Projecting The Best Sixers Rotation For Every Potential Playoff Opponent
We’d like to talk to Doc about his… ROTATIONS.
Mike O’Connor is the best O’Connor in basketball writing. Previously of The Athletic, you can find Mike on Twitter @MOConnor_NBA. Mike’s writing is brought to you by Body Bio, supplements based on science, focusing on your gut and brain health. Get 20% off E-Lyte and all Body Bio products with promo code RTRS20 at Body Bio’s website.
The Sixers are winners of eight of 10, they’re on the verge of wrapping up the No. 1 seed, and while they haven’t looked quite like themselves lately, it’s time to look ahead to the playoffs.
We often talk about which players will see their minutes go up or down during the playoffs, but we rarely talk about it based on matchup. In reality, different matchups require different looks, and with the amount of depth that the Sixers have, they’ll surely call upon different players and lineups depending on the opponent.
Here in this piece, I’ll go team by team and highlight which matchups will lead to certain players’ minutes going up or down.
I’m lumping all of the potential first round opponents into one group because I believe the Sixers will blow the doors off of whoever they play regardless of minor rotation adjustments. The only comment I will make here is that if the Sixers play the Celtics or Wizards, you’re likely to see Matisse Thybulle’s minutes go up due to the fact that both teams have superstar shot creators who will require a great deal of attention on defense. Other than that, the rotation will be pretty much the usual.
To expand on that just a tad: I think that in this round, you won’t see Doc Rivers shorten the rotation much, if at all. Whereas I could see later series turning into an 8-man rotation based on who rises to the top, I’d expect Rivers to play his usual 10-man unit in these types of matchups.
Boy, was that an ass-whooping that the Heat laid upon the Sixers last night. That was a truly ugly performance, and one that leaves me more concerned than I was before about a potential matchup with the Heat.
If the two meet in the playoffs, here’s the first change I’m expecting: fewer Danny Green minutes. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Green only get around 25 minutes per game in this potential matchup.
Green’s inability to handle the ball in any capacity makes him a liability against the Heat, who not only have a willingness to pick up full court, but also have a swarming half court defense that will often necessitate a strong ability to beat close-outs, which Green does not have.
Additionally, I’m not sure Green’s defensive profile is as useful as usual against a team like Miami. For starters, he’s not great at chasing shooters around off the ball, and Miami has two that are deadly. And second, the taller and stronger Jimmy Butler is not an ideal matchup for him. Ipso facto, it’s not hard to imagine Green struggling a bit both on and off the ball.
In his place, I’m expecting more minutes for multiple bench players, but most notably George Hill. Hill can not only beat close-outs far better than Green, but is very good at chasing shooters around off the ball, so there’s a clear role for him defensively. With Hill, you don’t lose a ton on defense in a potential Miami matchup, and you could argue that you gain something on offense.
It could also be the case that Shake Milton sees more minutes than usual. With how stagnate the Sixers’ half court offense was, it would be hugely beneficial to have Milton’s shot creation on the floor more often. There were far too many instances last night where the likes of Seth Curry or Hill were forced to create a shot with the clock running down.
Lastly, I’d expect Furkan Korkmaz to largely get the hook in this matchup, and for Thybulle to absorb most of his minutes. I just can’t see Korkmaz being able to hang defensively against the Heat -- they would hunt him relentlessly -- and I think that his lack of quickness and ball handling ability would be a nightmare against a defense that quick and physical. While Thybulle’s offense would be a liability as well, he would be a true difference maker defensively and could play a variety of roles, whether it’s guarding Jimmy Butler or chasing Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro around screens.
In the event that the Hawks beat the Heat in round one, I can’t imagine their defense forcing the Sixers to play much differently than they’re accustomed to. They currently have the 20th ranked defense in the league, and they don’t have anywhere near the physical reputation that the Heat do.
This is a series where I could imagine the likes of Korkmaz and Green having their usual roles, or perhaps even bigger than usual. Both players’ offensive limitations wouldn’t be as costly against a defense like this one.
I could potentially see Shake Milton’s role getting cut just a tad. They wouldn’t be as starved for his shot creation, and he’s not exactly going to stifle Trae Young or Bogdan Bogdanovic defensively. As will be a common theme here in this piece, it’s possible Thybulle makes sense as someone whose minutes could increase.
Other than that, there are no major changes to be expected. The Sixers would take care of the Hawks with ease.
New York Knicks
Being that the Knicks’ calling card is defense, a lot of what I wrote about Miami might apply -- more Milton and Hill, less Korkmaz and Green.
The lone difference I’d point out from my comments on the Heat is that I don’t see Thybulle playing a huge role in this potential matchup. Unlike Miami, whose best player (Butler) is a wing, the Heat play through a bruising power forward in Julius Randle. While Thybulle can match up well with just about anyone, a guy like Randle isn’t his specialty, so I can’t imagine his minutes making a dramatic leap upwards. You can survive just fine defensively without him, and his offense is an even bigger liability than usual against this type of defense.
Outside of that, the rotation will stay normal.
To some extent, you have optionality on how you want to match up with Brooklyn. Do you go all-in on defense and play Thybulle and Hill increased minutes? Do you accept that you’re going to get slaughtered defensively no matter what and try to out gun them by playing Milton, Curry, and Korkmaz more than usual?
My gut leans more towards option No. 1. Thybulle can legitimately perturb either Harden or Irving, and that’s more than you can say about the vast majority of the defenders in the league. Being able to simply make life difficult for one of those guys is a plus. Additionally, Hill can at least guard Irving without getting played off the floor -- something that you may not be able to say about Seth Curry.
With Hill on Irving, Thybulle on Harden, and Simmons on Durant, you can at least trot out a lineup that will make those three players work. Though any Thybulle+Simmons lineup makes things difficult offensively, the ability to fluster Brooklyn’s superstars is too valuable to not be on the floor.
While you may not want to go all in on defense, I do think that the likes of Thybulle and Hill will see increased minutes. Milton, Korkmaz, and Curry may not be as necessary, as the Sixers will be able to get all the offense they need via Embiid, Harris, and Simmons. There should be a balance here, but I’d suggest prioritizing defensive personnel.
In the event of a matchup with the Bucks, I would prioritize offensive personnel in the rotation. That means more Milton, 35-plus minutes of Curry, and perhaps even some Tyrese Maxey.
While the Bucks have the fifth best offense in the league, they are built around a player who not one player on the Sixers’ bench aside from Dwight Howard can match up with. Sure, Thybulle could see some possessions on Giannis Antetokounmpo here and there, but the players getting the bulk of the assignment there are Embiid and Simmons.
I’m not saying Thybulle will get cut out of the rotation -- he will still be of great help in slowing down Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday -- but merely that the matchup doesn’t call for him as much as it does against Brooklyn.
Where I’d be far more concerned is the offensive end. Milwaukee’s defense has slipped a tad from years past, but they still have scary personnel and are very well connected from a team perspective. Plus, they have a stronger post defender (Brook Lopez) than anyone on Brooklyn, making Joel Embiid’s life just a tad bit more difficult.
Thus, I’d advocate for more Milton, more Curry, and perhaps more Korkmaz. The move in this matchup should be to prioritize spacing and shot creation.