After throttling the Orlando Magic on Friday, the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves in a position they haven’t been in for 20 years. Just as Allen Iverson, Dikemebe Mutombo, Aaron McKie and Co. did in 2001, Philly will enter the NBA Playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
It’s an incredible accomplishment and the latest evolution in a Process that was started by Sam Hinkie in 2013. However, it was also made possible by some major changes enacted during the offseason, when Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey joined the fold.
Now, with a first-round bout against an opponent to be determined by the play-in tournament coming next week, some in Sixers Nation are wondering if more changes might be on the horizon.
Despite the club’s regular-season success, tweaks to Rivers’ starting five for the postseason have been a popular topic since the trade deadline. Even after Morey failed to land multi-time All-Star Kyle Lowry, fans and pundits have wondered whether Rivers ought to look at different combinations.
Ahead of the Magic game, the Sixers’ coach shared his opinion on the matter.
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Rivers on the Starting Five
Before his team put the beat down on Orlando, Rivers was asked whether he was considering making any changes to the starting five. And while his team locked down a No. 1 seed with its currents starters, there was probably good reason to ask the question.
For starters, Matisse Thybulle has blossomed into one of the NBA’s best defenders; he may even be in consideration for an All-Defensive nod. However, he continues to come off of the bench for Rivers, and is only averaging 20 minutes per night.
Meanwhile, veteran floor general George Hill may have been a step down from Lowry as a deadline acquisition, but he still does things that Philly’s other guards simply cannot. His ability to shoot, score and make reads that others can’t — not to mention his defensive versatility — could easily warrant a bigger postseason role.
Nevertheless, Rivers made plain the fact that he’s sticking with who got him here.
“Have you looked at our starting lineup’s record?” he fired back when asked about making changes. “I think we’re pretty good.”
He’s not wrong, either. After the win over the Magic, the Sixers are 27-5 when they roll out the starting unit of Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid.
The lineup has dominated throughout the 2020-21 campaign. In the 656 minutes those players have shared the court, the Sixers have outscored opponents by 14 points per 100 possessions. That’s the No. 1 mark league-wide among five-man combinations with at least 400 minutes logged.
Curry Is an X-Factor
Whether it’s Hill or Thybulle that you’re looking to insert into the starting five, Curry is likely the player you’re relegating to bench duty. However, the sharpshooting guard has been an X-factor for Philly all season long.
As noted by Sixers broadcaster Marc Zumoff, Philly is 15-0 when Curry scores 17-plus points. Against the Magic, he dropped a team-high 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
Curry may have had some struggles on and off earlier this season as he dealt with injury and COVID-19, but he is currently playing his best basketball of the year. Over his last seven games, he is averaging 15.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per contest. He has also connected on 60.9% of his shot attempts and 61.5% from three-point range.