When it was announced that Ben Simmons had partially dislocated his kneecap, a lot of people were quick to write off the Philadelphia 76ers season as a complete bust. Simmons had unequivocally been the Sixers best overall player throughout the regular season, and losing him for any extended period of time is a crushing blow to their playoff chances. While guys like Alec Burks and Shake Milton had looked promising in stints, neither are comparable to Simmons.
Simmons was coming off his second consecutive All-Star game selection, and had begun elevating his defensive play to that of a “Defensive Player of the Year” candidate. It’s truly hard to summarize just how monumental of a loss this is for Philadelphia moving forward. Replacing a player of his caliber would be downright impossible.
Don’t tell that to Alec Burks though.
After not playing very much through the first three Orlando bubble games, Burks saw himself receive a whole chunk of new minutes on Friday night. Logging 28 minutes coming off the bench, Burks made swift work in terms of capitalizing on his opportunity.
Burks recorded 22 points on 8-15 shooting and 3-7 from beyond the arc. He put up a +/- of +12, the second-best on the Sixers, and played a crucial role for the team down the stretch in the fourth quarter.
Burks has really struggled to land a solidified role with the Sixers since being acquired at the trade deadline via the Golden State Warriors. He’s been used off the ball as a floor spacer, on the ball as a point guard, and occasionally he’s seen himself outright benched for the likes of Raul Neto. Whether it was due to Simmons’ injury or the general outrage Sixers fans had at seeing Neto on their screen for 20+ minutes a game, it does appear Burks is finally sliding into a significant role following Friday night’s win.
Burks good night was a pleasant sight to see, but in reality it’s not indicative of some new master formula to beat teams. The Orlando Magic aren’t very good, and the game was far closer than it should have been for a majority of the night. On top of that, some people were proposing the Sixers bench, Milton, for Burks moving forward, which I don’t think is the correct move at all.
Alec Burks can shoot at an above-average clip, and can create shots for himself in the half-court setting. He’s an okay ball handler and an okay passer and holds his own on the defensive side of things. The Sixers using him as their go-to scoring option off the bench seems like a perfect spot for him, and will hopefully lead to more performances as we saw on Friday night.
Replacing Ben Simmons is impossible, he’s simply too valuable of a player. However, having guys like Burks, Josh Richardson, and Milton step up in his absence on a nightly basis is the closest the Sixers can get to simulating their All-Star point guard’s presence on the court.
The Sixers are now 3-1 in the bubble and are staring down a must-see matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday. Guarding the partnership of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum without Simmons will no doubt be a challenge, and it’s crucial for the Sixers guards to step up to the challenge.
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