Philadelphia 76ers Bench Needs Healthy Players Back

The 2016-2017 season has been difficult for the Philadelphia 76ers so far, particularly when rotations begin to rest starters. Still, three starting caliber players have yet to see action for the team

Jerryd Bayless has a sore wrist. Nerlens Noel has an injured knee. Ben Simmons has fractured foot. The Philadelphia 76ers bench has problems.

While everyone seems to be turning on head coach Brett Brown, there is little he can do to fix the team right now. Other teams enter the contest with 15 healthy players and sit two who are dinged or performing poorly. Brett Brown enters a contest with 12 players, two of whom on minutes restrictions, and must mete out playing minutes to everyone who can suit up out of necessity.
So far this season, the team has 10 players at or over 20 minutes per game. Only Richaun Holmes (14 MPG), T.J. McConnell (18.2 MPG) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (4.0 MPG) have seen less playing time.

Brown can only coach the roster assembled by the front office folks. When he was forced to “make do” last year without a proven starting point guard, and a roster plagued with early injuries, the fault was directed towards president Sam Hinkie.

Oct 26, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown talks with center Joel Embiid (21) during the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Wells Fargo Center. The Oklahoma City Thunder won 103-97. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Tipping The Scales

This year, under curiously similar circumstances, the weight of failing is bypassing Bryan Colangelo and falling upon Brown.  Yet there is little Brown can do.

Jerryd Bayless was projected as a starter at point guard. Ben Simmons was projected as a starter at small forward. Nerlens Noel was a solid option to rotate at either center or power forward. Between the three players, 60 minutes of playing time must be made up by others on the roster.

And those players would have been coming off the bench. But even the minute restrictions eventually catch up to the team’s schedule:

With all the rhetoric of center logjam, the only healthy center for Tuesday’s game versus the Indiana pacers will be minutes restricted Jahlil Okafor, plus converted to center power forward Richaun Holmes.

And this is all Brown’s fault?

So that leaves the bench depleted so far this season.  Where the team might have boasted Noel, Rodriguez, and Covington coming into the game, the trio would bolster the team with their staunch defense.  Instead, the team now stretches the minutes of Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, and sends out Hollis Thompson and T.J. McConnell.

So many fault Brown for the 76ers struggles, but he is coaching only 60% of this years starters so far.  This was not expected to be a great team to begin with.

Sep 26, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons (25) dribbles the ball during media day at the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Domino Effect

The key to this team is getting a healthy Ben Simmons onto the basketball court. From the moment Ben Simmons does return, the front court of the team is established for the next several years. With a center combination of Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, power forwards of Ersan Ilyasova (or Richaun Holmes) and Dario Saric, and small forward of Ben Simmons and Robert Covington, the team can finally begin to play with some consistency.

Ben Simmons is earmarked to lead the team when he arrives. He will be the voice and eyes of the coaching staff on the basketball court.  With his presence on the court, the team can give Covington more appropriate minutes.

The key to the team right now is a very versatile roster. Injuries negate that advantage.  If a versatile player is forced by injury to play solely in one role, where is the advantage?

But from the moment players return to health, that versatility returns.  Simmons back on the court gives Brown Covington to slide in at the four, three, or even two spot. Bayless back gives the team another option at the one or two position. Even Nerlens Noel gives the team an option to rest a player at the five or four role.

The Philadelphia 76ers are built for versatility.  As soon as players return to health, their presence will give Brown options at multiple positions, much like falling dominoes.

Oct 15, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown talks to Philadelphia 76ers guard T.J. McConnell (1) during the first quarter of the preseason game against the Detroit Pistons at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Weathering Another Storm

Many expected the Philadelphia 76ers to find success much more rapidly and often this season. Those persons are disappointed right now. But none are more disappointed than head coach Brett Brown.

Time management should not be the priority for a head coach. Unfortunately, this is the repeating pattern with the Philadelphia 76ers. Brown had to absorb a year without Nerlens Noel, two years without Joel Embiid, and now four months without Ben Simmons.

Minutes management. Roster adjustments. Playing an optimal line-up with a badly undermanned roster.  None of these factors help the team win, but all of these factors are in play with the Philadlephia 76ers.  And much like previous seasons, all Brown can do is try to prop up the mood of his players, try to keep his roster developing while awaiting healthy bodies to return, and roll with the angst and vitriol throughout the ordeal.

Ultimately, no coach could find success with this team with 40 percent of the starters out. The Philadelphia 76ers need a solid bench,and the bench needs healthy players. Might this be another losing record team? The outlook for the foreseeable future is not promising. Healthy players returning could change all this, but returning to action is a well-kept secret of this team.

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