Concern Ratings For Every Sixers Issue
The lack of consistent effort is, in my opinion, far more likely to lead to their demise in the playoffs than a lack of talent, roster fit, or schematic decisions.
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We’re two-thirds of the way through the NBA’s regular season, and by this point, we have a pretty good idea of what the Sixers are. With the All-Star break now underway, I figured now would be a good time to discuss what the Sixers’ biggest areas of weakness are and how concerned you should be about them in the big picture.
The inconsistent focus and effort levels
Two weeks ago, after the Sixers won their seventh game in a row in an epic comeback win against the Denver Nuggets, it felt like they were on top of the basketball world. After following that up with a disgusting week of basketball that included losses to the Magic, Knicks, and undermanned Celtics, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how similar it felt to the highs and lows of last year’s playoff run.
Just as it was head-scratching to think that the team that beat the Nuggets is the same team that no-showed against the Celtics, it was impossible to fathom that the team that went up 3-0 against the Raptors was the team that no-showed the next two games and let them back in the series. It was also hard to believe that the team that fought so valiantly to tie the Miami series back up at 2-2 was the same team that lifelessly rolled over the following two games.
The ability to look like world-beaters one week, and a disgusting, lazy mess the following week, has clearly carried over from last year’s team, even if not to the same extent. The question obviously becomes, which team is the real version of the Sixers? And the answer is, clearly, both. They are a team with the talent to compete with anyone, but their lack of toughness and discipline may very well be their undoing, just as it was last year – they have absolutely not earned the benefit of the doubt to assume that they will maintain peak effort levels when it matters most.
The Sixers could still do more to earn my trust in the final third of the season – climbing to a top-2 seed despite their brutal schedule would make me more likely to believe in them – but there is just something in this team’s DNA that makes them untrustworthy. I can’t shake the stench of all of the inconsistency, and the no-showing of those few games last week was a potent reminder of that dynamic. The lack of consistent effort is, in my opinion, far more likely to lead to their demise in the playoffs than a lack of talent, roster fit, or schematic decisions.
Concern level: 6.5/10
The fluidity of the starting/closing five
It’s good to have depth, and it’s good to have multiple options, but it probably doesn’t get talked about enough that the Sixers seem to have no idea what their best five-man lineup is for the purpose of closing games in the playoffs. I don’t think that can be said for any other legitimate title contender in the league.
Against the Celtics last Wednesday, for example, the Sixers were fully healthy, but closed the game with a lineup of Melton, Harden, Tucker, Thybulle, and Embiid – and it nearly won them the game. On any given night, any starter aside from Harden and Embiid could prove themselves to be deserving of the hook for one of the other bench options. And that uncertainty is both intriguing and concerning.
One could make a case for several different iterations of the closing lineup in any given matchup, but the reality with this team is that the best option can only reveal itself throughout the course of a game on any given night. Some nights, you’ll close with Maxey and Tucker both on the floor; other nights, you’ll close with neither of them. Doc Rivers will simply have to decide in the moment who has it going on that night and who deserves to be in that closing lineup.
On the one hand, it’s good that Rivers has a willingness to ride his gut feel and make adjustments on the fly – I thought it was smart, for example, that he benched Harris against Boston as he was in the midst of likely his worst game of the season. That type of ability to make quick, gut-based decisions will be crucial to the Sixers’ late game success in the playoffs.
On the other hand, it’s not exactly a comforting thought to realize that your fate is in the hands of Doc Rivers pushing the right buttons when it counts; it would be much less stressful if the Sixers simply had an ironclad five-man lineup that was going to close every game. For that reason, I’m going to grade this one as a mild concern.
Concern level: 4/10
The neverending backup center catastrophe
While Paul Reed re-emerging from Doc Rivers’ dungeon and playing well has stabilized things for now, I remain concerned about the backup center position due to a combination of the possibility that Rivers will banish Reed once again at some point in the future, as well as the fact that I can’t be one hundred percent confident in Reed myself.
While I view Reed as the best option and I would absolutely give him the lion’s share of those minutes, I do find there to be just a whiff of Jonah Bolden energy with him – his good plays are loud, but his volume of unforced, head-scratching mistakes is sky-high.
Such is often the case for third-year backup centers; the Sixers would be wise to give Reed a long leash and see if he can develop out of his bad habits. But for the sake of winning a title this year, Reed having to play significant minutes sparks some concern.
That said, the alternatives are far worse. I have an impending sense of dread for when Rivers benches Reed in a second round series against Milwaukee to go with Dewayne Dedmon. While Dedmon might be able to provide better support on the defensive glass against Milwaukee’s enormous front line, he is nearly just as mistake-prone as Reed, and has far worse lateral mobility on the perimeter. He is essentially a bigger, slower version of Reed with some semblance of a three-point shot.
The lone good thing about Dedmon is that he should hopefully bury Montrezl Harrell in the rotation for good; there is no need for Harrell to ever see the court in the playoffs, with Reed, Dedmon, and Tucker all as options. Harrell is the only one of those bigs who I would consider to be a Deandre Jordan-level saboteur. With any of Dedmon, Reed, or Tucker, I think that the Sixers can survive 8-10 minutes per game in the playoffs without putting up a 2019 Raptors series-esque point differential with Embiid off the floor.
Still, due to my inability to trust any of the options here, I’m also going to grade this one as a mild concern.
Concern level: 3.5/10