In contemplating the offseason ahead for the Sixers, Ben Simmons is the name on the tip of every tongue these days.
Fair enough, after Simmons’ self-admitted “bad series” in the Sixers’ second-round loss to the Hawks, but it’s not as if the team’s roster was flawless outside of Simmons and doomed by the underperformance of one player.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers on Monday identified the Sixers’ lack of depth behind Tobias Harris as problematic.
“There’s clearly things we have to do better, things we need to change,” he said. “One of the biggest concerns is that I thought we got small really quickly once Tobias stepped off the floor at the three/four spot — and that’s something that I addressed all year. We tried to go out, we just could not find anyone or make the right move to get that.
“But I thought that showed in this series. Atlanta went big and …Tobias, we played him as much as we could. So that’s an area. But other than that, I just think it’s too early. But we definitely, in my opinion, kind of have a footprint on what we want to do and how we want to do it. We’ve just got to get it done.”
Rivers did not entrust any of Mike Scott, Anthony Tolliver or rookie Paul Reed with rotation minutes against the Hawks. In Game 7, 6-foot-10 Danilo Gallinari scored 10 points and shot 4 for 6 from the floor when defended by 6-foot-4 George Hill, per NBA.com.
Morey brought Tolliver in on a 10-day contract in April and ultimately signed him for the rest of the season. When everyone was healthy, the Sixers evidently didn’t view the 36-year-old as a player who should have a role beyond providing off-court wisdom and staying ready in case of emergency.
“Size-wise, I think we get small too (quickly),” Rivers later added. “One substitution and we’re too small, and that was every night all year, and that was a concern for me all year. So we have to improve that in some way.”
As part of their trade to acquire Hill in March, the Sixers sent Tony Bradley to the Thunder. The 23-year-old had been starting and playing well with Joel Embiid sidelined by a left knee bone bruise, posting 18 points on 8-for-8 shooting and 11 rebounds in a March 23 win over the Warriors, his final game as a Sixer.
“We didn’t want to lose Tony,” Morey said at the time. “He was a key part of the deal that allowed us to get it done, and I think his great play made that happen.”
The Sixers never replaced Bradley on the buyout market, meaning the options behind Embiid were essentially Dwight Howard, Scott and small ball. Rivers stuck with Howard against the Hawks.
In Games 1, 5 and 7, Howard totaled 23:46 of playing time, zero points, five turnovers and eight fouls. The Sixers were outscored by 34 points in those minutes.
Those statistics obviously spotlight Howard’s worst moments, but he was an ineffective Embiid backup in several key games.
Morey on Tuesday discussed the Sixers’ frontcourt depth, indicating he welcomes Rivers’ thoughts on such issues.
“I think that’s the kind of feedback that Doc and his coaching staff giving the front office is good,” he said. “And, to be fair to his point, that was feedback we had all year. Look, it takes two to tango. Once you’re in the season … you’re down to one tool, really — trade. And nothing really presented itself that allowed us to address some of the things that Doc was looking for.
“Obviously Tony gave us tremendous minutes. I made the assessment that George Hill would help us more than the Tony Bradley. Is that right? I think it was still right. I still feel very good about George Hill, but those are the kinds of things that I think a good organization does. Look back, figure out what you can do better, address it and attack going forward. So I think all those questions are fair, and I just love how Doc framed it yesterday, and challenged all of us to figure out how to get better. And I think that includes the front office.”
Howard and Scott will become unrestricted free agents this offseason. Reed will be preparing for his second year as a professional. Whatever happens with Simmons, it would make sense for the Sixers to pick up a useful frontcourt rotation player or two.