The key to success for the Philadelphia 76ers this season is found in their second unit.
Since the Philadelphia 76ers returned to playoffs in the 2017-18 season, they still have not managed to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. In fact, they’ve won just two games in the semifinals over the last two seasons. It was time for a change. And it came. Joel Embiid is no longer alone, nor is James Harden. The secret is in the second unit.
Montrezl Harrell was Philadelphia’s latest addition, but before that, the franchise acquired PJ Tucker, Danuel House Jr., and De’Anthony Melton. The diversity of these players is a clear jump in quality in offense and defense, with Daryl Morey’s Moneyball idea crystal clear. Create in the pick and roll, play the post, attack the paint, shoot a lot of threes, and defend. Simple.
Harrell’s credentials speak for themselves. He won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2020 and knows the Eastern Conference very well. Tucker and House Jr. were loyal Morey soldiers and Harden teammates on the Rockets a few seasons ago and Melton is one of the most underrated two-way player in the league.
The Philadelphia 76ers are ALL-IN
But what’s behind all these?
Only two teams averaged fewer bench points than the Sixers last regular season. Doc Rivers’ second unit scored just 27.2 points per game. Awful. And in the playoffs, it got worse, as they were the bench that averaged the fewest points (19.2).
The lack of on-ball playmakers and defensive specialists was very noticeable, especially since the arrival of Harden. In the last few games of the regular season and in the playoffs, James and Joel were over-exploited because neither could spend much time on the bench.
The franchise understood that it must ease the way for its stars to get to the decisive phase of the season in one piece so that defenses do not know so easily the offensive and defensive schemes that can be presented.
And if there is someone unpredictable in the NBA, it is Harrell. Unpredictable and efficient. According to Bball Index’s Finish Talent Metric data, Montrezl was the third-best 2021-22 season Post Scorer. This signals that you just need to give him the ball in the paint and he will score.
He is also a very reliable pick-and-roll player. According to Bball Index, he has an A+ grade and a 97% percentile as a P&R Roll Man. Couple him with James Harden and you’re on to something.
Although if you have to talk about efficiency, you have to bring Tucker to the table. He had plenty of suitors this offseason but he will start for Philadelphia this season. He will bring his usual physical game, positional leadership on defense, and, one of the most important things, a three-point shot that rarely misses.
He scored nearly half of his threes last season (41.5%), which will be lethal next to two of the most serious scorers in Harden and Embiid. He will also provide defensive solidity and versatility for the starting lineup and if mixed in with the second unit guys.
Something similar, but to a lesser extent, happens with House Jr. who had an interesting second half of the season playing for Utah Jazz. Like Tucker, he scored almost half of his three-pointers (41.5%) and can defend different shapes and labels.
Finally, it’s time to talk about Melton. He played 68 games as a second unit player last season for the Grizzlies and it’s a role that suits him perfectly. He’s a go-to guy who can bother any outside scorer with his hand-over-hand pressure and lateral quickness.
It will sound repetitive, but like Tucker, House Jr., and Melton scored nearly half of his three-pointers (37.4%) and will find better spacing in a system that will rely heavily on the quality of his shooting.
Daryl Morey added three-point shooters, defense, and playmaking for the second unit, as well as an experienced leader for the starting lineup. Now the Sixers appear to be definitely ready to make it to the East Finals.
Training camp is just around the corner for Philadelphia, but the front office moved in the best way to fix the deficiencies of the previous years and the sun seems to be finally coming out in full force for the franchise.