It feels like years ago that the Sixers acquired veterans Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala to fortify their bench.
With Game 81 approaching, Chandler and Muscala are gone. So are Markelle Fultz (remember when he was a starter?) and promising rookie Landry Shamet. Two blockbuster trades for stars and a couple other moves have left the Sixers thin.
With just two games remaining, Brett Brown still has a few things to sort out. Brown has said he’d like to keep his playoff rotation to nine, but will he be able to?
The injury to James Ennis, who won “the tournament” over Jonathon Simmons after both players were acquired at the trade deadline, has certainly thrown a wrench in things. Ennis is dealing with a right quad contusion and will miss at least a couple first-round playoff games.
Just having Simmons take over the role seemed like an option, but Zhaire Smith has apparently given Brown something to think about.
I think he moves his feet at an elite rate,” Brown said to reporters postgame Saturday. “I think defensively he’s extremely gifted now. Offensively, he’s starting to make a three from time to time, but he’s trying to find his balance. Defensively, I could see him coming in and not hurting you, even at age 19 and playing [four] NBA games. I think he can be a solid defensive player almost immediately. The offensive side of it will come.
It’s curious that Simmons has basically played himself out of minutes. Frankly, he wasn’t great for the stretch he played, but he’s still an NBA veteran that has played — and excelled — in playoff games. He’s a good perimeter defender, something the Sixers desperately need. But offensively, he doesn’t shoot the ball well and doesn’t look quite as explosive as he did with the Magic and Spurs.
Smith, on the other hand, is as explosive as it gets. His two calling cards coming out of Texas Tech were his freakish athleticism and traits as a defender. He’s flashed both of those things with the Sixers, but at times looks like a 19-year-old that’s played only four NBA games.
As of now, it appears the rookie has a leg up on the vet.
“I think you’d say that right now,” Brown said. “Some of it is not Jonathon’s fault. I have made a coaching decision. That’s what I’ve done. I think the next few games, you will see Jonathon and we’ll give that a look again, but we’re on sort of speed dial and cramming to see what goes on with these bench positions after the injury happened to James and getting those guys back.”
The first wing off the bench isn’t the only thing still in flux. The backup center situation is still murky. Boban Marjanovic has the experience. Jonah Bolden has the traits. But who gives the Sixers the best option behind Joel Embiid?
Recently, Brown has experimented with using Bolden as a four. It’s intriguing because Bolden has the quick feet to get out on stretch fours and can get hot from three. It also allows them to move Tobias Harris to a wing, which could help quell some of the concerns with Ennis out.
“I can play Jonah at a four and slide Tobias back to a three,” Brown said. “So I wouldn’t dump water on [the idea of Smith playing in the playoffs] entirely. I think that’s how we’re thinking about his possible role in the playoffs, but just to have him available, is really, especially with James’ injury, good news.”
The situation obviously isn’t ideal. The Sixers have a star-studded starting five that’s barely played together and a bench still in flux.
So what is Brown going to do? He has Tuesday and Wednesday night’s games to figure it out before the stakes are real.
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