Over the past week, the Sixers have been forced to get creative in their lineups due to the contact tracing rules the NBA has put in place. After Seth Curry received a positive Covid test, Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, and Vincent Poirier were all forced to quarantine away from the team.
On top of this, Ben Simmons suffered a knee injury, Mike Scott was still getting healthy from his knee contusion, and Furkan Korkmaz and Terrance Ferguson each missed time due to personal reasons. The bottom line was that the Sixers were forced to dig deep into their roster and they had as few as 7 players available to play in the game versus the Nuggets.
While this was a possibility that all teams knew going into the season, it did not make the pill any easier to swallow as four of the seven active players had not previously competed in more than 10 NBA games. While the Sixers are a far way from the dark days of winning 10 games in a season, there was a similar feeling of “The Process” era teams as it was clear these minutes were much more about development than results. This was clearly the case over the past week as the Sixers gained a chance to evaluate their young players and there was some serious bright spots that the team might not otherwise be aware of.
Sixers’ Rookie Tyrese Maxey
There is not enough that can be said about Tyrese Maxey. He poured in a 39 point performance in the first “Covid Matchup” against a full-strength Nuggets team. Maxey has proved his burst to the rim is NBA-ready and has shown increased confidence in his jump-shot of late. The 20-year old looks wise beyond his age and clearly has carved out a valuable role on this team. Maxey is much farther along the developmental process than just about anyone could’ve imagined at this point. The impact he made in these games has clearly made a difference as the former Kentucky guard was looked at to fill the final missing starting spot (as Seth Curry fully recovers) in the most recent Heat game.
Sixers’ Rookie Isaiah Joe
After falling all the way to the 49th overall pick in the draft, the Sixers happily snatched Isaiah Joe to add sharpshooting depth to the team. While he was originally looked at as a long-term developmental piece, Joe proved he may be ready for a bigger role than most thought due to his chance to showcase his abilities.
Over the past 4 games, Joe has averaged 14 points per game while shooting 41.6% from behind the 3-point arc and shooting as many as 11 3-point attempts in the Nuggets game. Largely out of dire necessity, Joe also showed he was a capable ball-handler in short stretches and played more of an on-ball role. With most of the starters back in the most recent Heat game, Joe was still given 19 minutes of action and knocked down 4 three-pointers during that time. If the smooth-stroked wing can continue to shoot the ball with confidence, he is a serious threat to take Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle for minutes.
There is probably no one in the world who pictured Dakota Mathias as a starter for the 76ers- Dakota himself included. However, Mathias did his best to fill the massive shoes he was thrust into, and even led the team in minutes, with 39, against the Hawks. The 2-way player scored 14 points in that game and 12 points in the previous game against the Nuggets as well. It is unlikely Mathias has any sort of long-term future with the Sixers, but his cold-blooded dagger in the Heat game is enough to make him a memorable Sixers flash in the pan forever.
Sixers’ Rookie Paul Reed
Relentless energy is the best way to describe Paul Reed. No matter what the score was, who he was on the floor with, or what role he was asked to play, Reed left it all out there. This was shown in his +/- rating as in the Nuggets and Hawks games combined was +20 when he was on the court and -50 when he was off it. The 6’9 tweener still appeared starved for minutes and failed to register above 6 points, but his rare skillset could be something that could be looked at to be developed in the future.
My personal spin on it is that the Sixers need to stop looking at Reed as an undersized big and take advantage of his size as a wing player. Bball-Paul is always going to be a little weird in his movements, dribbling, and overall style of play but giving him free reigns in a Jerami Grant style role could yield the best outcomes in the future.
Danny Green is by no means a fringe player on the roster, but he certainly was not fully prepared for the uptick in workload brought on by the lack of depth. At 33 years old, Green is coming off the shortest offseason of anyone (outside of Dwight Howard, who was also on the Lakers) on the team. The plan was clearly to play him limited minutes early on in the season as playoff time is clearly when Green serves his biggest purpose to the team. This was clearly seen as the prototypical 3-and-D wing only played 13 minutes in the opening night matchup against the Celtics.
Flash forward to the depleted roster that the Sixers possessed over the past week and Green was seen clocking 50 minutes in the first Heat matchup. In this game, Danny scored 29 points along with 10 rebounds and shot an insane 21 3-point attempts. This is especially noteworthy as it came on the heels of an 0-9 shooting performance where he was the subject of great criticism from Sixers Twitter. While he is not in the same category of a developmental piece as the other names in this article, it was interesting to see Green be forced to play a role that he has not done in his whole career.
Future of the Sixers’ Roster
Following the latest victory versus the Heat, Tobias Harris put it that, “Guys being out could be a blessing or a curse.” Harris specifically pointed out Maxey, Joe, and Reed for being ready to step up when the opportunity arisen. It was certainly a sigh of relief to see the return of the majority of the Sixers’ regular starters, but the chance to evaluate their young group of rookies may be the blessing they needed.
Questions surrounding why these games were even played are still relevant as many teams across the league have gotten matchups postponed for similar struggles. However the fact of the matter is they are in the past and the Sixers may be a better team for it. In the era of “The Process” it was all about giving players oprotunities to grow to see if they can be a long-term part of the future of the franchise. While it was not TJ McConnell, Robert Covington, or Tony Wroten out there and it occurred on a much smaller scale, the same premise is involved. Adam Silver may hate it, but it will never go away.
Featured photo created by Liam Jenkins, using photos taken by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire