Sixers’ $33 Million Star Exiled to Bench in Predicted Closing Lineup

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Getty The Philadelphia 76ers.

The Philadelphia 76ers project to have one of the league’s strong starting-five units in basketball next season. With Joel Embiid and James Harden headlining an uber-talented group that also includes the Finals-tested PJ Tucker and rising star Tyrese Maxey, there’s plenty of reason for optimism in Philadelphia.

Barring any unforeseen changes, the Sixers’ starting five will be Embiid, Harden, Tucker, Maxey, and Tobias Harris. And while starting lineups generally feature the team’s most talented players, closing lineups are a different beast altogether. If a team is playing with a lead, perhaps they deploy a defense-heavy lineup to avoid getting hunted on offense. On the other hand, if a team is trying to play catch-up, maybe the coach deploys a blitz of offense in a defense-be-damned approach.

That’s the question facing Sixers head coach Doc Rivers this season. For the most part, the closing lineup will be chalk: Embiid, Maxey, Harden, and Harris all figure to close out games for Philadelphia. But according to Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report, the fifth spot is up for grabs.

And if Bailey’s forecast is correct, the spot could be given to someone other than Tucker, who the Sixers signed for $33 million this summer.

The Sixers Could Bench Tucker for De’Anthony Melton

The four-man wrecking crew of Maxey, Harden, Embiid, and Harris was Philadelphia’s best among lineups with at least 360 minutes together. They trounced opponents for a plus-16.3 point differential and, given the lineup included Embiid and Harden, unsurprisingly finished as a net-positive in free throws.

Two players generally occupied the fifth spot for Philadelphia last season: Danny Green and Matisse Thybulle. Green is long gone, having been traded to Memphis on draft night for De’Anthony Melton. And while Thybulle’s defense is superb, his offense is equally abysmal.

The easy option would be to simply slot Tucker into the closing lineup in lieu of Green and Thybulle. But according to Bailey, the team might look for an alternative.

“[T]he 76ers acquired a guard at the deadline in De’Anthony Melton who can provide 90 to 95 percent of the defensive upside of Thybulle while being far more capable on the other end,” Bailey wrote on September 28.

“You don’t necessarily need a ton of creation in lineups with Harden and Maxey, but Melton can do a little of that. More importantly, he’s hit 38.8 percent of his three-point attempts over the last two seasons.

“Of course, P.J. Tucker is probably going to be the most used fifth option alongside the aforementioned core four, but Melton raises the versatility quotient just enough to get the nod.”

If Tucker is exiled to the bench during crunchtime, it wouldn’t be the first roster shakeup involving the former Heat and Bucks player.

Rivers Experimenting with Tucker in Several Positions

During training camp, head coach Doc Rivers opened up about a few unique lineup packages the team was experimenting with. And while many expected Tucker to pay the four and Harris to act as a sort of jumbo-wing, Rivers announced he was taking things in another direction.

“With PJ, it’s probably more 3 than 4 because we want PJ to be in his spots. We ran some Paul Reed at the 4 and Joel at the 5, and we ran some today with Tobias at the 4 and a small guy at the 3. We moved that around a lot today,” Rivers said.

If Tucker does play in the wing spot, it would suit his game. While he relied on cuts in Miami, the Sixers rarely employ that tactic in their own offense. That means Tucker’s offensive game will likely be limited to shooting threes next season. It’s a role he’s plenty qualified for: he shot 41.5% from three last season, albeit on limited volume.

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