Brett Brown is going to have some interesting decisions when the 76ers begin their games Aug. 1 at the NBA’s “bubble” at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando.
The Sixers departed for Florida on Thursday, and Brown will have about three weeks to determine rotations. Their first practice in Florida is scheduled for Saturday at noon. One of the more interesting decisions will be at the reserve wing positions, shooting guard and small forward.
With Ben Simmons expected return to the lineup after missing the final eight games before the NBA suspended the season on March 11 and Shake Milton clearly earning a solid rotation role, if not a starting position, with his stellar play in Simmons’ absence, there likely will be fewer wing minutes for others to claim.
“I feel that the coaches are completely wired to form quick opinions,” Brown said last week in a media call when asked about his rotation. “And so, we got a three-week runway before the games begin. I believe I’m no different than most coaches where the three weeks is going to influence a lot of what do I see …”
Brown’s biggest decision is whether to start Al Horford or have him come off the bench, since he and Joel Embiid haven’t meshed well. Last week Brown wouldn’t tip his hand when asked about the starting lineup.
“There is kind of a Team Al and a Team Joel, and you figure out what that world is,” he said.
If Horford starts, the others joining him would be Simmons, Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Josh Richardson.
Milton would likely replace Horford if Brown decides not to start the latter.
Both Milton and Richardson appear to be the top choices as the backup point guard when Simmons goes to the bench, although Brown could still opt for Raul Neto, who has been in and out of the lineup this year.
If Neto is in the rotation, it would further deplete the wing minutes since Richardson and Milton would spend more time there.
That’s not even taking into consideration that if Embiid, Horford, and Harris are playing together, then Harris would be the small forward.
Others battling for playing time on the wings will be rookie Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III, and newly signed Ryan Broekhoff.
There just won’t be enough minutes for everybody.
What the Sixers will be looking for is shooting. They have a reputation as a poor perimeter-shooting team, although this year they are 14th in the NBA, shooting 36.2%. Milton (45.3%) leads the team in three-point shooting, but the 60.4% mark in his final nine games isn’t realistically sustainable. Korkmaz is second on the team, shooting 39.7% from beyond the arc.
“[Brown] is telling me I just need to keep doing what I did all the season, and then just keep [it up] before the playoffs for Orlando …,” Korkmaz said earlier this week.
It appears Korkmaz will have to shoot his way out of the rotation. But it also means that the three scrimmages and eight “seed”games before the playoffs will go a long way to determining who plays more in the postseason.
In 11 games since being acquired by the Sixers at the trade deadline along with Robinson, Burks has averaged 10.7 points while shooting 32.7% from three-point range in 20.2 minutes. He doesn’t know what his role will be upon returning simply because this will be the first time he will play an extended period with the entire team. (His first game with the Sixers, on Feb. 11, was a 110-103 win over the visiting LA Clippers, one of the only times the Sixers had their entire team with Burks in the lineup.)
“I guess we will see [about playing time] because the games I played, the whole team wasn’t there,” Burks said earlier this week. “Ben was out, Josh was out for a little bit, Joel missed time, so I don’t think I played a game where everybody was healthy. So I guess we will see how it goes.”
An interesting case will be Thybulle, the best defender among the wings, who ranks 22nd in the NBA in steals (1.4 per game) despite averaging just 19.5 minutes.
After beginning the season shooting well from the perimeter, he has tailed off, hitting 25.3% of three-pointers in his last 27 games.
Robinson, who shot 40% from three-point range for Golden State before being traded, has shot 28.6% in his 12 games with the Sixers.
Then there is Broekhoff, who was cut by Dallas on Feb. 10 and signed with the Sixers in late June.
In 59 career games, he has shot 40.3% on threes over two seasons with the Mavericks. Broekhoff and Simmons are expected to play for Australia in the 2021 Olympics, when Brown will be the coach. Brown was happy to add Broekhoff but couldn’t guarantee minutes.
“I told him you’ve got like six people. We all could look at each other and say, ‘What about Matisse, Glenn Robinson, Furkan, Alec Burks?' And you could go on. This isn’t an opportunity that is clear …,” Brown said.