The 76ers started the 2017-18 season with the expectation of reaching the playoffs.
It hasn’t just been the expectations thrust upon them by fans, but also an internal goal that they believe is attainable. After years of rebuilding, this season also serves as the first chance to really nail down the areas that the team is still lacking in. One of those areas is a bench that can offer relief while maintaining leads on a consistent basis.
The Sixers bench ranks 26th in the NBA in points per game, averaging 27.3 as a group. Only nine times this season has a reserve player scored 15-or-more points in a game for the Sixers — four times by T.J. McConnell, twice by Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and once by Richaun Holmes, Jerryd Bayless, and Trevor Booker.
The problem with evaluating the Sixers bench in terms of scoring is that the team also ranks 27th in the league in bench minutes. That means fewer field goal attempts, but also less time on the floor to get into any sort of rhythm.
McConnell, who is averaging a career high 7.4 points per game so far this season, said that the reserve unit performances have been up and down this season, and that even though the players on the bench have bought into their roles, that doesn’t make things any easier.
“Coming off the bench is sometimes pretty hard to do,” McConnell said. “The flow of the game sometimes isn’t going our way when we come in, and that happens. We just have to keep playing hard.”
Trevor Booker, who has only played in 24 games with the Sixers since being acquired from the Brooklyn Nets, said that it’s not easy being a guy that’s expected to bring energy when you never know when, or for how long, you will be in a game.
“It’s definitely difficult,” Booker said. “You might be in two minutes at a time, or three minutes at a time, but you’re still expected to bring that energy right away.”
Friday night’s game was a hard night for the Sixers bench. Even though the Sixers beat Miami, their bench was outscored 57-23, with Justin Anderson accounting for 11 of the 23 points.
“I thought at times our bench struggled,” Brett Brown said after the 103-97 win against the Heat.
“It’s not an easy role coming off the bench in this league,” Anderson said Friday night. “You sometimes come in at different times, you sometimes come in feeling different…but you have to keep yourself ready both physically and mentally.”
With it already being difficult to stay engaged and ready as a reserve player, the Sixers have had to deal with a slew of injuries that have shaken the rotation. Most recently with injuries to JJ Redick and Jerryd Bayless, the Sixers had to reach deep into the lineup and turn to two-way player James Young and Larry Drew II who was on a 10-day contract.
In the event that Markelle Fultz returns to the Sixers lineup, the rotation will shift again. Whether that means inserting Fultz into the starting five or adding him to the reserve unit remains to be seen, but either way the disruption to the lineup will take time before it settles.
All of this is not to say that the Sixers bench should be performing better on a nightly basis. The Sixers are 25-24, there are going to be nights when the whole team struggles — not just the bench. But as the Sixers set their sights on higher goals and loftier expectations, their bench is one of the many areas that will need to be addressed.