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Sixers Mailbag: ‘Why is P.J. Tucker still in the starting lineup?’

The Inquirer's Keith Pompey answered that and more questions from Sixers fans, touching on topics including Tobias Harris, Paul Reed and Shake Milton.

The Sixers' P.J. Tucker attempts a shot as the Nets' Kyrie Irving defends at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Tuesday, November 22, 2022.
The Sixers' P.J. Tucker attempts a shot as the Nets' Kyrie Irving defends at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Tuesday, November 22, 2022.Read moreSteven M. Falk / Staff Photographer

ORLANDO — What’s up, peeps?

No, the 76ers’ season hasn’t gone as many folks envisioned. The squad, which entered the season with hopes of winning the Eastern Conference, is in ninth place in the standings through 18 games with a 9-9 record. Some will point to injuries, especially the ailments current facing James Harden, Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid, as the reason for their struggles.

But the Sixers have been more successful when their starting lineup wasn’t intact. They’re 2-4 with their normal starters and 7-5 when at least one of them doesn’t play.

They’ll look to get that eighth win as an undermanned team at 7 p.m. Friday night against the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center. Embiid (left mid-foot sprain), Harden (right foot strain), and Maxey (left foot fracture) remain out along with reserve guard Matisse Thybulle (left ankle soreness).

» READ MORE: Shorthanded Sixers look to brush off loss to the Hornets, get back on track against the Magic

The Sixers are in Florida for their two-game series against the struggling Magic (5-13). They’ll play the second game 6 p.m. Sunday before traveling home to face the Atlanta Hawks Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

We’ll learn more about some of the Sixers’ unheralded players during this stretch. But for now, the big questions center around Tobias Harris’ value and P.J. Tucker’s role.

Missed out on the party? No worries. Submit questions for next time by following me on Twitter @PompeyOnSixers and tweeting your inquiry with the hashtag #PompeysMailbagFlow.

Question: Why would people speculate on trading Harris? What could the 76ers get back that would be better than him at this point? Doc has to run Maxey and Harris when Embiid and Harden are on the bench. They need to give Harris 4-5 possessions per half to get him going. Your thoughts? — @hoffman1971

Answer: Thanks for your great questions, Hoffman. Harris keeps coming up in trade discussions because he’s not a good fit as a No. 4 option. He would be a quality second or third option for another team. But a lot of his talent is being wasted as a fourth option. That became obvious while watching him play at a high level over the last nine games without Harden. And his best performances came against the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday with Embiid, Harden and Maxey all sidelined.

I know you say the Sixers need to give him four to five possessions per half to get him going. However, that’s going to be tough to do with Harden and Embiid dominating play in the halfcourt once they return. The Sixers also need to get Maxey the ball in transition. So their role for Harris is to stand in the corner and space the floor.

He’s a solid player who deserves to get more touches. That’s why he and the Sixers would benefit from a trade. The ideal fourth option for this team would be a guy who can defend and is able to make open threes and impact the game without the ball in his hands. Harris is at his best with the ball in his hands.

Question: Why is P.J. Tucker starting? Why doesn’t Glenn Rivers play the young players? — @TonEstrad

Answer: Thanks to the straight to the point question, Tone. I understand that his early defensive struggles — and that he hasn’t scored in four straight games — is the elephant in the room for Sixers fans. As this summer’s top offseason acquisition, folks were expecting to see more from Tucker. I get that.

But there have been numerous games when Tucker didn’t come close to getting enough touches to create scoring opportunities. There were possessions when the solid corner three-point shooter was wide open in the corner and teammates looked the other way. He also played a little out of position on defense earlier in the year, leading to struggles.

Tucker is the type of unheralded player who is more valuable to a team in the postseason than the regular season.

Things haven’t looked great so far, and neither has the Embiid and Harden pairing. But folks know the Sixers must let that develop into something once they both return from injury. The same has to be said about Tucker. They have to give him more time to find his groove and get him more involved.

Tucker is averaging 3.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 18 games as a Sixer. He averaged 2.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.8 assists in his 20 regular-season games for the Milwaukee Bucks two seasons ago. However, he played a key role in helping the Bucks win the NBA title.

Last I checked, postseason intangibles mean more than regular season stats. So folks need to give the Tucker acquisition time.

Question: When starters eventually come back in the next few weeks, what players do you think have earned more playing time in their absence? — @rick13tr

Answer: I appreciate the question, Rick. I’m going to exclude Matisse Thybulle just because he started getting quality rotation minutes before the injuries. I think he needs to continue to get quality playing time once he returns.

But to answer your question, Shake Milton and Paul Reed have definitely earned more playing time.

Milton could be a solid sixth or seventh man off the bench. The guard has been one of the main reasons the undermanned Sixers won four of five games before Wednesday’s loss to the Hornets. Known for his scoring, Milton has added quality court awareness to his game that benefits the Sixers.

Meanwhile, Reed is starting to rack up quality performances. He was the best big on the floor against the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday, and he’s blossoming into a solid change-of-pace big off the bench.

At 6-foot-9, he’s a bit undersized as a center. However, he thrives as a rim runner in transition.