Monday Morning Sixers Mailbag Volume 1: Preseason Roster Battles
Every Monday we’ll have a Philadelphia 76ers mailbag where I’ll offer my thoughts on whatever questions about the team you have.
In the first edition of the Sixes mailbag, we talk about which of the six point guards make the regular season roster, whether or not undrafted rookie Christian Wood makes the team, whether Nik Stauskas should start, and whether head coach Brett Brown should get a contract extension, despite an incredibly poor record as an NBA head coach.
Let’s get to the questions.
Coach Prince (@balltillyhufall):
“Does Christian Wood make this roster?”
It’ll be close.
The Sixers have six point guards on their training camp roster: Kendall Marshall, Tony Wroten, Isaiah Canaan, Pierre Jackson, Scottie Wilbekin, and T.J. McConnell. Brett Brown said before the start of camp that they’re likely to carry three of them to the regular season. It’s possible they could carry a fourth if neither Tony Wroten or Kendall Marshall are available to start the season, but if they do end up only keeping three, that means three of the five training camp cuts would come from the remaining point guards.
That leaves two cuts, which will likely come down to some combination of Wood, Jordan McRae, and J.P. Tokoto. I suppose Furkan Aldemir or Carl Landry could also be in the mix, but I think they want to see how Aldemir does with a full season under Brett Brown, and you have to think if they were going to cut the 32 year old Landry they would have done so before training camp, as Landry’s injured wrist will keep him out all of training camp and the preseason.
Wood is an interesting decision. The word around the league leading up to the draft was that there were questions about his maturity and work ethic, questions which ultimately led to him going undrafted. If those concerns are true that doesn’t fit the profile that general manager Sam Hinkie and head coach Brett Brown have been looking to build their foundation with in Philadelphia. That being said, Wood has far more talent and potential than most guys fighting for their lives in training camp, and if you had to make a decision based solely on how they’ve looked in the preseason, Wood would pretty easily make the team.
Which one out of Wood, McRae, and Tokoto makes it? The Sixers don’t have to make their decision until October 26th, so there’s still a lot of time for any of these guys to make their cases. If I had to pick one today, I would probably pick Wood making the team, based almost entirely off of potential.
(It’s also worth pointing out that there’s no guarantee that the Sixers 15 man roster on opening night will be comprised entirely of players that are currently on the 20 man roster. If a player on another team is cut that the 76ers like, which is a very distinct possibility, the Sixers could cut more than 5 players currently on roster).
“Who would be your first choice to start at point guard?”
If healthy, Kendall Marshall.
His offensive game is the best fit among the group of six that the Sixers currently have vying for that spot, in my opinion. He’s far and away the best passer, and despite not being a great athlete he can push the ball in transition very well. His improved perimeter shot will also be key in preventing defenses from collapsing on Jahlil Okafor, which is important.
The questions for Marshall will come on the defensive side of the court, and they’re very legitimate questions. Because of that, I don’t think anybody is expecting Marshall to be the long-term answer at the point, but he can provide a reasonable facsimile of one and allow head coach Brett Brown to get the team into, and execute, their offensive sets.
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If both Marshall and Wroten aren’t ready to go opening night, the battle for the point guard spot is going to be fascinating. Brown said before the start of training camp that they would likely carry three point guards to the regular season. If both Marshall and Wroten are still not ready to play, that would leave them with only one point guard at the start of the season. They played JaKarr Sampson there for stretches last year, used Jordan McRae there for a bit in summer league, and Nik Stauskas can handle the ball a little bit and make plays out of the pick and roll, so perhaps they go with a “backup point guard by committee” approach. Still, it wouldn’t shock me to see them carry a fourth point guard for a short time if it does come to be that neither Wroten or Marshall are ready on day one.
If that’s the case, I think Isaiah Canaan probably has the upper hand. He’s certainly not the most dynamic option at point guard, and his lack of ability to really generate offense for others is far from ideal. But Brett Brown and Sam Hinkie both like him, and his shooting, which is a very legitimate NBA skill, might be what they’re looking for in a third point guard.
Pierre Jackson is the most dynamic of the remaining options, with a combination of athleticism, shooting, and pick and roll play that could be an interesting option, although his shot selection can be questionable and at just over 5’10” in shoes he’s going to struggle defensively.
