The Philadelphia 76ers are enjoying a strong 2023-2024 season, currently in 5th place in the Eastern Conference with a 32-22 record. However, the Sixers have one fatal flaw as currently constructed: Their second unit’s lack of offensive creation.

Philly has commendable depth when it comes to wing defenders and shooters. However, the team is extremely top-heavy in terms of players who can create scoring opportunities for themselves and others. This is a glaring weakness, amplified by superstar center Joel Embiid’s recent injury.

Beyond Embiid and electrifying point guard Tyrese Maxey, the 76ers are lacking players who can make good things happen with the ball in their hands.

Last season, Maxey and James Harden were able to share ball-handling duties. Lineups could also be staggered, so that one of the two guards was on the court at all times to initiate the offense. After Harden became disgruntled and was ultimately traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, however, Philadelphia has struggled to replace Harden’s share of offensive creation.

The starting unit has excelled with Maxey playing alongside Embiid, but the team struggles when the second unit is on the court because there is no clear leader capable of protecting the ball and consistently creating scoring opportunities for themselves or for others.

The 76ers need to improve their playmaking in the second unit

Unfortunately for the 76ers and their fans, this fatal flaw is nothing new to the franchise. For the majority of the Joel Embiid era in Philadelphia, the Sixers have struggled to remain competitive when Embiid needs a breather. Early in his career, Tyrese Maxey helped bring life to the second unit. Even as Maxey developed into a bonafide star and moved into the starting lineup, his presence still created flexibility that benefited the team's second unit.

Earlier this season, the Sixers were able to stagger Maxey’s and Embiid’s minutes so that one of them was always on the court at all times. When Embiid is on the bench and Maxey is in the game, defenses are able to key in on Maxey and make life miserable for him. The other players on Philadelphia’s roster struggle to make defenses pay for lagging off them to put extra pressure on Maxey. This problem has been amplified in recent weeks due to Embiid’s extended absence. This fatal flaw could doom the team’s season if it is not addressed quickly.

The Sixers have taken steps to resolve this problem

Philadelphia 76ers guard Buddy Hield (17) looks on after the game against the Miami Heat at Wells Fargo Center.
Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers have taken steps recently to address this fatal flaw in their roster construction. The first move towards fixing this problem came when Philly acquired Buddy Hield at the trade deadline.

Hield’s addition will reduce the usage burden that Maxey is forced to carry for the 76ers in Embiid’s absence. Hield is an elite shooter, but he also has the potential to be much more than that. Hield has an underrated dribble game and his elite shooting ability forces defenses to respect the pump fake, which can open up driving lanes.

It’s a small sample size, but Hield has averaged north of 20 points per game in his brief stint with the Sixers following the trade deadline deal that brought him to the City of Brotherly Love. If he can keep up this level of performance, it will be incredibly beneficial for Maxey.

Hield’s scoring ability will allow Maxey to take a step back at times and let somebody else make plays. This will be an important part of keeping Maxey fresh so that he can take the lead in the fourth quarter, and help Philly to close out games.

Without Embiid, Maxey is also going to be asked to increase his workload in terms of minutes played. He’ll have to continue to play his role with the starting unit, but also stay on the court for at least a few minutes of run with the second unit. This will be necessary to prevent a collapse when the bench players are on the court.

Because Maxey will be playing a heavier minutes load, the 76ers must do everything they can to reduce the pressure on him to carry the team. Otherwise, it would be easy for Maxey to get burned out. Hield will be essential to the Sixers’ efforts to take some of the creation duties off of Maxey’s plate.

Kyle Lowry can be a leader for the second unit

The next step the Sixers made towards improving their second unit was to sign Kyle Lowry after he was bought out. Lowry is a veteran point guard who brings many skills to the table. He is an elite defender, and his instincts help to make up for his diminished athleticism. The North Philly native is also a strong shooter, and shooting is often one of the last skills that a player will lose.

Lowry may not be able to play heavy minutes at this point in his career, but he is still a useful player when he is on the court. Once Philadelphia is back to full health, Lowry won’t have to play heavy minutes consistently. This will help him preserve his body and operate at optimal efficiency when he is on the court.

If Lowry is able to stabilize the second unit and serve as a steadying presence on both ends of the court, the Sixers will be a much better team for his contributions. Lowry’s shooting and self creation is still there, and he has a great feel for the game as a playmaker. Once Embiid is back healthy and Paul Reed returns to the second unit, expect Reed and Lowry to quickly build a rapport together. Reed will benefit from Lowry’s spacing, and the veteran guard will be able to get easy assists throwing alley oops to the springy big man.

Lowry’s ability to run the second unit effectively will reduce Maxey’s burden and keep the Sixers in games when their starters need to rest. This is key to fixing the team’s most glaring Achilles heel as they gear up to make a run at the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.