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April 25, 2019

Mailbag: How do the Sixers adjust rotation if Mike Scott can't play?

Here's a look at some burning questions heading into the Sixers' second-round series against the Raptors...

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Monty-Williams-Sixers_041119_usat Stephen Lew/USA TODAY Sports

Sixers coach Brett Brown.

The last time the Sixers and Raptors met in a playoff series, Allen Iverson and Vince Carter were in the midst of their primes, going shot-for-shot all the way through Game 7. Now, Iverson is a fixture in courtside seats at home games for Philly and Carter somehow keeps on trucking as a veteran bench player who has seen it all.

The recent history between the two teams favors the Raptors by a considerable margin, but as the Sixers' players have made clear, they are not responsible for the years of failure the franchise has had in Toronto. This group has never played together against the Raptors, and they're excited for the opportunity to bury the past.

Whether they're able to do so is an open question, and you've got plenty of questions of your own before things get going on Saturday night. Here's something to chew on as yours truly hops on a plane and heads across the border.

Every option comes with some sort of downside, unfortunately. And the sad truth is they all come with one shared downside — the Sixers are going to lose shooting/floor spacing with Scott out no matter what they do.

The first place I would look is a player who was inactive during the first round. Playing Zhaire Smith is a serious risk against a Raptors team with plenty of depth and lots of collective experience, but the object in a playoff series should always be to put as many strong defensive links on the floor as you can. The Raptors feature lineups with several ballhandlers on the floor at a time, and the Sixers need guys who can switch, fight through screens, and (ideally) knock down open shots.

If you bring Smith into the rotation, he can do those first two things and you can bump Ennis' minutes up/slide him up to the four if you need minutes covered. The forward positions are mostly interchangeable these days, especially with the Sixers switching 1-4, so in my mind, you would just want as many live bodies out there as possible.

There will be arguments for erring on the side of caution with T.J. McConnell, who is more experienced and will probably be Brown's actual choice in this series. But I think it's a poor one — Toronto can hunt him too easily, and his refusal to shoot threes has crowded the paint even more on a team that can't afford to have that happen.

Jonah Bolden is the other candidate for minutes, and playing him as a four may help minimize his defensive awareness issues. But the Sixers may end up needing him to play minutes at the five, so they can't necessarily go into the series planning on using him exclusively to cover for Scott.

Obligatory plug for the article I wrote this morning. So glad you asked!

Since Serge Ibaka is the only guy of the two that I believe is going to be healthy for this series, you have to go with Ibaka by default. Even if Scott were ready to rip, though, I think Ibaka would have the leg up in this series. He is a problematic matchup for Boban Marjanovic, who may get run off the floor in this series.

I think Simmons is the team's best perimeter defender, so I think I would probably stick him on Leonard. I don't think it'll be an easy choice, though.

Leonard is a good enough offensive player that he's going to get his no matter what you do or who you stick on him. He's not D'Angelo Russell. With that in mind, I think there's an argument to stick Simmons on Kyle Lowry and Butler on Leonard, because I have more confidence that Simmons can just erase one of Toronto's driving forces on offense than I do in Butler shutting Lowry down completely.

On the other hand, Simmons doesn't have to stop Leonard altogether to get value out of that matchup. If he slows him down and the Sixers can force him to score out of isolation all series, they may end up losing but they will at least increase the degree of difficulty.

I think you may end up seeing Simmons used on a variety of matchups this series depending on how things out. Unlike the Nets, the Raptors aren't a team you can strangle by taking one of their guys out of rhythm.

The Sixers are not going to lose to the Raptors or beat the Raptors because of Monty Williams, I can promise you that.

I speculated that this might be the case in my extended look at the matchup from Thursday, and yes, I believe this is a series where the Sixers will need Butler to be more of a ballhandler/lead playmaker.

A word of caution — this series is not just going to feature Kawhi Leonard guarding Simmons for 48 straight minutes. Every Sixers perimeter player will probably have to fight through that matchup at some point, so you can't rely on building a gameplan that just avoids whoever you think he'll be matched up with. Leonard will find the heart of Philly's offense, whoever that ends up being, and try to squash the danger.

The Raptors are almost certainly going to shoot better from three than the Nets did, so the Sixers should hope that's not all the series comes down to. I think one of the real keys to this series will be making sure they take care of the basketball, which as most of you know has been an issue for this team for years. Toronto is good enough at executing on offense without handing them extra possessions, so the Sixers need to be firing on all cylinders and eliminate as many silly turnovers as they can.

Easier said than done, obviously. Leonard junks up how Simmons plays, but part of the reason you stick him on Simmons is so he can be an off-ball disruptor when possessions go elsewhere. Leonard's on-ball strategy against Simmons is to play tight and get in his chest, but he can float through the lane when the ball swings, and that may be where he is most dangerous. Embiid has to be prepared for that when he is posting.

I think both options are bad, frankly. Before Mike Scott's injury situation became clearer, I would have said the Sixers should just downsize and play a Simmons/Scott frontcourt. If you're choosing between Boban and Bolden, I think you have already lost the battle.

Aesthetically, it looks a lot worse when Boban's deficiencies are exploited. But when the Sixers are able to guide traffic toward him at the rim, he is effing humongous, and he's not going to go flying through the air and take himself out of position to chase a block. That is a good thing because it leaves him in a decent position after a shot at the rim goes up.

Bolden can make highlight plays, but he is sort of a disaster a lot of the time. The Sixers are constantly pushing, pulling, and screaming at him to get him to the right spots on the floor, and sometimes even that doesn't work. He looks like a young player because he is a young player, and that's not magically going to disappear because the Sixers are on Canadian soil.

I suspect Brown will try to go to Boban first and see if he can hang. He may need to have a quick hook, but I don't know where you go from there. It's not as though Amir Johnson or Greg Monroe are solving these problems, either.

To start the series, absolutely. McConnell is a great teammate and he's someone I would turn to if the Sixers need a spark of energy later in the series, but I think you have to keep him on the bench to start off with if you can. His limitations have been glaring for pretty much the entirety of the post-All-Star period, so I wouldn't be inclined to go back to him now.

Embiid picked up a pair of flagrant one fouls in the first round, so he has two flagrant points for the postseason. The rules are as follows in the playoffs:

  1. If a player with two points commits a flagrant two foul, they earn an automatic one-game suspension
  2. If a player at three or four points commits a flagrant one foul, they earn an automatic one-game suspension
  3. If a player at three or four points commits a flagrant two foul, they earn an automatic two-game suspension
  4. If a player at five or more points commits a flagrant one OR flagrant two foul, they earn an automatic two-game suspension

Ignoring the fine portion of the punishment, a player has to reach seven technical fouls to earn a suspension in the playoffs. From that point forward, every other technical (so, number 9, 11, 13, and so on) results in another one-game suspension.

The techs should not be a concern, the flagrant issue might be.

I don't want to spend much time on this because there is a more important series in front of them this instant, but I would take the Celtics. They're a much worse team than Milwaukee this season and are still prone to some horrendous offensive stretches from time to time. Milwaukee was elite on both ends of the floor all season. It's that simple for me.


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