McConnell solves that defensive problem, but his outside shot has been inconsistent over his career, and he’s likely going to struggle to score against NBA defenders. Still, he’s looked very good in his limited preseason run thus far.
Scottie Wilbekin sort of bridges the gap between the two. He’s not quite the defender that McConnell is, and he’s not quite the athlete that Jackson is, but he has less holes in his game than the other two. He can hit from the perimeter, play pesky pressure defense, and get to the hoop on occasion. The question is whether or not he can do that against NBA-level athletes. So far, the answer to that question has been no, a game winning shot against Cavaliers notwithstanding.
I would guess that Canaan makes the team as the third point guard, and McConnell sneaks in if they have to carry a fourth to start the season.
Samuel Kim (@pickleSAM):
“Assuming all our SG’s perform reasonably well in camp, who would you start? Hollis? Stauskas?”
With Nik Stauskas sidelined for two weeks because of a stress reaction in his right tibia, that likely limits his chances of starting from day one. He’s going to need some time to get back up to speed, so he’ll probbably come off the bench to start the season.
And that’s probably the route I would have taken anyway, as I would probably start Hollis Thompson to star the season. I think his defense is a bit better, and he’s the more proven NBA shooter at this point, and probably attracts more attention from defenses because of that. I think the Sixers are going to look to run their offense through Okafor pretty much from day one, and I think Thompson, right now, does more to help that.
That being said, I think Stauskas has more potential than Thompson, and can certainly do more with the ball in his hands than Thompson can. If Stauskas plays well in the early part of the season it’s more than possible that he wins the starting job relatively early on.
In a perfect world, Stauskas would win the starting job. And, because he does have more potential, it might be something that you just give to him, both as a vote of confidence and to evaluate what you have in him. But because the Sixers are also looking to integrate another young player in Okafor, I think it might make sense to go with the more proven and reliable NBA shooter right now. Regardless, Stauskas is likely to get heavy minutes right from the jump whether he starts or not.
(Note: this is what I would do. I think it’s a very definite possibility that Brown goes with JaKarr Sampson to start the season, as he’s mentioned concerns about the starting units ability to defend).
Mark Adamiak (@luvingwithmork):
“Why aren’t people more excited about Stauskas? What kind of impact can he have on the squad?”
I think this is largely a result of Stauskas’ disappointing rookie season. And make no mistake about it, it was disappointing. I think we tend to look at shooters as skilled players, and we assume that skilled players can adjust to the NBA game quickly. But when you put a shooter in an entirely new offensive system, with a longer three point line, and put him up against bigger, more athletic defenders, there’s a very real learning curve there.
Did his rookie season change my evaluation of him all that much? Not really. I still think he has the capability to be a high-level shooter in this league, and hopefully will make a jump in that regard this season. I also think he can provide more than just spot-up shooting. He was measured with a 35.5″ vertical at the NBA draft combine, and really shined for Michigan when they let him handle the ball in pick and roll situations. He struggled mightily to finish at the rim last season, and he’s clearly not going to be as much of a focal point in the NBA as he was for the Wolverines, but I think he’ll be more than a one-dimensional set shooter. Having guys who can not only shoot, but also attack overly aggressive closeouts off the dribble and make smart decisions with the basketball are very valuable to an offense.
Jim McHugh (@Slim_Jimmer3):
“I know he doesn’t want to talk about it, but what are your thoughts on Brett Brown’s contract situation?”
This is another fascinating scenario to watch unfold.
Even if the Sixers show considerable improvement, let’s say they go 25-57, that would give Brown a 62-184 record in his first three seasons as head coach. I can’t imagine there has been a coach in NBA history who had 184 losses in their first three years and got an extension.
But if that’s the case, I think the Sixers might just make history.
Brown’s two years in, with a 37-127 record, and nobody questions his security. And nobody should. Brown’s developing his players, he has them drastically improved on the defensive side of the court, and there are signs that he’s established an offensive system that could be productive once he gets talent around him.
If I had to guess, and this is pure speculation, it wouldn’t shock me at all if at the end of this season Brown signs a two year extension. This would give Brown a chance to coach a team that has the talent to compete on a nightly basis, and it gives the Sixers a chance to evaluate Brown in that environment before committing to him long term.