Should the Sixers start and close games with 3-guard lineups?

Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, De'Anthony Melton, Sixers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, De'Anthony Melton, Sixers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers played well in guard Tyrese Maxey’s recent absence. Philly’s record was 12-6 in the 18 games Maxey missed. It helped that James Harden returned eight games into Maxey’s time out. Even with that, the bench mob stepped up big time. De’Anthony Melton, Shake Milton, Georges Niang, Montrezl Harrell, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, and Danuel House Jr. made up those minutes in spades. The Sixers have run out and experimented with lineups with more ballhandling from Milton, Melton, and Korkmaz. This leads me to ask, should the Sixers start and close games with three-guard lineups?

The question has legitimate credence behind it given the recent success the Sixers have had, speaking from statistical and eye test standpoints. On top of Maxey’s injury, the Sixers would deal with missing Joel Embiid on a few of those nights. Forcing head coach Doc Rivers’ hand to play different lineups, more three-guard lineups in particular. The M&M Mafia (I guess that’s Shake and De’Anthony’s duo nickname from me) had more chances to play together and with Harden, Korkmaz, or Thybulle.

Should the Sixers move De’Anthony Melton into the starting lineup full-time?

From the eye test standpoint, the floor looked bigger in the half-court due to increased ball movement. The M&M Mafia was using ball screens from Embiid and Harrell to slice into the defense to find a kick out pass. Started the ball movement and it just started pinging around the perimeter. The effort was palpable throughout the absence of Maxey. Playing time opened up and the rotation was given its opportunity to prove itself and gain a defined role on the team. Niang and Harrell held down their dog and the offensive roles of an exceptional pick-and-pop shooter and hard roller to the rim Thybulle, Kork, and House Jr. were a bit of a mixed bag but they did more good for the squad than bad during the Maxey sidelining.

That lineup would be Maxey, Melton, Harden, Harris, and Embiid. I believe this lineup can really excel on both sides of the ball. It has enough on offense to score more than opponents and the defense to get teams to struggle just enough. Of course, that lineup is theoretical, and just switching Tucker for Melton. Until this point in the season, this lineup has not been tried, which is a problem. Those are the Sixers’ best players and finding a way to pair them all together would be ideal. Dare I say this purely speculative statement, but it is part of the reason why the team acquired Melton and held onto Harris. Now it is time for the statistical standpoint.

After reading up on some stats per Basketball Reference, I learned two different facts. For one, the Sixers prefer to run 3-guard lineups with Embiid off the court and the only 3-guard lineup Embiid has played with the fivesome ranks 13th in minutes played out of the 20 lineups listed. Doc Rivers being the coach has something to do with the lack of 3-guard lineups with Embiid due to his stubbornness to try new stuff with the best players and his inability to adjust. That 13th-ranked lineup in minutes at 20:54 is ranked 7th in point differential of +17.7. Embiid, Harden, Melton, Milton, and Tucker are the lineup toting that point differential. It is a small sample size but the success means we need to see more of this lineup throughout the rest of the year.

The versatility on the offensive end would be a breath of fresh air, especially for Joel Embiid. Embiid could actually work as a screener for everybody due to the rest of his teammates being able to dribble, shoot, and pass. The lineup and the spacing of it should benefit Embiid’s passing ability and fighting off double teams. The heavy clouds of scoring threats that are Embiid and Harden will be there and the rest of the team on the floor can hurt the defense in different ways. Sounds like a pick-your-poison type of offense if opponents face this lineup.

The biggest concerns of my proposed lineup are how big of problems are defense and rebounding. I understand that Tucker and Milton step on the court with at the very least defensive competence and a knack to grab rebounds. Tucker does so on sheer hustle, strength, and IQ. Milton does so on length, active hands, and IQ. The proposed lineup is asking to put a ton of defensive responsibility on Embiid, Melton, and occasionally Harris. The trio’s size, strength, and length will be called on to put out many defensive fires with ballhandlers that Harden and Maxey cannot keep in front of them.

The Philadelphia 76ers are slowly creeping into the world of modern basketball. It has been a slow ascension this season. From small-ball lineups to having to play Paul Reed (again), to pairing Melton and Thybulle on defense slowly, and having as many two-way players as possible. Now the team possibly has a new lineup to unlock to rise to their ultimate goal of winning an NBA title. Let’s watch and find out if Doc decides to run with this modern and successful idea.