Many have debated what the potential starting lineup and rotation for the Sixers could look like at Opening Tip for the 2017-2018 season and with good reason: between the additions of JJ Redick, Amir Johnson and Markelle Fultz, as well as the return from injury of Ben Simmons and Jerryd Bayless, this is almost an entirely new rotation for Brett Brown to work with (something he’s pretty accustomed to over the last 4 seasons, with the Sixers having the roster turnover of an NFL team.) Before diving into the starting lineup and rotation, I think it’s important to project exactly who will be on this roster come game 1 of the regular season. Below are the players I expect to either:
- be a lock for the regular season roster (starters and rotation guys)
- be kept on the roster in a reserve role or relegated to the G-League (limited minutes/games, if any)
- be cut from the franchise
- The locks (12) (barring a trade)*:
- Guards and Backcourt players: Jerryd Bayless, Markelle Fultz, TJ McConnell, Ben Simmons, JJ Redick
- Forwards and Wings: Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
- Big Men: Richaun Holmes, Amir Johnson, Jahlil Okafor (GRRRROOOSSSSS)
- Unicorn: Joel Embiid
- The Reserves (3):
- Justin Anderson – Anderson is definitely a contender to be cut, but being recently acquired for Nerlens Noel, I feel the front office and Brett Brown would be willing to give him more time to carve out a role on the team.
- Furkan Korkmaz – Korkmaz will likely begin the season as “inactive” status, giving him an opportunity to get tic in the G-League rather than be buried on the Sixers bench and receive no playing time.
- Jonah Bolden – I’m not necessarily sure Bolden makes the roster this year, but given my affection for his potential, obviously I can’t imagine him being cut. Instead, I expect the Sixers to let him return to the Serbian League and try again next offseason, while they hold his rights.
- Those (the one) looking for another job:
- Nik Stauskas – Again, this could go either way between Stauskas and Anderson. But I do expect one of them to be cut and Anderson is the more versatile and athletic of the two. Sorry Nik, but I’m done watching you brick 3 PTs.
*I’m excluding factoring in trade possibilities for this exercise, and judging based simply on who is good enough to remain on the team, and who is facing being cut or relegated to the G-League.
On to what will likely be the most disagreed upon notion I scribe in this article: the starting lineup at opening tip. I expect it to look like this:
- Guard: Markelle Fultz – Role: Off-ball scorer, secondary ball handler
- Guard: JJ Redick – Role: 3PT Threat
- Forward: ….. ROBERT COVINGTON, GET OVER IT – Role: Defensive versatility
- Forward: Ben Simmons – Role: Initiator, primary ball-handler
- Center: Joel Embiid – Role: Versatile offensive star, defensive anchor
Four of these are easy, right? Fultz, being the reigning first overall pick of the draft and a seamless fit off-ball next to Simmons, is expected to start. If not, you can catch the next installment of the Purge film series titled “The Purge: Wells Fargo Center.”* If you would like to understand why JJ Redick will start, you can read this article that I wrote; Or, you can just know that he’s making $23 million this season, so yeah, he’s a starter. Ben Simmons will be the team’s primary ball handler, making him perhaps the most important starter in terms of how the offense will operate. And Joel Embiid would start on any team in the league at this point.
The controversy is over whether Robert Covington or Dario Saric should be starting. And yes, I say Covington. I’m not saying Covington is a better player than Saric; it simply comes down to fit. For starters, Dario Saric and Ben Simmons serve a similar purpose on the court: long, athletic rebounders who excel at initiating the break and running in transition. The similarities don’t stop there. This notion that Dario is going to improve his 3PT% is completely unproven at best. (HE SHOT 31.1% FROM THREE. HORRIFIC. FG% = 41.1%) That would put two forwards on the floor who have yet to prove they can shoot the ball. Considering that between the Turkish Basketball Super League, Olympics and NBA, Saric has played more games in the last two years than most professional basketball players, it’s certainly plausible his poor shooting is due to fatigue. Saric is finally getting some time off, and I expect it to do wonders for him, so I am high on him. But he hasn’t been consistent enough to be a starter, and he needs touches to contribute; touches that would be taken from more reliable scoring options in Embiid, Fultz and Redick. I haven’t even gotten into his struggles on the defensive side of the ball, where he doesn’t exactly have a position or role. Put plainly, he’s still developing and learning in the NBA. Robert Covington is the opposite of all of that.
Covington doesn’t need a ton touches to contribute, and he’ll be happy to defer to superior scorers. Covington will be used to set off-ball screens for Redick and Fultz, and spot up in the corner. That’s mostly it on the offensive end. And while Covington has struggled from deep in his own right (33% from 3PT this past season), he improved as the season progressed and has a career average of 35.4%, right on par with the league average for this past season of 35.8%. That’ll do just fine for your FIFTH SCORING OPTION in the starting lineup. On the defensive side of the ball, Covington is one of the better wing/perimeter defenders in the entire league. Say what you will about the politics of NBA award voting, finishing 4th overall in Defensive Player of the Year voting is impressive for a guy who just 3 years ago was playing ball for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the D-League. And he has something to show for it, leading the league in tipped passes.** Robert Covington is what is referred to as a glue guy, players who enable everyone around them to do what they do best. Guys like Joe Ingles on the Jazz or Jae Crowder on the Celtics or Draymond Green on the Warriors. No, Covington couldn’t even sniff future Hall of Famer Draymond Green’s jockstrap; but he is important to what the Sixers want to do on offense, and critical to what they want to do on defense. It is the reason Bryan Colangelo needs to stop dicking around and wasting time and financial resources, and extend Rock.
Dario Saric currently provides the Sixers much more value as a sixth man than a starter. Being similar to Simmons in role, Brett Brown can stagger their minutes allowing the Sixers to run their offensive system uniformly across the rotation. Sixth man isn’t Dario’s future, starting is.*** I enjoy Dario Saric as much as anybody, but again, it simply comes down to fit and consistency, both of which apply more so to Covington than Saric.
With the starting lineup and sixth man wrapped up, I see the 2nd unit being somewhat of a rotating door throughout the season, looking like this:
- Guard: TJ McConnell
- Guard: Jerryd Bayless/Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
- Forward: Dario Saric
- A mixture at Center/Traditional 4 of: Jahlil Okafor/Richaun Holmes/Amir Johnson
And finally, the reserves being Justin Anderson and Furkan Korkmaz. Korkmaz is a promising player, but again, with the new 2 way contracts that allow a player to spend time in the G-League and limited time in NBA, I don’t think we’ll see a ton of Furkan this season.
Let the debate begin.
*We, as Sixers’ fans, cannot allow any scenario in which we are again devoid of seeing a highly drafted player in the starting lineup to begin the season. And don’t give me Jahlil Okafor, he never carried the same excitement or anticipation as Embiid, Simmons or Fultz.
**Okay, I’ll admit I’m making a bit of a stretch here arguing the value of tipped passes.
***The reality is, being a guy who likely sees himself as a starter and feature player, Dario is no lock to remain a Sixer, as disappointing as that may be.