For the past couple months, we’ve all been asking how the Sixers should upgrade their bench.
And after Wednesday’s trade for Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott, we should still be asking the same question.
General manager Elton Brand has assembled, on paper, the best starting lineup in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers’ depth, however, took another hit. The team gave up three capable bench players in Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala, and Wilson Chandler (Chandler is a bench player in an ideal situation) and got two in return.
Marjanovic is not, of course, your typical “capable bench player.” At 7-foot-3, 290 pounds, he’s the biggest player in the NBA, and a historically efficient scorer. He just doesn’t see the floor a ton because, despite his earnest effort, he looks like he’s running through molasses when he attempts to play perimeter defense.
Scott usually matched up against Muscala in the Sixers’ two meetings with the Clippers this season, and you’d expect he’ll play a similar role as Muscala did on the Sixers. He’s a 6-foot-8 power forward whose strength is his outside shooting (39.1 percent from three-point range this season). The other parts of his game are passable. In an ideal world, he’d play 15 to 20 minutes per night for the Sixers.
Yet, when you examine the Sixers’ current roster, Scott and Marjanovic both might be asked to regularly extend beyond their ideal range of minutes. T.J. McConnell is another name who continues to fit that description. Jonah Bolden has earned a role behind Joel Embiid and Amir Johnson is still around, for the time being, in case of emergency. But the depth chart at guard is thin.
As things stand, Furkan Korkmaz, a three-point specialist making 32.5 percent of his three-point shots, would likely be the team’s first wing off the bench. It’s a suboptimal situation.
Come March, it would surprising if there aren’t a couple new faces on the Sixers’ bench. The possibility of big man Justin Patton playing for the Sixers this season is now much more concrete after his 13-minute outing with the Blue Coats on Tuesday. And Patton has been joined at Blue Coats practices by Zhaire Smith, the incredibly athletic rookie who has endured an unfortunate cocktail of injury and serious medical complications stemming from an allergic reaction.
Two-way player Haywood Highsmith even deserves to be on the periphery of the current discussion. Shake Milton would be if he hadn’t broken his finger in Tuesday's game.
Smith or Patton could be traded before Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline. Korkmaz, an unrestricted free agent in the offseason after the Sixers declined his third-year option, could be on the move too, if the Sixers are fortunate enough to find a trade partner willing to include him in a deal. And Markelle Fultz, a player with seemingly low odds of helping the Sixers in the near future, is reportedly on the market and drawing interest from the Hawks and Magic (see story).
The Sixers can’t enter the playoffs reliant on multiple rookies to play major roles and expect to contend for a title, even with their formidable starting unit.
And, based on Brand’s audacious early track record, things are going to change, whether via trade, the buyout market or both. Until then, questions will linger about the Sixers’ depth and whether the team is too fragile to win when its starting unit is anything besides perfectly healthy and in sync.
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