By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Editor
Those are the words Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown used when describing the process of whittling down the team's rotation towards the end of last season.
By the end of last season, the 76ers bench consisted of a group of newly acquired players (James Ennis III, Jonathon Simmons and Mike Scott) mixed with some unproven, younger players (Furkan Korkmaz and Jonah Bolden). With the playoffs getting nearer, it was time for Brown to begin to see who he would be using in the team's playoff rotation. Ennis III and Scott both won significant roles off the bench for the 76ers, and both of them produced in the playoffs.
This season, a new "quiet tournament" will be occurring between a group of 76ers bench players vying for the limited amount of minutes available in the Sixers' rotation. With Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson occupying the starting small forward and shooting guard spots respectively, there are not many minutes left available for the players behind them.
Ennis III stepped up his game in the playoffs last season, showing that he can do a little bit of everything on the floor, and earned a spot in Brown's rotation (and a contract extension this offseason). He averaged 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game while shooting 48.4 percent from the field in 11 playoff games last season for the 76ers. It is assumed that he will be occupying one of the top bench spots in the rotation.
That leaves a battle for minutes between Korkmaz, rookie first-round pick Matisse Thybulle and second-year player Zhaire Smith for the small amount of minutes left in the rotation.
Breaking Down the Players Involved
Korkmaz has a storied history with the 76ers organization. He wasn't happy with his role on the team and it resulted in the organization declining the third-year option in his contract. He hit free agency this offseason, but wound up returning to Philadelphia on a two-year contract. The Turkish native is known for his 3-point shooting ability, but it hasn't yet transferred over to the court at the NBA level.
Thybulle is a player that the 76ers clearly value based on how they traded up with the Boston Celtics to draft him in this year's NBA Draft. He is a defensive savant who has a developing offensive game. He looked good earlier this summer in the Summer League, showing mainly that he has a competent outside shot while continuing to excel on the defensive end of the floor.
The Summer League showed that Thybulle still has a lot of work to do to become what the 76ers saw when they drafted him with the 20th pick in the first round. One of the key things that he needs to work on is his ball handling, specifically on drives to the basket. It is unclear whether Thybulle will ever be above average on offense, but, with his elite defensive abilities, he only needs to be an average player on that end of the floor.
Smith has perhaps the most interesting story out of these three players. He was drafted by the 76ers in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft, but missed the majority of last season after suffering both a Jones fracture to his foot and an allergic reaction that nearly threatened his life.
Smith stands out on the floor due to both his defense and athleticism, two traits that the organization is trying to build around. His offensive game isn't as raw as Thybulle's, but he still won't be a player who is known for offense. His jumper showed flashes of improvement between his lone collegiate season at Texas Tech and the end of last season, when he was able to get on the floor for six games. In those six games, Smith averaged almost three attempts per game from beyond the arc, hitting them on a 37.5% clip.
Who Will Win the Quiet Tournament?
1. Zhaire Smith
I think that Smith will finish on top in this "quiet tournament," but it will be close. Between his improving (albeit a small sample size) offensive game and his physical tools, Smith will be able to earn a consistent spot in the rotation ahead of both Korkmaz and Thybulle.
2. Furkan Korkmaz
Behind him comes Korkmaz, who is being given yet another chance to prove himself and earn a spot in the team's rotation. His outside shooting ability is enticing and is something that the 76ers are looking for coming off the bench.
3. Matisse Thybulle
Thybulle doesn't have the experience and, right now, his offensive game is too raw. It is possible, maybe even likely, that he surpasses Korkmaz in the rotation at some point this season.
It just doesn't seem like Thybulle is ready for a consistent role at the NBA level. He has too many flaws (poor ball handler, below average outside shooter) to be a serviceable offensive player. While his defensive skills are enticing (and are the main reason why the team drafted him), Korkmaz provides more of what the 76ers need coming off the bench.
Maybe if the team didn't have Smith, a player of the same mold as Thybulle, then things would be different. However, they have the ability to not have to rush Thybulle into a bigger role in the rotation.