An Unorthodox Approach To 76ers Title Contention
Simulating one bizarre way the Sixers can vault themselves into title contention.
First, let’s look at the Points Per Possession chart:
Obviously this is based off 40 games, doesn’t factor in strength of schedule or long-term injuries, but you get a good sense of who the league’s best and worst teams are.
Here’s my tiered rankings:
Tier 1 — Title Contenders
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Golden State Warriors
- Toronto Raptors
Tier 2 — Cinderellas
- Boston Celtics
- Denver Nuggets
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Indiana Pacers
- Houston Rockets
- Philadelphia 76ers
Tier 3 — Fringe Teams
- San Antonio Spurs
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Utah Jazz
- Portland Trailblazers
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Charlotte Hornets
- New Orleans Pelicans
- Miami Heat
- Dallas Mavericks
Tier 4 — Lottery Teams
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Brooklyn Nets
- Sacramento Kings
- Detroit Pistons
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Washington Wizards
- Orlando Magic
Tier 5 — Tankers
- New York Knicks
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Phoenix Suns
- Chicago Bulls
- Atlanta Hawks
Take a look at the Sixers pairings. Note that there’s tons of overlap in these minutes, but it still gives you a general sense of which pairs are found in the best 5-man lineups.
- JJ Redick and Joel Embiid is the Sixers go-to pairing
- Ben Simmons is not able to prop up bench units.
- TJ McConnell and Landry Shamet are lineup anchors
- Wilson Chandler benefits from playing highest % of minutes with starters
- Headband Brothers (Butler/Simmons) are off to a rocky start
One thing I can’t ignore is that it seems like the Sixers have a fundamentally flawed roster.
1) JJ Redick is the engine of the Sixers offense, but the flat-tire of their defense.
The Dribble-Hand Off is one of the most common offensive weapons used by the Sixers, but aside from that action, Brett Brown’s “motion offense” usually renders sub-par results in the halfcourt.
Over the past few months, there’s been a distinct whiff from the locker room that the Sixers are unsure of their offensive identity. Just think about the “Big 3” as offensive counterparts:
2) Joel Embiid excels in the post when he’s not double-teamed.
The problem is that Simmons and Butler don’t space the floor enough around Embiid.
3) Jimmy Butler wants to run Pick-and-Roll and Isolation sets.
Joel Embiid is not a natural role man and the analytics staff is allergic to isolation sets
4) Ben Simmons is stationed in the dunker’s spot, looking for duck-ins.
Some of these have remedies, like having Simmons set screens for the shooters, thereby forcing his defender to play tighter and improve the spacing.
Other issues, like Redick’s defense, don’t have an obvious solution (aside from not re-signing).
While suggesting ways to improve the team can be fruitful, this article will focus on players we can add over the next 6 months that will give the Sixers a legitimate shot at Tier 1. If you’re interested in the former, check out some of my articles on the subject:
- How To Make Simmons An Offensive Star
- How Brett Brown Should Use Jimmy Butler
- How Free Throws Pave Simmons Path to Stardom
Courtesy of Cleaning the Glass, I present the Sixers Salary Sheet:
- Butler opts-out of his contract
- Sixers accept Fultz’s Option
- Sixers Renounce all FAs (Chandler, Redick, Muscala, TJ, Amir) and decline Patton
They would have approximately $19.8M to spend in Free Agency.
If they trade Fultz for an expiring contract:
They would have roughly $29M to spend.
So what is the best way to spend $19.8M or $29M? First, let’s look at the roster:
Two-way players are more likely to find success in the playoffs, when teams employ aggressive matchup hunting and try to exploit every advantage. The Sixers only have three such players — Simmons, Embiid, and Butler.
Compare that to Eastern Conference powers:
- Kyle Lowry
- Kawhi Leonard
- Danny Green
- Pascal Siakam
- Serge Ibaka
- Fred VanVleet/D. Wright (.5)
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Khris Middleton
- Eric Bledsoe
- Brook Lopez
- Tony Snell/M. Brogdon (.5)
A striking difference is that Raptors and Bucks players actually accentuate each other. Proper spacing, complementary play-styles, and less weak-links in their switch-heavy defenses allow these players effort to be greater than the sum of its parts.
