The Sixers had a hell of a week during their West Coast swing. They went 2-2, which is solid for that type of trip, but the context makes it more impressive. They were missing multiple starters in both losses and were able to end the Warriors’ 11-game winning streak.
Joel Embiid just won Eastern Conference Player of the Month. Ben Simmons had arguably his best game as a pro vs. Golden State and followed it up with another strong performance in Sacramento. Jimmy Butler almost single-handedly stole the final game of the road trip against the Kings with his fourth-quarter heroics.
For all of the talk about fit and possible off-the-court drama, these guys are playing outstanding basketball together. The Sixers are now 21-10 with Butler in the lineup. They’re 20-8 when all three players are playing.
Then there’s JJ Redick. For anyone who doubts his value, go back and watch that Sacramento game. The team was an abysmal 7 of 33 from three. Sure, there's no guarantee that percentage goes up with Redick in the lineup. He’s shooting 38 percent from three, not one of the highest marks for his career, but it goes way beyond that.
The spacing he provides the other three players is invaluable. You could see the Kings' players basically had one foot in the paint all night. The two-man game with Embiid and Redick has become such a key component to both players’ games and really the entire offense. We've seen the team run it with different pairs with varying degrees of success, but Embiid and Redick have it down to a science.
There's not a team in the Eastern Conference that has a top four like the Sixers. There's no team in the entire league outside of the Warriors that does. But what teams like the Bucks, Raptors and Celtics have that the Sixers' lack is depth.
While Wilson Chandler, T.J. McConnell, Landry Shamet, Jonah Bolden and Mike Muscala have all had their moments, this team just needs more. It’s to the point where Brett Brown has turned to two-way player Shake Milton on multiple occasions recently — granted the rookie has impressed, but it should’ve never come to this.
Elton Brand is going to have to add at least one, if not two, solid NBA pieces. There’s no need to make a splash and make a play for someone like Jrue Holiday — though that would be interesting — but a wing like the Pistons’ Reggie Bullock or buyout candidate Wesley Matthews could add so much to this team’s core.
With all that said, Brown has done a pretty good job managing the minutes of his big three and Redick. Many complain about Brown’s “rotations” and "rest" games, but come April, when the starting five is getting big minutes and the bench gets shortened, losses in Sacramento and Denver in the middle of the season won’t matter. Acquiring another player or two will only help Brown soften the load on his starters before the playoffs and will make shortening the bench a whole lot easier.
Brand made a bold move in acquiring Butler, but the trade weakened an already thin bench. Now it's time for the Sixers' GM to complement his stars, who are playing so well together, in their quest to win the East.
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