If there was one perfect word to describe the Sixers this season, I think it would be “turbulent.”
In a year marred by the Ben Simmons controversy, most people at the beginning of the season did not expect the Sixers to do well. The roster lacked a clear second star for Joel Embiid, Doc Rivers had not proven himself as capable of leading the team past the second round, and the team’s depth and direction seemed unclear.
After an up-and-down start to the year, the Sixers became hot after Christmas and decided to make a push for a second star by trading for James Harden. In the move, the Sixers gave up their best 3-point shooter in Seth Curry, backup center Andre Drummond, and Simmons, moves that would be felt for the rest of the season. GM Darryl Morrey attempted to fill Drummond’s spot with veteran big man DeAndre Jordan but never found another shooter to replace Curry, instead leaning on Harden to make up for that loss.
This did not work, especially in the playoffs. Harden, who showed signs of being a good fit, was a no-show when needed most, going a combined 9-22 from the field (5-13 from 3) in games five and six against the Miami Heat in the second round.
The team’s struggles didn’t stop at Harden. Millsap and Jordan were unplayable. Matisse Thybulle, a key piece defensively, was ran off the floor. Paul Reed played fine as Embiid’s backup, but he was a clear downgrade from Drummond. Furkan Korkmaz, Georges Niang, and Danny Green were streaky against Miami and only shot well in games three and four.
After five straight playoff appearances without making the Eastern Conference Finals, something must change for the Sixers.
While many fans are eyeing up another star like Bradley Beal or Donovan Mitchell, these 2021-22 playoffs, if anything, have proven that depth should be the focus of the Sixers’ offseason pursuits.
The Sixers’ front office should focus on filling out the second unit
While another star would be nice, teams like the Celtics and Warriors have shown that depth may be just as important. The Bucks struggled against the Celtics partially because the Celtics had players that could come off the bench, play a certain role well, and provide their stars with support. The Warriors have built their culture on these players, as seen this year in guys like Jordan Poole or Nemanja Bjelica.
The Sixers themselves have proven this as well. In the 2017-18 season, Embiid and Simmons were the obvious anchors, but the team around them played specific roles and formed a well-oiled machine at their best. While they ultimately collapsed in the second round, having 9-12 guys, especially some good outside shooters like JJ Reddick, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and Marco Belinelli, that could play solid minutes helped this team to overachieve.
With that said, who should the Sixers target to fill their depth? Firstly, they’ll need to replace Millsap with a forward that can space the floor for Embiid and Jordan with a center that can rebound and defend. Markieff Morris and Bjelica would be good shooters off the bench as 4s, and resigning Andre Drummond would be a great way to fill the void he left.
As for the wing, the Sixers should phase out Danny Green and look to find shooters who can give you consistent 3-and-D minutes. Malik Monk can be a solid shooter on the wing at a good price, and Otto Porter Jr. would be a good option as a 3-and-D guy who can play solid minutes off the bench. Signing these or other options and developing the young talent to fill out the bench should provide the Sixers with good depth.
Don’t get me wrong: Mitchell or Beal would be pieces that pair perfectly with Embiid. Even giving Harden a second chance for the right price could be enough star power to compete with the top teams; but, if the Sixers really want to be serious contenders for the championship, they need to improve their depth and find shooters that are better than their current team.