Sixers Mailbag #5: Who Has Exceeded Expectations?

Which players have exceeded expectations? Should the 76ers have drafted Kristaps Porzingis? We look at that, and more, in our weekly 76ers mailbag.

The selection of Jahlil Okafor over Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis was one of general manager Sam Hinkie's major decisions so far | Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The selection of Jahlil Okafor over Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis was one of general manager Sam Hinkie’s major decisions so far | Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This Monday we continue our 76ers mailbag series, where we discuss some of the pressing topics around the team.

In this fifth edition of the Sixers mailbag we take a look at whether the Sixers should have drafted Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis, who has been the biggest disappointment so far, and how long the Sixers rebuilding process should be trusted.

You can read previous editions of the Sixers mailbag here. If you want to submit a question for a future mailbag either shoot me a message on twitter or send me an email.

Note: any opinions expressed here are my own opinions, and not reports or expectations based off of inside information, unless I explicitly state that a statement is based off of inside information.


Jake Samson (@jsamson112):

Which player has exceeded expectations and which has fallen short?

T.J. McConnell is the easy answer for the player that has exceeded expectations, considering that few expected him to really make the team when training camp started. Brett Brown deciding to keep four point guards on the regular roster gave him a window to make the team, and McConnell took advantage of it in a big way. An honorable mention goes to Jahlil Okafor for his ability to dominate in the post, from day 1, against NBA defenders. The only reason he doesn’t get this is because: 1) he had high expectations to begin with, so exceeding them were more difficult for him than it was for McConnell, and 2) his team defense remains a legitimate concern.

For disappointment, I would have said Robert Covington, but the injury to start the season was a very legitimate excuse, and the last two games he’s looked like last year’s Robert Covington.

You could make a similar argument for Nerlens Noel. Sure, playing out of position hurts his counting stats, but his counting stats are down significantly even when Okafor is on the bench and he’s playing his more natural center position. His impact on the defensive side of the court, especially since the wrist injury, seems to be less. But, again, if I had to guess I think this is more a problem with a nagging injury than a regression in Noel’s play, although his regression on the offensive side of the court is more concerning for me long term.

Isaiah Canaan‘s aiblity to run an offense leaves much to be desired, and thus would potentially fit in this category. But I think expectations for Canaan were pretty low to begin with, his three point shot has come around and is certainly valuable, and his defense has actually been surprising of late.

That leaves me with Nik Stauskas. His defense has been really bad and his three point shooting maddeningly inconsistent. He can occasionally make a play off the pick and roll, and will make some decent passes for an off-guard, but he just doesn’t contribute enough outside of shooting to impact a game when his shot isn’t falling, and his shot has been off far too frequently so far.

Jon White (@jondgc):

In hindsight, would Porzingis/Noel be a better pairing?

Kristaps Porzingis and Nerlens Noel were a better pairing, in terms of skill set, even without the benefit of hindsight, something we acknowledged leading up to the draft.

That’s a different question than whether drafting Okafor was a mistake, though. For that, I’d say it’s too early to say for sure.

But Pozingis and Okafor two were neck-and-neck in my mind at the time of the draft. I ended up putting Okafor at #3 and Porzingis at #4, even though I acknowledged that Porzingis was a better fit and had the same level of upside Okafor had. Why did Porzingis drop to 4? Various concerns about defensive rebounding, physicality, and ability to play through contact that made his bust potential higher than Okafor’s.

But if there’s one thing that you can take away from the first 15 games, it’s that those concerns were overblown. Porzingis is rebounding the heck out of the ball (9.1 rebounds per game in 26 minutes, with a 25.4% defensive rebounding percentage), is playing big minutes, and is already a very productive NBA player. If the chance of Porzingis being a bust is now much lower than anticipated, his value is certainly higher. And where Porzingis has already corrected some of the major concerns scouts had leading up to the draft, Okafor’s questionable team defense still persists.

Not that you expected Okafor’s help defense to be fixed in a couple months. Porzingis, and his rapid improvement, is the outlier here. Okafor has much more time to show improvement.

If I had to make the decision today, I’d probably go Porzingis. But 15 games is far too early to call something a mistake. The takeaway is that Porzingis has drastically exceeded expectations so far and the risk of him failing in the NBA has been drastically reduced. Let’s see how the next few years play out.

Josh (@TheRealJosh05):

Besides Ben Simmons, who would be the best option in the draft?

Right now I’d have to say Jamal Murray out of Kentucky.

Fellow freshmen Skal Labissiere (Kentucky) and Brandon Ingram (Duke) have been slightly disappointing so far, and Murray has looked excellent. That’s good for the Sixers, since Murray’s diverse skill set — ability to run an offense, shoot from the outside, get into the paint, and operate as a pick and roll threat — fits what the Sixers need.

Skal and Ingram have the physical tools to remain in the conversation as top draft picks, and we’ve seen enough in the past few years (Anthony Davis, Derrick Rose, Andrew Wiggins, etc) to know not to read too much into early-season struggles for highly-touted freshman, but Murray has looked the best outside of Simmons so far this year, in my opinion.

Wood B. Free (@woodyocho, with a similar question from @jpro717):

This has to be wearing on Brett Brown. Is he starting to crack? Any chance they move on from him?

I’m not sure I’d say he’s starting to crack, but you would almost have to assume he’s getting frustrated. He is human, after all, and you’ve started to see his “honesty levels” rise in press conferences, something which Brett has a problem with from time to time.

I don’t think we’re at the point where you have to worry about Brown going away, either being pushed out by the team or him leaving before his contract is up. I think having a consistent voice to develop these young players is something the front office wants, and Brown is highly regarded as a mentor and player development coach. I also think Brown legitimately likes the role of guiding these young kids and is willing to stick this out.

Brutus Buckeye (@kshuff92):

When do we throw in the towel on the process?

My belief in the process predates the arrival of general manager Sam Hinkie and this front office by a considerable margin. My belief in the process isn’t likely to wane.

What’s more likely to happen, for me, is losing faith in the people executing the process. I want to be clear here that I’m nowhere near that point yet, and really the decision to draft Okafor over Porzingis, while I tentatively agreed with, was the only major decisions he’s made that I didn’t think was a slam dunk at the time. Everything else — the Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel + picks trade, the selection of Embiid, the trade of MCW for the Lakers pick — I’ve agreed with wholeheartedly.

They’ve had some bad luck (or, more specifically, they haven’t gotten lucky) with the Joel Embiid injury and on missing out on Karl-Anthony Towns. But, in the end, if the process fails I think it will be because they missed out on potentially great franchise players. I think they’ve done a good job of putting themselves in the best position they can to capitalize. Now they have to go and actually capitalize on them.

That will wrap it up. Once again, If you want to submit a question for a future mailbag, either shoot me a message on twitter or send me an email.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.