A worrying lack of depth is beginning to haunt the Sixers

Sixers C Joel Embiid
PHILADELPHIA, PA – MAY 05: Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid (21) looks toward the net during warmups before the Eastern Conference Semifinal Game between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers on May 05, 2018 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

It feels like eons ago that the Sixers suited up with a full roster. The Sixers have played 7 of their last 9 games missing at least 3 starters and 2 of their 3 best players. This makes it the fifth straight loss for Philly with a daunting road trip in front of them. Joel Embiid and Matisse Thybulle remain out due to COVID protocols while Ben Simmons continues to be away from the team.

With Ben Simmons remaining away from the team, the Sixers have lacked one of the centerpieces of the roster since the start of the season. Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid each contracted COVID and were forced to miss time early on leaving the Sixers with over $100 million in salary away from the team. The lack of pop in the offense has led to a five-game losing streak for the Sixers, with last night’s blowout loss to the Utah Jazz being the latest hurdle that the team have failed to clear.

Beyond just top-end star power, the Sixers have simply lacked the number of available bodies in recent games. The Sixers had just 10 available players in last night’s loss to the Jazz. Since the COVID outbreak began on November 3rd, the Sixers have played 8 games. It won’t be until December 3rd that the Sixers will have more than two days of rest in between games and tired legs are absolutely becoming a factor. While it has been nice to see some of the bench guys in an extended role, it is clear there is a need for rest and for reinforcements to join the team.

Sixers Big Man Rotation:

The matchup with the Utah Jazz is always circled on the calendar for the heavyweight matchup of Joel Embiid and Rudy Gibert. The Sixers greatly missed Embiid last night as Gobert was able to impose his will, and freakishly long wingspan, against the multitude of backup centers that were thrown at him. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds making his presence felt on both sides of the floor. Hassan Whiteside also added 10 points and 5 rebounds in 17 minutes of play off the bench.

Despite warming the hearts of Sixers fans early on, Andre Drummond has performed poorly these past few games. He played just 12 minutes in the matchup ending with 6 points and 6 rebounds. Drummond shot 3-6 from the field, turned the ball over twice, and also was a -22 on the game.

The struggles of Drummond led Doc Rivers to go to a small-ball lineup of Tobias Harris and Georges Niang as the primary big men on the floor. With Tobias Harris as the tallest Sixers on the court at 6’8, Gobert and Whiteside were each able to physically impose themselves in this matchup. It is great in theory for Georges Niang to serve as a center, his 6’7 frame is simply not big enough to match up with most big men around the league.

Likely because of his extra height, Rivers looked to Charles Bassey as the next big man option off the bench. He first checked in during the second quarter and received a total of 9 minutes of game action. Bassey ended with 5 points and 4 rebounds while flashing his athleticism and mobility on the court. It took until 2:14 left in the third quarter for Bball Paul to be subbed into the game. The former G-League MVP impressed with his effort defensively on Gobert but did not fully settle in on the offensive end.

The Sixers are in desperate need of Joel Embiid to return and serve as the centerpiece of the team. There has been a lack of identity without the big man and the team has not been able to scrape together consistent enough performances. While the bench has mostly a positive to start the year, the extended minutes have proved why most of these guys are best served in complementary roles.

Seth Curry is Human:

Seth Curry has been absolutely unreal to start this season. Coming into the game ranking 9th in the NBA in true shooting percentage and connecting on 47.1% of his three-pointers, the Sixers can have no complaints about his start to the season. Curry had his worst shooting performance so far this season and cooled off from his unreal start. In 25 minutes of play, Curry ended with just 5 points and shot 1-8 from the field and 1-3 from beyond the arc.

When Curry is not hitting shots it is tough to keep him on the court. He is not an advanced passer and struggles on the defensive end. The sniper was a game low -33 on the night. It is unreasonable to expect Curry to shoot the lights out every night and more of an indication of just how much the Sixers have counted on the 31-year-old.

While Curry has been excellent during his time with the Sixers, he has provided the team with much more than he has ever been asked to do in his career. The 31-year-old is averaging career-highs in minutes, points, rebounds, three-point attempts, and three-point percentage so far this season. The sniper has built off his strong playoff performance to end last season and carried the momentum to start the year. His 16.2 points per game rank fourth on the Sixers and he has become an integral part of the offense. If he can continue to produce at this level it would be terrific, but it is unfair to Curry to produce this on a nightly basis.

It has been a difficult stretch for the Sixers as the losing streak is extended to five. While they have notched some moral victories in the process and the Jazz loss was the first blowout without Joel Embiid, the Sixers have now dropped to 8-7 on the year. This feels like a far cry from the 8-2 start the Sixers had to the season, but given the circumstances is not overly concerning to the team. The team was impressive when fully healthy early on in the season, but will not return to this form until these numbers return.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire