How Should the Sixers Approach Playing Incoming Rookies?

The Philadelphia 76ers will have at least one, and maybe more rookies to debut next season. How should they approach their roles?

The Philadelphia 76ers, as it stands, are a pretty youthful team, despite the three main veteran additions the Sixers made this offseason in Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez. Bayless only played a few games this season before being ruled out for the rest year due to injury, but the other two players have only played enough to put the Sixers three spots up from dead last in the NBA in age weighted by minutes played.

Still, the Sixers have been on a tear as of late, winning 11 of their last 16 games. The youth doesn’t seem to be hurting them a ton like it used to. Their team has become cohesive enough to overcome that in a lot of ways.

Next season, the Sixers will probably have more veterans, but will also welcome in some new rookies. The way things are shaping up now, it looks like the Sixers will have at least one lottery pick, and potentially could have two. Those two rookies are going to likely be guards, with most Sixers fans having their eyes set on players like Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball.

The big question, however, will now become how do the Sixers use those players?

In the past, the Sixers have had no questions in that realm. While most NBA teams bench their rookies and give them low minutes for the first several seasons, the Sixers had to go against the grain because a lot of their players were first and second year players, and often times the best players on the team were rookies drafted in the lottery of that season. So those players often got the start, often got big minutes, and really made the most impact on the team. That’s not how most NBA teams do things.

But now, the Sixers are becoming a real NBA team. They’ve garnered real wins that were not “once in a while” type of games won on a bad call or a lucky turnover. They were legitimate wins that proved the worth of the Sixers.

So with the Sixers in a limbo stage this offseason, looking to bridge the gap from tanking to competitiveness, there’s questions that have to be asked about those young players and their placement on the roster.

Starting them and giving them significant minutes right away

One route the Sixers could take is sticking to their philosophy from the past few years, starting the young players and giving them starter-like minutes right away. It will be a bit more difficult to find places for them in the lineup since the team is getting better and better, but should still be doable, if the team wants to use their young players like that.

There are a few positives to this approach. For one, the players are tossed right into gameplay and learn things right away by doing things hands on. Secondly, these are going to be players that, if all goes according to plan, are playing with the starters of the Sixers like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid on a regular basis, so getting all of them acclimated may be best in the long run.

For the short term, however, sitting the players and letting them develop more behind the scenes could be the better route.

Sitting them and letting them develop first

The safer route from here on out may be to sit the younger guys for a while and develop them behind the scenes in practice and late in games that have already been decided. While there’s less immediate front-line learning in this approach, the players are still absorbing a lot of information and are allowed to slowly adjust to life in the NBA, rather than getting thrown right into it all.

The Sixers are known for being pretty good at developing players while they aren’t playing, working on Joel Embiid’s jump-shot while he was injured and refining it pretty well.

With the team getting more and more competitive, there’s less room to play rookies who will undoubtedly make mistakes. Those mistakes could cost games, and with the Sixers looking to make a playoff push this year, there’s no doubt that they’ll do the same next year, and perhaps on an even bigger stage. Too many young and inexperienced players could really hurt their chances of that.

Might take the TLC approach

The team might be smart to take an approach next season with any rookies they bring in similar to  what they did with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot this season. TLC came right over from overseas pro basketball, but was not regularly looked at as a player that should start right away. So, instead of Luwawu getting big minutes right out of the gate, he was given minutes in small sections, and also spent a lot of time with the Delaware 87ers to start the year, making several trips down to play.

This connection with the team the Sixers have underneath them in Delaware is really helpful, and them utilizing it is something that could help their young players get better quicker. They would be smart to send rookies down there and get playing minutes at a lower level if there’s not a whole lot to offer them at the NBA level.

Then, as we saw with Luwawu-Cabarrot this season, they can eventually be brought up and played in significant game situations.

The verdict

The Sixers will probably play lottery pick rookies a decent amount in the early stages of next season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them come off of the bench, and also wouldn’t be incredibly surprised to see them sent down to Delaware for a trip or two. Really, what it’s going to come down to is who the Sixers have around in the guard slots,  and what positions the team needs filled more than others.

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