The Sixers waived five players on Monday, trimming their roster down to 15 players. The players cut were guards Anthony “Cat” Barber, Dionte Christmas, Brandon Paul, forward James Webb III, and center Shawn Long. With 15 players left on the roster, the maximum allowable under the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Sixers could change their roster further, but for now their opening night roster appears to be set. Let’s take a look at who’s left and what lineups we can expect.
Guards: Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, TJ McConnell, Sergio Rodriguez, Nik Stauskas, Hollis Thompson, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot
Forwards: Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, Richaun Holmes,
Centers: Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel
Some notes about this roster before we delve into lineups:
So right there, the Sixers have three inactive players on their roster. Once those three players return, Philadelphia could conceivably keep all fifteen players, but minutes would be hard to distribute among an entire roster. The most likely scenario would be the team sending Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to the D-League when Jerryd Bayless is healthy. Luwawu-Cabbarot would still occupy a spot on the fifteen man roster but would be listed as inactive.
When Nerlens Noel comes back it likely won’t affect the front court very much. With Joel Embiid’s health constantly lingering in the back of the team’s mind, rolling with three centers is a prudent choice. And if the Sixers should decide to trade one of Noel or Jahlil Okafor, they’d like to show those players off as much as possible to boost their value. Richaun Holmes also logged minutes at center in the preseason, so he could step in for brief stretches.
The return of Ben Simmons is the variable that could change the roster. Presumably being the last of those injured players to return, he would likely push the active roster to 14 and immediately command big minutes. In that scenario they might opt to keep all of their players but only dress 12, or choose to cut a player like Nik Stauskas who was on the bubble during training camp anyway.
But before any of these players return, the Sixers have some games to play. Let’s look at a possible starting lineup and the likely order of their reserves.
PG: TJ McConnell
SG: Gerald Henderson
SF: Robert Covington
PF: Dario Saric
C: Joel Embiid
At a glance this lineup isn’t too shabby. McConnell is probably the weakest link, likely a stop-gap until Jerryd Bayless comes back. But he’s shown that he can be a serviceable point guard by distributing for teammates and occasionally knocking down a mid-range jumper. The defense could get ugly, especially in the season opener against Russell Westbrook, but he’s the most natural fit they have at the moment.
Henderson represents a serious upgrade at the two-guard for the Sixers relative to the past two seasons. He’s a career .44% shooter from three-point range and surprisingly-springy. The starting job is clearly his to lose.
Bob Covington is still somewhat of an enigma. Is he a small forward or a stretch-four? Should he start or come off the bench? Are his stats the result of sheer volume or is he just a late-bloomer who shows how valuable the D-League really is? With more talent around him, we may finally get answers to those questions. For now, Covington is a good scorer to play in the frontcourt with Dario Saric and Joel Embiid. His shooting is still a rare commodity on the roster and for that reason alone his starting spot can be justified. He isn’t a slouch on defense either. He’s averaged at least 1.4 steals in each of his first two seasons for Philadelphia, and he’s able to switch on rotations. There may still be questions about Covington, but the fact is that he’s one of the more complete forwards on the team.
At the other forward spot we find Dario Saric. Before training camp, this spot was assumed for Ben Simmons. What was once a conundrum of playing time for two point-forwards is now a rarely seen stroke of good luck for the Sixers. Saric should be able to seamlessly plug into that point-forward role and play high minutes right away. While he usually hovered around 23 minutes per game in the Euroleague, Saric played well over 30 in almost every game for Croatia in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. His shooting has improved in each year of organized basketball, and he seems to exude that leadership and intangible qualities of a winner that the Sixers have so dearly lacked in recent years. The arrival of Simmons might be delayed, but it could very well be over-shadowed by the arrival of Saric.
The inclusion of Joel Embiid as a starter might raise some eyebrows. But let me say this; I don’t think it will stay that way all year. Aside from preseason play this year, Embiid hasn’t played organized basketball in over two years. To assume that he will be able to play, let alone start, a full 82 games is far fatched.
That being said, all signs are pointing towards the literal incarnation of “Trust the Process” starting for the Sixers on opening night, for a couple of reasons. 1: After tearing his meniscus last season, Jahlil Okafor only played in one preaseason game, the finale against Miami, and he only played eight minutes. It could take Big Jah a week or two to finally return to game shape. 2: Embiid has been good in the preaseason. In 14 minutes per game, Embiid averaged 11.4 points and 6 rebounds per contest, shooting 44.8% from the field and over 81% from the free throw line. He showed flashes of dominance that Sixers fans have dreamed of for two years. He’s finally healthy, and Brett Brown has even said that playing back to back games is no longer out of the question for the towering Embiid. When all three centers are healthy, Embiid may settle into a role coming off the bench. But as the season draws near, he just might be their best option at center.
Jahlil Okafor/Sergio Rodriguez
It appears that Okafor will be able to play in the season opener. Unless his defense improves, his most effective role could be coming off the bench and destroying backup centers around the league. If Big Jah does force his way into the starting lineup, I’d put money on Rodriguez being the first player off the bench most nights. He has the ball handling capability to replace McConnell and is a better shooter, if only just marginally so. He’s a flashy passer and one of the stronger scoring options coming off the bench. This could change if someone like Embiid or Saric is relegated to the bench, but sixth man initially appears to be a great role for Sergio.
The Reserves (in the order they are likely to appear)
- Jerami Grant
- Richaun Holmes
- Hollis Thompson
- Nik Stauskas
Some quick reasoning for this order: Grant is similar to Covington in that he can switch to guard multiple positions, but offers limited offensive upside. Look for him in an energy role off the bench, crashing the boards and slamming dunks. Richaun Holmes is quietly becoming a useful player for Philadelphia. He’s long athletic, and has decent touch from mid-range. Early on he could see minutes at center, but it’s hard to peg a role for him once everyone is healthy. He should get minutes, but it’s hard to discern where. Neither Thompson or Stauskas are all that impressive. Hollis has been more productive and efficient than Stauskas in his tenure with the Sixers, and his 6′ 8″ frame allows for more switches on defense. Stauskas will have to markedly improve across the board if he wants to stay with Philadelphia beyond this year. Finally Luwawu-Cabbarot is still an extremely raw, yet intriguing 21 year old. I’d expect him to go to the D-League at some point this year, but he could surprise some people.
The regular seaosn is finally upon us. While the Sixers might not be contenders, or anywhere close to such a status, there’s more talent on this team than in year’s past. While injuries have meddled with their initial plans, they could have depth this year that makes the team stronger as a whole. How Brett Brown juggles this lineup will be of close interest among fans all seaosn long.
Let’s play ball.