CAMDEN, N.J. — There aren't many questions about how the Sixers' starters will fare this season. The team had the five-man unit with the best net rating in the NBA last season.
The bench is a different story.
The Sixers’ bench was outscored by 0.8 points per game last season. Now, Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Justin Anderson are gone, with Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala taking their places.
Well, not exactly. According to head coach Brett Brown, Muscala and Chandler will be used in a variety of roles. While he doesn’t have complete clarity yet on his rotation, Brown knows one thing — he wants his bench to keep playing fast. The Sixers had the fourth-fastest pace in the league last season.
“With T.J. [McConnell] and Markelle [Fultz] and Ben [Simmons], we really have push guards. And I think with Muscala getting up and down and Amir [Johnson], you have two bigs that aren’t ground-bound, they really want to run. And then we’re playing around with our wings, what do our wings look like? So I think the speed ball, the pace we play will continue. I think there’s a defensive commitment, a defensive energy that we demand. I think that second unit will be able to guard like we want to guard and still have the ability to put points on the board with some firepower.”
As Brown notes, there appear to be opportunities available for younger wing players looking to earn roles off the bench. While it will likely be difficult for a guard to earn playing time given the presence of T.J. McConnell and Markelle Fultz, two former No. 26 picks may be in the mix for minutes.
Landry Shamet, the No. 26 pick in this year's draft, and Furkan Korkmaz, the No. 26 pick in 2016, could find a way into the rotation. Shamet has two qualities Brown loves — versatility and shooting ability. He has experience both at the point and as a two-guard at Wichita State, and shot 43.7 percent from long range in college.
He’s been working on his game after practice with JJ Redick, not a bad role model for a college sharpshooter entering the NBA facing questions about whether he can handle the physicality and defensive challenge at the next level.
Yeah, these guys can shoot. More Redick and Shamet. pic.twitter.com/u4kWzqQDju— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) September 23, 2018
Korkmaz, you may recall, exploded for a 40-point night in summer league.
Like Shamet, Muscala’s outside shot and ability to play multiple positions should fit well with Brown’s “pace and space” philosophy — just in a more prominent role. The 6-foot-11 Muscala, acquired from the Atlanta Hawks in a three-team deal that sent Anderson to Atlanta and Luwawu-Cabarrot to the Oklahoma City Thunder, is a career 37.8 percent three-point shooter. Expect to see Brown use him both as a power forward and as a center in smaller lineups, similar to how he employed Ilyasova.
Chandler, an 11-year NBA veteran with a solid all-around game, said Brown told him the Sixers could use a little bit of everything from him. Even though Chandler has started 447 of 590 games in his career, he’s ready to play a complementary role.
“Just from the outside looking in, you have guys like Joel [Embiid] and Ben [Simmons], so you don’t need too much offensively. Just kind of fit in when you get in. Play off those guys, play defense, run the floor, spacing. Whatever the team needs, pretty much, and that’s kind of what [coach] told me.”
Brown expects Chandler to provide the kind of toughness the Sixers could use come playoff time. He also should be better equipped to handle athletic wing players than a defensive liability like Belinelli.
“[Chandler] can play the three, he can play the four, he can switch out and guard a two, he’s a veteran,” Brown said. “He’s sort of a quiet achiever. He’s physical.
“I’ve had players like Luc Mbah a Moute, those modern-day playoff guys that are versatile and tough. The Morris twins in some ways. They’re just very versatile. And Wilson reminds me of that type of player. He’s multipurpose defensively and offensively.”