Before the 2018-19 season, the bench was a big concern for the Sixers. The trades for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris hurt their depth even more.
Fast-forward to now and Brett Brown almost has an embarrassment of riches. For the second straight game, 10 players contributed for the Sixers. On Sunday, it was in a much-needed 114-106 win over the Hornets in the team’s return to the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).
The roster has so many viable basketball players that rookie Matisse Thybulle, who was such a huge part in the team getting out to a 5-0 start, was a DNP-CD Friday night in Denver and got only garbage time minutes against Charlotte.
And that’s with Ben Simmons missing the last two contests with a Grade 1 sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder. With that, point guard Raul Neto and Trey Burke have seen a bump in their minutes and both have risen to the challenge.
Some of that has come at the expense of Thybulle.
“So, the flexibility that I have to play different people based on the injury to Ben Simmons as an example,” Brown said, “or with Denver, where we dealt with some flyers, I felt more comfortable going with the point guards doing that. It is the second game [Thybulle didn’t play]. I think like I said in the pregame press, it's just part of his life — it's the evolution of being an NBA rookie on a really good team. I'm mindful of keeping his spirit up and his confidence up and communicating with him on some of the things that I just said."
Neto has gotten the starting nod the last two games, but Burke has seen his first action of the season. While they were in clear competition during training camp and the preseason, neither player won the backup point guard role as Josh Richardson assumed those duties.
Both veteran players kept their head down and awaited their opportunity. With Simmons out, both have relished their chance to play.
Burke signed for the chance to win a championship and play for the team his idol Allen Iverson starred for during his Hall of Fame career.
But he also thinks he’s capable of delivering on the court.
“I'm a competitor, man,” Burke said. “I feel like I can help this out team with my skill set. I'm going to continue to work hard, continue to get better each and every day. But it felt great to get out there, second game. Still trying to get in a rhythm, be on the same page with guys. This win does a lot for our confidence coming off three straight losses."
The emergence of Furkan Korkmaz as Brown’s “bomber” off the bench has also complicated things for Thybulle.
Since hitting the game-winning three and salvaging the only win of the Sixers’ four-game West Coast swing in Portland, Korkmaz has looked like a totally different player.
But really the turnaround started on Oct. 30 in a win over the Timberwolves. In the first three games of the season, Korkmaz just hit 1 of his 6 attempts from three and lost minutes to Shake Milton. Since then, he’s hit 18 of 36, a ridiculous 50 percent over his last six games.
More than that, there’s a confidence the 22-year-old Turkish wing is playing with that we hadn’t seen in his first two seasons here. His 17-point performance Sunday was needed.
“We were joking with him after Portland, saying he's a new man, but he is starting to play like it, too,” Tobias Harris said. “It's always good, a game like tonight for him to come off the bench and make three threes, score 17 points — that's a big lift for us."
All of this and we haven’t even mentioned James Ennis and Mike Scott, the only two feasible options off the bench during last season’s playoff run, or Kyle O’Quinn who has been so effective that he’s forced Brown to find minutes for him.
"That's a huge boost for us,” Harris said. “Obviously last year it was something we were trying to figure out. This year, even with guys that have been out and injured in games — Ben's out, so we get the backup play from Raul and Trey. Both of them have played really well.
“There's a lot of great pieces. Matisse is a young player on our team who's going to continue to find his way throughout an NBA season. James has come out and played well. [We have] Mike off the bench. Our bench has given us a great spark, especially when they're called upon, too, each and every game. We've got a lot of depth. We've got a lot of guys who can play and help our team win."
Don’t look now, but the Sixers may actually have a bench.
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