Projecting the Sixers’ Rotation

The 2018/19 Sixers will be one of the most interesting teams in the NBA, for various reasons. They have multiple superstar level players under the age of 24. Last season, they had the best starting five, numbers-wise, in the entire league. All five of those starters return this year which naturally means head coach Brett Brown will roll out the same starting lineup, right? Nope.

WHAT? WHY?!

Enter Markelle Fultz.

If you’re reading this, you probably know what he went through last year. He experienced one of the strangest rookie seasons that a number one overall pick ever has. Fultz worked with Drew Hanlen this summer, at the behest of his teammate Joel Embiid. There’s a lot of optimism surrounding Fultz, from most people, these days. And for good reason.

Even without a shot, Fultz brings the creation that the Sixers lacked. They had no one that could run a simple pick and roll. They lacked a dynamic secondary handler (sorry, T.J.). Fultz will also be able to guard the point of attack, allowing Ben Simmons to move around more. Of course, Fultz not being able to shoot consistently and confidently does make things more difficult for Brett Brown.

Brown has made it clear that he wants Fultz to play both with and without Simmons because of how good he is as a point guard. However, Simmons needs to play a lot, which makes those minutes tough for Brown to find.

Last year, Jerryd Bayless began the season in the starting lineup ahead of Dario Saric. Brown played some all-bench lineups, which ended up getting torched. Once he figured out what his starting lineup was, he settled into pretty set substitution patterns that ensured that at least one starter would be on the floor at all times.

Here’s what the rotation looked like last season before midseason acquisitions (names would be different but roles the same):

(http://alexwainger.github.io/NBASubstitutionPatterns/)

So, how will Brown work the rotation this year to make sure Fultz gets point guard minutes, J.J. Redick and Joel Embiid play a lot together, and the new players are integrated?

Last Friday, Brown confirmed that the Sixers would continue to use the same starting lineup that they did in the preseason. That lineup: Simmons, Fultz, Robert Covington, Saric, and Embiid. The newest development is that Redick will start second halves with Fultz heading back to a reserve role. How will it all work?

Here’s my attempt at projecting/predicting the Sixers’ substitutions and rotation (sans Zhaire Smith). This is mostly what I think will transpire, but I did add a little bit of my own flare to it.


First Quarter

Starters – Simmons, Fultz, Covington, Saric, Embiid

7 minutes left – Redick in for Fultz

Lineup – Simmons, Redick, Covington, Saric, Embiid

5 minutes left – Johnson in for Embiid, Muscala in for Saric

Lineup – Simmons, Redick, Covington, Muscala, Johnson

2 minutes left – Fultz in for Simmons, Chandler in for Covington, Embiid in for Johnson

Lineup – Fultz, Redick, Chandler, Muscala, Embiid

Second Quarter

Starters – Fultz, Shamet, Chandler, Saric, Embiid

7 minutes left – Simmons in for Shamet, Covington in for Chandler, Johnson in for Embiid

Lineup – Simmons, Fultz, Covington, Saric, Johnson

5 minutes left – Redick in for Fultz, Muscala in for Saric

Lineup – Simmons, Redick, Covington, Muscala, Johnson

3 minutes left – Saric in for Muscala, Embiid in for Johnson

Lineup – Simmons, Redick, Covington, Saric, Embiid

First half minutes – Simmons 17, Fultz 14, Redick 12, Covington 17, Saric 17, Embiid 17, Shamet 5, Muscala 7, Chandler 7, Johnson 7

Third Quarter

Starters – Simmons, Redick, Covington, Saric, Embiid

7 minutes left – Fultz in for Redick, Johnson in for Embiid

Lineup – Simmons, Fultz, Covington, Saric, Johnson

5 minutes left – Chandler in for Covington, Muscala in for Saric

Lineup – Simmons, Fultz, Chandler, Muscala, Johnson

2 minutes left – Redick in for Simmons, Covington in for Chandler, Embiid in for Johnson

Lineup – Fultz, Redick, Covington, Muscala, Embiid

Fourth Quarter

Starters – Fultz, Redick, Chandler, Saric, Embiid

7 minutes left – Simmons in for Fultz, Covington in for Chandler, Muscala in for Embiid

Lineup – Simmons, Redick, Covington, Saric, Muscala

5 minutes left – Fultz in for Redick, Johnson in for Saric

Lineup – Simmons, Fultz, Covington, Muscala, Johnson

3 minutes left – Redick in for Fultz, Saric in for Muscala, Embiid in for Johnson

Lineup – Simmons, Redick, Covington, Saric, Embiid

Second half minutes – Simmons 17, Fultz 14, Redick 17, Covington 16, Saric 17, Embiid 15, Muscala 9, Chandler 8, Johnson 8

Total minutes – Simmons 34, Fultz 28, Redick 29, Covington 33, Saric 31, Embiid 32, Shamet 5, Chandler 15, Muscala 16, Johnson 15


This wasn’t an easy exercise. It’s tough to figure out exactly how things will go since Zhaire Smith is hurt, Wilson Chandler only played one preseason game, and the team hasn’t played a full game yet (end of bench guys played most of the 4th quarter minutes in the preseason).

I think it’s safe to say that the minutes numbers won’t be exact, mainly because I used set times and that won’t ever happen in the actual games. Some guys will play longer if they’re on or come out if they get in foul trouble.

The biggest thing I learned from this is that there is a real reason for starting games with Fultz and starting second halves with Redick. Coming out of halftime with Redick on the floor makes it much easier for Brown to work his rotation to get Redick to finish out games. Similarly, Fultz gets to play more without Simmons in the second half, which is better for the team right now.

It remains to be seen how long Brett and co. will stick with this arrangement, but it’s definitely going to happen for at least the time being. Similarly, guys like Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, T.J. McConnell, Furkan Korkmaz, and 2018 first round pick Zhaire Smith will all be factors and could play their way into more (or less) minutes. That begins tonight, with Chandler and Muscala both out for the opener. Expect to see more minutes for McConnell, Shamet, and Korkmaz than what I’ve laid out here. There will be a clear top six in the rotation, but after that…who knows. It’ll be fun to watch how Brown will adjust throughout the season, especially when injury and ineffectiveness inevitably strikes.