The 76ers’ bench has been seen by some as a glaring weakness since the addition of James Harden.
But coach Doc Rivers thinks the lack of production by his reserves has been overanalyzed.
“I think the biggest thing everyone is missing is since James has come, we play two starters with the bench” in the new substitution pattern, Rivers said. “So when you do that, the bench guys aren’t going to score as much. The reason they aren’t going to score as much is because the two starters that are playing with the bench are probably scoring more when they are playing with the bench.
“So it does change it a little bit for sure.”
The coach has a point.
The Sixers have a starting lineup of Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, and Harden, who was acquired in last month’s blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets. Teams stagger their lineups throughout the game as a way to give starters rest. In the past, Rivers tried to keep at least one starter on the floor, but he utilized an all-bench lineup during certain stretches.
But things have changed in the first 10 games that Harden has played with the Sixers. For the most part, Embiid was paired with Maxey while Harden and Harris were paired together.
As a result, the reserves haven’t had the same amount of scoring opportunities as they did before the trade. But one can argue that, for the most part, they haven’t taken advantage of the limited scoring chances they’ve received. Nor have they made an impact defensively.
Collectively, the Sixers’ bench was outscored by 140-46 in games against the Orlando Magic (March 13), Denver Nuggets (Monday) and Cleveland Cavaliers (Wednesday). They bounced back and matched the Dallas Mavericks, with each team scoring 23 bench points on Friday. A lot of that had to do with the solid play of Georges Niang and DeAndre Jordan.
Niang scored 12 of those points while making 4 of 7 three-pointers after snapping out of a two-game shooting slump. Meanwhile, Friday marked Jordan’s best game as a Sixer since being signed as the backup center on March 3. He added eight points on 3-for-5 shooting to go with seven rebounds and a block in 13 minutes.
But key reserves Shake Milton and Danny Green struggled to make shots while Furkan Korkmaz lost his spot in the rotation heading into Sunday night’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors.
Milton shot 4-for-15 and had scored a combined 10 points in the last seven games heading into Sunday night. He didn’t score a point in three of the last four games of that stretch. But he didn’t attempt a shot in the last two games and attempted one shot in each of the previous two games.
Meanwhile, Green averaged 4.5 points while shooting 35.7% (5-for-14) over a four-game stretch before suffering a lacerated left middle finger in the second quarter against the Chicago Bulls on March 7. After being sidelined two games, the swingman averaged 3.0 points on 18.7% shooting (3-for-16) through three games. Meanwhile, Korkmaz was benched in four of the last six games. One of those appearances, Friday’s 111-101 victory over the Mavs, came in the final minute of mop-up duty.
“What we don’t have yet is a great rhythm with the two starters and the three bench guys,” Rivers said. “All year, we were playing with five bench guys. I think that was too many for people. Now, we are playing three bench guys. That’s not enough for people.”
“For us, we know exactly what we want to do. We know the rhythm that we want. We just don’t have it yet with that second group. We’ll find it.”