Help Needed: How the 76ers bench unit will be pivotal for a deep playoff run
There’s no better sample size than the last two games to capture the essence of Philadelphia 76ers basketball. After losing at home to the Toronto Raptors at full strength, the Sixers pulled off an upset win against the East-leading Miami Heat last night in South Philly.
While last night’s win should be credited to a superstar performance from Tyrese Maxey in the fourth quarter, another main factor for the win came with an incredible performance by a few key bench players that were essentially out of Doc Rivers’ rotation before the night even started.
One of the most glaring issues over the past month for the 76ers has been inconsistent performances from their bench unit. Losing both Curry and Drummond at the trade deadline thinned out a bench that had already been underperforming and as the Sixers started to lose games, it became clear that the lack of bench support was one of the main reasons why.
Currently, the 76ers have the fourth-worst bench production from a pure scoring standpoint, getting only 27 points of production from the end of their rotation.
Last night, things changed. Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz, combined for 38 points off the bench, with Milton notching a season-high 20 points on 50% shooting from the field while Kork scored 18 points last night, drilling 4/7 shots from beyond the arc.
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Yes, it’s only one game at the end of March, but if the Sixers can get production from the bench heading into the playoffs, they will immediately be one of the most complete teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Sixers’ bench is extremely limited. Doc Rivers refuses to look anywhere outside DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap at the center position and not including last night, Shake Milton has been injured through several periods of the season, while Korkmaz was basically kicked out of the rotation thanks to over a month of horrid shooting performances.
The starters are certainly not the issue. James Harden and Joel Embiid have been +89 on the court together, which has led the Sixers to a ton of big wins.
The problems arise when the bench takes the court. This was on full display against the Denver Nuggets last week, with the 76ers starters routinely pushing the lead to double digits, topping off at 19, before the bench would be called upon and ultimately erase any type of lead.
Jokic had a field day tearing the 76ers second unit apart. The scoring difference between the two benches could not highlight the huge gap between the two units. The Nuggets bench scored 48 to the 76ers abysmal 14. If the Sixers bench could have at least played to league average, Philly comes out of that game with a win.
If you want a more recent example, look no further than the Raptors game. The 76ers bench once again scored 14 points, with Niang scoring 11. Five players came off the bench for Philly in that loss, with only two even scoring.
All five ended with a negative plus-minus, a very trivial stat in the NBA, but when coupled with the fact four of the five starters finished in the positive plus-minus, it serves as another example of how the bench is hurting this Sixers team.
So what happens when Philly actually gets solid production from their bench?
Look no further than the big win last night against the Heat. Furkan Korkmaz finally break out of another horrid offensive slump to the tune of 18 points on four-of-seven shooting from deep. Throw in Shake Milton finally looking like his old self in an expanded role with 20 points of his own off 50-percent shooting from the field and Philly upset a Heat team at near full strength.
Outside of Maxey’s explosion for 28 points, those two were the leading scorers for the team.
While playoff basketball brings starters in much more expanded roles, bench production is still a factor for teams that have championship aspirations. On top of that, if the 76ers want to compete for better seeding, the bench has to chain together much better performances going forward.
Without it, Philly may finish lower than expected in a tight Eastern conference, and maybe even bring back the terrible second-round exit trope for the post-season.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher.