the rest is history. Jones took home the NBA’s first ever Sixth Man of the Year award that season.

An 11-time All-Defensive Team pick, Jones retired as a Sixer in 1986 and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019. The team has retired Jones’ No. 24.

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2020 NBA playoffs: Looking at where Sixers sit in Eastern Conference picture

2020 NBA playoffs: Looking at where Sixers sit in Eastern Conference picture

Though they’re calling “seeding games,” the Sixers’ primary concern in the contests leading up to the playoffs is not seeding.

“How do you go into the playoffs … how can you go into that date feeling like we’re the best we can be?” Brett Brown said on July 12. “Worrying too much about moving up because you could play this team or avoid that team, I stay away from that.” 

Through three games at Disney World, Brown wishes the Sixers were playing at a higher level. The team has gone 2-1, but that record includes a fourth quarter in which the Sixers allowed the Pacers to score 46 points, a game-saving shot from Shake Milton vs. the Spurs and a win over the 24-44 Wizards that was tight until the end. Ben Simmons exited Wednesday’s game against Washington early with a left knee injury

It’s been slower coming than I would’ve thought,” Brown said Wednesday. “I liked our practices, I thought … the preseason games you saw at times a dominant defense. We’ve started these three games, I think, very inconsistently. I think we do some good things offensively, defensively, and then you see head-scratching stuff. It hasn’t gone as quickly as I had hoped. But I see where I think it can end. 

“We’re still figuring out some things with how we’re playing the team and Shake (Milton) coming in and so on. But I think, for the most part, we’re trending in the right direction, just not as quickly as I wished.

Here's where the Sixers sit in the Eastern Conference: 

3. Boston Celtics 45-23 GB: 9 
4. Miami Heat 43-25 GB: 11
5. Indiana Pacers 42-26 GB: 12
6. Sixers 41-27 GB: 13 

Boston technically still has a chance to surpass the Raptors for the No. 2 seed and the Sixers aren’t eliminated from contention for the No. 3 seed, but both outcomes are very improbable. Kemba Walker sat out the latter half of a back-to-back Wednesday, a 149-115 Celtics win over the Nets, as the All-Star guard works through a left knee issue. After playing Toronto on Friday night, the Celtics will face Orlando, Memphis and Washington.

The current No. 4 and No. 5 seeds play each other twice in the remaining seeding games, which should be interesting. The Heat’s other opponents are the Bucks, Suns and Thunder, while the Pacers’ are the Suns, Lakers and Rockets. Before the NBA’s hiatus, Miami was 2-0 against Indiana. In case you were curious, T.J. Warren hasn’t dropped off much after his 53-point performance vs. the Sixers. He leads all scorers at Disney World with 39.7 points per game. 

Despite having the sixth-easiest strength of schedule, the Sixers don’t have great odds of rising. Basketball Reference’s Playoff Probabilities Report gives them a 72.8 percent chance at the No. 6 seed, 23.0 percent at No. 5 and just 4.1 percent at No. 4. Those probabilities are intuitive when you consider the Sixers have lost their season series vs. the Heat and Pacers. 

The Celtics are the Sixers’ most likely first-round opponent at the moment by a good margin, which would potentially leave the Sixers a path of Boston-Toronto-Milwaukee. One could make the argument that such a road is best for the Sixers, since the team won its season series over Boston, 3-1, and wouldn’t have to face the top-seeded Bucks until the Eastern Conference Finals, but nothing’s going to be easy for a No. 6 seed. 

We analyzed the Celtics, Heat and Pacers as possible first-round opponents for the Sixers here

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons reportedly had clean MRI on left knee

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons reportedly had clean MRI on left knee

When Ben Simmons flexed his left leg after lobbing a pass for Al Horford and immediately headed off the floor Wednesday during the Sixers’ win over the Wizards, it was logical to be concerned. But, according to a report, Simmons’ knee injury is not as severe as one might have feared watching him walk toward the locker room. 

An MRI on Simmons’ knee was clean and he’s expected to be day-to-day, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. It's worth noting this is not an official update from the Sixers, who Brett Brown said postgame he expected to issue an announcement soon about Simmons' status. 

The 24-year-old recovered from a nerve impingement in his lower back over the NBA’s hiatus, and he felt strong and explosive heading into the league’s restart. He’s now serving as the Sixers’ starting point forward, an adjustment Brown thinks he’s approached well.

“I do feel like Ben has been amazing,” Brown said before Wednesday’s game, “in regards to just being mature on ‘Put me wherever you think I can best help the team.’ At times maybe he hasn’t gotten a touch the way he needs to get a touch, sometimes — which was easier when he was always the primary ball carrier. And so I applaud him tremendously on being a great teammate, trying to accept a new type of ecosystem that we’re trying to use him in.”

Simmons looked for his shot often in Wednesday’s game, though with little success. He missed an open corner three-pointer in the first quarter, his first legitimate regular-season try from long distance since Dec. 7, and made 2 of 10 field goals overall in 23 minutes. 

If Simmons misses any games, Brown will have a few options for reshuffling his starting lineup. There’s a case to be made for just about every member of the current rotation, which Brown cut down to nine players on Wednesday. Al Horford could slide into the frontcourt if Brown wants to work on the Horford-Joel Embiid pairing, which has a plus-15.6 net rating in 40 minutes together at Disney World after being the Sixers’ worst regular duo pre-hiatus.

Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz and Glenn Robinson III have all started games this year, though Robinson is dealing with an injury himself, having missed the team's first three seeding games with a left hip pointer. Perhaps Brown could go with Alec Burks if he’s looking for an extra ball handler and more time to evaluate his potential backup point guard in the playoffs.

The main takeaway here, however, is not the potential ripple effects on the Sixers' seeding game rotation. Rather, it's that a player the team will surely need to have available in order to make a deep playoff run reportedly has avoided a serious injury.

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