If you live under a rock, there’s some news that broke in the past couple weeks that you may want to be made aware of: JAMES HARDEN IS A PHILADELPHIA 76ER! I’ll give you a moment to overcome your shock. Good? Ok, well, with the addition of a star like Harden, there are things with the Sixers that naturally change. The excitement rises, the odds for the team’s success improves, and the dynamic in the locker room shifts (considerably in this instance because of the removal of Ben Simmons). There’s a much louder buzz around the Sixers, but not all that changes is off the court. Seth Curry and Andre Drummond are both no longer Sixers, which leaves a couple holes that need to be filled, including one in the starting lineup. So who is the perfect fit to slot in with Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid? The answer is not all that obvious.
By the way, if you want to hear our own Devon Givens dive deeper into this topic, you can listen back to his show from Wednesday night here:
Here are the 4 options Devon used in his poll for that show, and they would be my top 4 options as well: Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz, Georges Niang, and Matisse Thybulle. Let’s go through the pros and cons of each of these options and see which player seems to fit best with the Sixers new big 3 + Maxey, starting with the player with the most playoff experience. Danny Green, for all of his faults at this point in his career, does have a championship resume. He’s been there, he’s done that, and the spacing he would bring would certainly be a benefit to a lineup that includes James Harden and Joel Embiid. My biggest issue with Green is his lack of athleticism at his age. He’s not a senior citizen, but by NBA standards he’s certainly on the back end. He still has the knowledge of a great defender, but he can’t execute to the level he once did on the defensive end of the floor. He’s a solid option, but I think there’s a better one that can be found.
Maybe it’s Furkan Korkmaz? The defense isn’t there, but he is a better offensive player, if only slightly, than Danny Green is right now. The floor spacing that you’d get with a Danny Green happens to a lesser extent with Korkmaz, but he can get to the rim better and has a little bit more in his bag than Green does. If you want to go with a pure scoring approach, Korkmaz could be your best option, but I don’t think that you need additional offense with the 4 that are already on the floor at tip off. Georges Niang’s numbers so far this year would show that he’s been a better version of what Furkan Korkmaz is supposed to be. He’s scoring half a point more a game than Korkmaz and shooting significantly better from deep this season. His short chart is a thing of beauty in the modern NBA, showing aptitude from deep, and finishing at the rim, with little mid-range to speak of. Schematically, he seems to be a solid wing for a playoff contender, but if Niang plays, where does your perimeter defense come from? There still needs to be someone who shuts down the opposing team’s best player, and I don’t feel totally comfortable with Tobias Harris being that guy. That’s why my pick for the final spot in the starting 5 is…
Matisse Thybulle. He is THE option to start in my opinion. And yes, I know I’ve become the head of the Matisse Thybulle fan club at the station, but allow me to admit his faults first. He cannot score the basketball, he seems afraid to shoot, and despite his defense he becomes a complete liability on the offensive side of the floor that allows his defender to completely leave him to double Harden, Embiid, Harris, or Maxey. So why the hell is he the best option? Fair question. Well, he plays elite level defense. He’s the only Sixer not named Joel Embiid who can claim that. With Embiid stuck under the basket defending the rim, someone is going to have to play great perimeter defense in the playoffs, and Thybulle is by far and away the best option to do that. There’s also a good argument in favor of him not having to really do anything on the offensive end of the floor. First of all, he’s shooting almost the same percentage from 3 as Furkan Korkmaz this season, which says more about Korkmaz’s struggles than anything else, but he’s not a Ben Simmons never shoot a 3 type player. But how many would he even have to shoot? Well this season the Sixers are averaging about 85 shots per game. The other 4 starters average shots per game are as follows: Embiid – 19, Harden – 16, Harris – 15, Maxey – 13. Throw in 20 shots for the 3 bench players or so that would be in the rotation come playoffs, and you’re left with 83 shots. That leaves a grand total of 2 for Matisse Thybulle. Now those numbers will shift with the addition of Harden, so this is an inexact science, but it’s very likely that Thybulle’s offensive load will be reduced to almost nothing with Harden in the lineup. With that little pressure, and such elite defense, he’s the perfect 5th starter for the Sixers as they prepare to make a deep playoff run.