After Wednesday night’s 119-103 loss, the Philadelphia 76ers now trail the Miami Heat 0-2 in the best of seven Eastern Conference semifinals. The most obvious reason was the absence of Joel Embiid, as the MVP runner-up is no longer there to be the rising tide that lifts all boats on both sides of the field. At least as far as Joel is concerned, hopefully he could be on track to return on Friday and turn things around, even with just one functioning thumb and zero face intact. The second main reason is the simple lack of shooting by the Sixers. Philadelphia shot 14 of 64 (21.9%) on three-pointers in the two games; Danny Green and Georges Niang are a combined 3 of 24 (12.5%). If you want to go to your local place of worship and light a votive prayer to the small gods, it can’t hurt.
However, another reason is that the Sixers’ roster just doesn’t have enough guys. Matisse Thybulle plays like he’d rather cross half the pitch to play attack as an elective, and hasn’t even been good defensively. Freezing shot aside, Niang is absolutely bludgeoned on the glass. Shake Milton completely disappeared from rotation in Game 2. Furkan Korkmaz came out of the cobwebs to join proceedings, and, well, he wasn’t terrible, but that’s where we’re at with things.
Meanwhile, the Heat are also short of a starter in Kyle Lowry, and still have waves of guys to throw there. Gabe Vincent and Max Strus went undrafted and started each of the first two games, serving as effective contributors. PJ Tucker was a terrific signing last summer, earning $7.35 million this season and spearheading James Harden’s mission on this series. Re-signing Victor Oladipo to a one-year deal for just over $2 million was a gamble that seems to be paying off now for Miami. The Heat picked up Caleb Martin in a two-way deal after Charlotte released him last September. These players are all doing so well that Duncan Robinson is now a $90 million victory cigar. None of these players are world champions on their own, but collectively they come together seamlessly to form effective units at both ends of the pitch.
Miami’s depth highlights the fact that Daryl Morey hasn’t done a great job on the fringe of the roster over the past two seasons. Last season’s “big” deadline move to bolster the roster was George Hill, which, to be fair, I thought was a good deal for the Sixers, but it obviously didn’t work out. This year, Morey was apparently so busy getting the James Harden deal across the finish line that he didn’t have time to allocate to other parts of the roster. The wing depth was known to be shaky, and instead of bolstering what should be the most flexible segment of a team’s rotation, the Sixers are using four spots on the backup center options roster.
Two of those backup center options, DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap, while wonderful human beings and with great career resumes, shouldn’t be on playoff rosters in anno domini 2022. Another, the rookie Charles Bassey, was never examined closely by the head. coach Doc Rivers, an entirely predictable outcome for anyone even remotely familiar with the veteran coach’s tendencies. Last but not least is sophomore Paul Reed, who Rivers finally turned to with just a week left in the regular season, nullifying any real chance for Reed to properly find his footing and its pace with the rest of the roster.
Now, I’m not going to say that having someone like Torrey Craig on the roster would have made all the difference, but it wouldn’t hurt. The important thing to remember is that there were many other avenues the organization could have taken that would have offered higher results. People have been bagging Sixers rosters from Process’s past, but if you look back, there were a lot of guys on those teams who became real NBA contributors. These discoveries came from a significant turnover at the back of the list. I realize you can’t do the same when working to form cohesion with an aspiring candidate, but I’d say the team went too far the other way. Either way, the mismanagement of roster spots when it comes to center-to-perimeter ratio of players has always been a glaring wart.
The roster issues obviously can’t be resolved until the offseason. For now, Sixers fans can only hope that a masked Embiid can return to mask those roster shortcomings in the present.