The Sixers are floating around in no-man’s-land. They can easily beat any of the mediocre teams in the Eastern Conference. However, when it comes to defeating the upper echelon of teams, the Sixers are always painfully close, yet unable to defeat the great teams in the East . This season they are 2-6 against the top 5 teams in the Eastern Conference (Celtics, Raptors, Bucks and Pacers) . The big question is what can the Sixers do to make it out of the Eastern Conference and even possibly win a championship this season.
An incomplete answer would be to say increase the depth of the bench. While the team is lacking in terms of depth and the bench has been scrutinized for its mediocre and inconsistent play since the Jimmy Butler trade, they are improving. The emergence of Jonah Bolden as a reliable role player, along with the consistent play from both T.J. McConnell and Landry Shamet is a great sign. Adding a veteran shooter (similar to Belinelli last year) from the buyout market wouldn’t be bad either. The important piece in all of this is none other than Markelle Fultz.
Believe it or not, success against the top teams in the East is going to depend on the 2017 number one overall pick. The Sixers have done fine without Fultz, but fine will not cut it when it comes time for playoffs. Toward the end of the Christmas Day game against the Celtics, the Sixers constantly ran into the problem of the Celtics playing off Simmons. Ben Simmons would pass inside to Embiid, which immediately led to a double team, and above all a stagnant offense. Teams are cluing into the fact that Simmons has an inconsistent jump shot and this fact has caused a great deal of issues for the Sixers in close games.
Right now, the starting lineup is Simmons, Redick, Butler, Chandler and Embiid. While that lineup is great already (Plus/Minus: +15.3), the weak link in the lineup is Wilson Chandler. He is a decent offensive player with shooting ability, but is typically a defensive liability for the Sixers. In late game situations, I believe having a lineup of Fultz, Reddick, Butler, Simmons (power forward instead of Chandler) and Embiid would be less problematic. Fultz can bring up the ball, and has the option to create his own shot or pass to a plethora of playmakers. Simmons would need to be guarded in the paint, which would alleviate any double teams that Embiid or Butler could draw. If they do draw a double team, they can kick it out to Fultz.
The best part about having Fultz at point guard is he has more range than Simmons and the ability to shoot anywhere on the court. If Markelle Fultz comes back healthy, confident and with a semi-consistent jumper, he should be able to flourish barring Brett Brown gives him the opportunity to play with the starters and play in late game situations (which he has not done a whole lot of at this point). Fultz’s jumpshot has been the subject of heavy scrutiny, but he is a great defender, shot creator and passer so far in his short NBA career. As long as Markelle is healthy when he returns to the team, Brett Brown should try once more to create a lineup that features both Fultz and Simmons.
Right now, the Sixers are good but not great. In order to propel themselves into the possibility of competing for an NBA championship this year, they need to develop their offense with the implementation of Markelle Fultz, especially in late game situations. There may be some growing pains, but at the end of the day, Brett Brown needs to “trust the process” and try new things in order to propel his team to new levels of greatness.
Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports