Which five bench players should the Sixers use?

De'Anthony Melton, Georges Niang, Joel Embiid, Sixers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
De'Anthony Melton, Georges Niang, Joel Embiid, Sixers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /
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Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

The Sixers’ starting lineup of Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, P.J. Tucker, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey will undoubtedly rank as one of the best five-man groups in the NBA. The Sixers’ starting five has always worked on some level. What’s new this season, however, is Philadelphia’s depth. The Sixers have options in the second unit, which has never really been the case under Doc Rivers (or Brett Brown, for that matter).

With so many viable options at hand, Rivers will face multiple tough decisions ahead of the regular season. In fact, it may not be until late in the season — or even the playoffs — that Rivers fully commits to a specific arrangement of players.

So, as the Sixers approach what could be a pivotal season in Joel Embiid’s career arc, we must ask ourselves the question: what should the bench unit look like?

Rivers has a tendency to go 10-deep in the regular season, but he trimmed the main group to nine following the Harden trade last season. That was partially due to his decision to stagger starters, and partially due to a complete absence of quality options. The latter situation has been rectified several times over, to the point where it’s difficult to imagine Rivers not finding a way to squeeze at least 10 players into the regular rotation.

Here are the five bench players who should form the foundation of Philly’s second unit (with some notes on the bubble candidates who will inevitably also see time).

De’Anthony Melton, the Sixers’ sixth man

There’s plenty that’s up in the air about Philadelphia’s bench unit. This isn’t. De’Anthony Melton will lead the charge for Philly’s bench after spending last season in a sizable role for the 56-win Grizzlies. Melton is naturally overshadowed in the “guard” rotation next to Harden and Maxey, but he is for all intents and purposes a 3-and-D wing. His 6-foot-8 wingspan affords him the versatility to fit into several different lineup configurations, and his elite-level guard defense will all but ensure him important minutes.

Philadelphia’s starting five is great, but Tucker is a natural power forward who is 37 years old. He is currently the best perimeter defender of the bunch, followed by another natural power forward in Tobias Harris. While Tucker can defend elite guards (he spent time on Donovan Mitchell in last week’s preseason bout with Cleveland), it’s probably not wise to count on it. Especially in the regular season, when it’s smart to play the veteran conservatively.

That should mean Melton closes a lot of games. Melton may not be Philadelphia’s best guard defender (that label still belongs to Matisse Thybulle), but he’s a damn good one. And he’s a positive on the offensive end too, which can’t be said for Thybulle. Melton’s 3-point volume and willingness to move without the ball will make him a clean fit with Philly’s core players.

The Sixers can’t rely to heavily on Melton’s offense — he’s a very limited facilitator who struggles to score efficiently inside the arc — but with Harden and Maxey running the show and Embiid gobbling up possessions in the post, they shouldn’t have to. He is well-positioned to play to his strengths while also accentuating the strengths of his teammates.