The Sixers have just recently embarked on a new NBA campaign, one that is sure to present many challenges but also many opportunities. One such opportunity is crafting lineups to evaluate particular players, strategies, or more generally, how the Sixers stack up against the rest of the league. Yes, the Sixers don’t look poised to challenge for a playoff spot just yet, but what we learn this year could be useful a couple of seasons down the line when the team is truly competitive. With that in mind, here are three five-man combinations I would like to see get some court time this year
While I hope to see Kendall Marshall receive the most minutes as lead ball handler once he returns from injury, the pairing of Isaiah Canaan and Tony Wroten should also see plenty of time. This backcourt combination presents the delightful dynamic of Wroten hurtling towards the rim and Canaan hanging back to can 3’s. Wroten needs the ball in his hands to do what he does best (attack the hoop and get fouled), and Canaan looked comfortable this preseason as an off-ball option.
On the defensive side of the ball, this lineup could be special. While Canaan is not exactly known for his defense, Wroten could mitigate this deficiency somewhat by using his great length to guard the larger of the opposing backcourt players. If Canaan gets beat off the dribble or Wroten gambles too much, the long-armed frontcourt trio of Jerami Grant, Christian Wood, and Nerlens Noel – with over 21 feet of wingspan altogether – would be well equipped to deal with the danger. Moreover, the three bigs could switch dribble handoffs and ball screens often because of their length and mobility.
This five-man unit brings the symbiotic relationship between Jahlil Okafor and the squad’s shooters to center stage. The general idea, one that the Sixers brain trust has discussed, is that surrounding Okafor with shooters will create space for him to work in the post and that, in turn, he will create space for them to knock down shots. The big man himself has spoken on the matter, saying this about Nik Stauskas:
“He obviously can stretch the floor, he’s a great shooter so I love being around great shooters, that allows me to pass it out and makes it hard for the opposing team to double-team me.”
This particular manifestation of the Okafor-and-shooters idea could be a particularly successful one since the team does not need to sacrifice size to have adequate spacing. Kendall Marshall, Nik Stauskas, Hollis Thompson, and Richaun Holmes are all fairly large for their positions, and each one should be able to hit an open look from beyond the arc. In this way, the Sixers could reap the spacing benefits of “going small” without the drawback of decreased size.
With small ball being all the rage in the NBA, the Sixers have a distinct advantage in having three potential studs at the big spots. With that in mind, I’d like to see Brett Brown roll out some “big ball” lineups like this one to maximize the apparent size advantage. The wing pairing of Robert Covington and Jerami Grant may struggle to keep fleet-footed opponents in front of them, but they were a successful duo last season. Among the Sixers’ two-man combinations that played at least 200 minutes together, the Covington-Grant twosome performed the best, with a Net Rating of -0.8. This may not seem all that impressive of a number, but we have to consider the team had a Net Rating of -9.1 for the season.
Since the last few months of last year, Philadelphia has placed an emphasis on playing Noel at the 4. Using him like this forces him to grow as a shooter, and his midrange jumper already looks much improved. Playing with a skilled post-up threat like Okafor in lieu of Henry Sims and Furkan Aldemir should further aid Noel’s offensive growth. In preseason, it was evident that Noel struggled somewhat to re-program himself defensively, relying too much on his rim-protecting instincts. If, over the course of this season, the big man can develop into a real menace on the perimeter as well as at the rim, he will be a supremely flexible player, a valuable development that would bode well for his fit with Okafor (and with Joel Embiid down the line).