76ers

With James Ennis out, will Zhaire Smith have a playoff role? And what about Jonathon Simmons?

With James Ennis out, will Zhaire Smith have a playoff role? And what about Jonathon Simmons?

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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How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

They say that shooters shoot.

Tobias Harris has been shooting plenty — they just haven’t been going down.

After going 0 for 11 from three on Tuesday night against the Cavs, Harris went 0 for 3 and 3 of 13 overall in the Sixers’ loss to the Magic in Orlando Wednesday (see observations).

The last three Harris hit was in the first quarter of the Sixers’ loss in Phoenix on Nov. 4. He’s missed his last 23 attempts since.

When Harris was acquired from the Clippers last season, he was shooting 43.4 percent from downtown in a healthy sample size.

So what the heck is going on?

“I'm not making shots, I'm not in a rhythm,” Harris said to reporters postgame. “That's it. Obviously, it's easier said than done but I'm going to find my rhythm and once I do those shots are going to be there and they're going to be able to be made. Until then, I'll watch film and see the looks I can get, see the easy ones I can get to, but when they're not going for me, get to the free throw line. 

“In the fourth quarter I thought that was two questionable whistles, a travel and offensive [foul]. So those are two turnovers that kind of affected our fourth quarter. But I just gotta find a rhythm. That's it.”

On top of missing, Harris just looks indecisive. During early parts of the season, he appeared to be passing up open shots. In his pregame availability before Tuesday’s win, Brett Brown made a point to talk about needing Harris to have a scorer’s mentality.

Over the last two games, Harris seems like he doesn’t know when to shoot the basketball. After shooting so poorly from the outside against Cleveland, in Orlando he appeared to just get caught in between while trying to drive to the basket more.

It just seems like Harris is in his own head.

“I think it's just human nature,” Brown said. “He wants to please, he wants to shoot the ball, he wants to score, we need him to score.”

Harris is an easy target for fan ire. GM Elton Brand gave up an awful lot to get him before last year’s trade deadline. During the summer, the Sixers gave Harris a five-year, $180 million deal — the richest in franchise history.

But to his credit, Harris hasn’t made any excuses. He faced the music Wednesday night after not playing well and not feeling well.

Brown mentioned Tuesday that Harris had been dealing with an illness. Harris didn’t want to take the easy way out and attribute that to anything.

“When I get out there and play, I'm playing,” Harris said. “I'm under the weather, yeah, but if I get out there and play, I believe I can go.”

Forget the big contract and disappointing start for a second — Harris is a worker. He’s worked on his game tirelessly to rise to the level he did last season in L.A. During the offseason, he stepped up as a leader that all of his teammates are eager and willing to follow. He’s been depended upon by the young players and veterans alike.

Now, it may be Harris who needs their support.

“Tobias has had great looks and he's a great player, great shooter,” Ben Simmons said. “I mean, at times, everybody gets down when they're not playing their best game. They know that they can do better. But he's one of those guys. He's always positive. And we all believe in him.”

The Sixers’ road trip continues Friday with a date with the Thunder. Oklahoma City is the site of Harris’ finest game as a Sixer. On Feb. 28 of last year, Harris poured in 32 points and led a tough road win without Joel Embiid.

Maybe the memory of that game will spark something in Harris.

If that doesn't work, what else can you really say?

“Keep shooting,” Brown said. “Don't listen to any of you guys. Don't read anything. Keep shooting.”

After all, shooters shoot.

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Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Tobias Harris' struggles continuing, Ben Simmons' unwillingness to shoot the ball, and why Matisse Thybulle isn't seeing more playing time.

• Another rough night for Harris. What the heck is going on?

• Simmons was strong, but still refuses to shoot the basketball outside the paint.

• Should Thybulle be getting more minutes?

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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