It had been 142 days since the Sixers played their last meaningful game of basketball. Expectations were as high as they have soared all season and the long-awaited debut of the new starting lineup was finally put on full display. Just as has been the theme throughout the entire process, the time came for them to take the next step and they struggled. Falling to the 5th seed Pacers 127-121, the Sixers were hit with a needed dose of reality with the playoffs set to start in just 7 games. While there is no doubt that disappointing efforts were seen from key role players, Brett Brown needs to have a serious look in the mirror and evaluate his management of the rotation and ability to give the team the best chance to win.
To start with, Shake Milton has to play better. In many ways, Shake is the X-factor and his fit within the team is essential for them to reach their playoff potential. In Saturday’s game, Shake played just 19 minutes, racking up 5 fouls with 0 points and 3 assists, on just one shot attempt. He never settled in and the most notable part of his performance was his spat on the sideline with Joel Embiid. Shake has seen his role on the team be increased greatly in the return to play as he was handed the keys to the offense as the new starting point guard. Few guys have seen their role ascend so quickly and it seemed as if Shake was not entirely ready for this drastic change. Don’t forget that just a few months ago he was told not the expect a role on the team and if not for injuries he would not have been given the very chance that he has taken advantage of.
While it is not Brett Brown’s fault for the poor performance from Shake, his lack of adjustments for it is noteworthy. The first attempt from Brown was to sub in Furkan Korkmaz for Shake and Josh Richardson took over the role of primary ball-handler. Richardson did not play much better than Shake and in his 30 minutes of play, he scored just 4 points on 4 shots with 1 assist and a -9 performance. J-Rich has shown promise in this role in the scrimmages in addition to time in the regular season. Ben Simmons was also forced back into a more on-ball role which goes against all they have worked on since the return.
The most surprising move by Brett Brown was the usage of Raul Neto. After seeming like nearly an afterthought in the scrimmage games and buzz surrounding the team, Neto got 21 minutes of clock in the opening seeding game. In those 21 minutes, Raul turned out a whopping 2 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebound performance. While the 5-year journeyman does not have any glaring weaknesses in his game, he fails to bring anything unique to the team on the court. His playstyle is vanilla and his minutes are largely forgettable after the initial thought of “Is that really Raul Neto playing?” Neto has carved out a career in playing smart and doing the little things, but he is certainly not the player expected to log the 6th highest minutes on the day.
What Happened To Alec Burks?
One veteran who may have been a better solution is Alec Burks, The man whom teammates refer to as “Buckets” flashed when he filled in time at PG and made an immediate impact when subbed into the game. After sitting out the first quarter, Burks opened up the 2nd quarter in the backcourt alongside Raul Neto. Burks knocked down a pair of 3’s in his first 3 minutes on the court. Despite this, Burks played just 12 total minutes and ended with 9 points. Burks has looked to be more comfortable playing with the ball and impressed in the scrimmages since the return, but it seemed clear that Brown is not planning on using him in this fashion for any significant minutes.
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