Here’s the salary sheet without Fultz:
- Khris Middleton: $24-30M
- Tobias Harris: $22-28M
- Nikola Mirotic: $13-16M
- Danny Green: $11-13M
- Thaddeus Young: $10-14M
- Rudy Gay: $9-12M
- Al-Farouq Aminu: $9-10M
- Justin Holiday: $7-9M
- Reggie Bullock: $4-7M
- Luc Mbah A Moute: $3-5M
- Thabo Sefolosha: $3-5M
- Brook Lopez: $8-12M
- Dewayne Dedmon: $7-9M
- Boban Marjanovic: $7-9M
- Noah Vonleh: $6-10M
- Kyle O’Quinn: $3-5M (Room Exception)
- Salah Mejri: $1.6 (Vet. Min)
If the Sixers trade Fultz, then they’d be looking for a backup PG:
- Darren Collison: $8-10M
- Cory Joseph: $8-10M
- Devin Harris: $3-5M
- JJ Barea: $3-5M
There are several FA’s names I’ve heard circulated in Sixers chats that I intentionally left off each list due to-major concerns over the player’s ability/fit, I’ll do a brief list here:
- Marcus Morris
- Bojan Bogdanovic
- Derrick Rose
- Terrence Ross
- Kelly Oubre Jr.
- Markieff Morris
- Patrick Beverley
- Trey Burke
- Wayne Ellington
Let’s take a quick look at the league’s best playoffs lineups:
S. Curry | K.Thompson | K. Durant | Dr. Green | D. Cousins
K. Lowry | D. Green | K. Leonard | P. Siakam | S. Ibaka
E. Bledsoe | M. Brogdon | K. Middleton | G. Antetokounmpo | B. Lopez
Breaking it down, their roster makeup is strikingly similar:
- Their PGs can shoot, defend, and facilitate at a high-level.
- They have more than one 3&D wing
- They have two-way Point Forwards who are tremendous defenders
- They have two-way centers who can shoot the ball
Let’s project this on to the Sixers:
- PG who can shoot, defend, and facilitate — NO
- More than one 3&D wing — NO
- Two-Way PF who can handle the ball — NO (but could be Simmons)
- Two-Way Center who can shoot — NO (Embiid 31.7% career)
I’ve thought about this for a long while, and the method I strongly believe yields the Sixers best chance at title contention goes as follows:
- Have Jimmy Butler play PG
- Sign two 3&D Wings
- Have Simmons play Point Forward in half-court (high-post passing/screen setting/cuts/lobs)
- Have Embiid practice threes religiously
This strategy is necessitated by the lack of FA point guards and the spacing issues caused by Simmons as the primary ball-handler.
Calling Simmons a Point Forward isn’t a magical panacea that will fix the spacing issues, but it does involve other duties.
I think Simmons would be categorically more effective in halfcourt offense if his duties were primarily:
1) Constantly setting screens off-ball for shooters
2) As the roll-man in traditional Pick-and-Roll and Dribble-Hand-Off sets
3) Threatening back-cuts of his off-ball screens, catching many lobs
4) Distributing from the high-post in a 4-out offense
This would also allow Butler to play more point-of-attack defense, more traditional Pick-and-Roll sets on offense, and take advantage of his underrated passing skills, which has been woefully absent in his time with the Sixers thus far.
Following those guideline might yield you a team like this:
PG: Jimmy Butler
Wing: Danny Green
Wing: Al-Farouq Aminu
Point Forward: Ben Simmons
Center: Joel Embiid
Do they have enough ball-handling? Butler/Simmons, check.
How about shooting? Green/Butler/Aminu, passable. (Buy NOAH)
Defense? Oh my god.
Look at how this lineup matches up against the league’s most dynamic rosters:
Butler — Curry
Da. Green — Thompson
Simmons — Durant
Aminu — Green
Embiid — Cousins
Butler — Bledsoe
Da. Green — Brogdon
Aminu — Middleton
Simmons — Antetokounmpo
Embiid — Lopez
Butler — Irving
Da. Green — Smart/Hayward
Aminu — Morris/Brown
Simmons — Tatum
Embiid — Horford
I think this team, while quite unorthodox, would matchup well versus almost any team, as opposed to the current Sixers, who matchup well vs. a tiny fraction of the Tier 1 & 2 teams.
Since these teams are so switch-heavy, the initial matchups are not hugely important and certainly are mutable.
The Sham Sports Capulator allows you to get the most realistic cap figures, factoring in minimum roster charges, draft picks, exceptions, and cap holds. This would be my complete roster, and ownership doesn’t even need to pay the luxury tax until 2020-21:
- J. Butler
- J. Barea
- B. Simmons
- D. Green
- J. Butler
- L. Shamet
- Z. Smith
- Ben Simmons
- A, Aminu
- L. Mbah A Moute
- J. Butler
- J. Embiid
- B. Lopez
- J. Bolden
- B. Simmons
The current Sixers are particularly strong against unathletic teams like the Jazz and Clippers, but they struggle mightily with other teams who can switch 1-4 and attack their weak guards — like the Raptors, Bucks, and Celtics. Those teams are the modern archetype, so you have to build your roster in a way that you can matchup against athletic teams.
The hypothetical roster above can shape-shift depending on the opponent.
With the continued development of Simmons & Embiid’s games, Brown instituting more of an offensive identity, and more lineup continuity, I think this roster can match up against the league’s elite teams.
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