Sixers Mailbag #6: Can Hinkie Lead the Sixers?

In the 6th edition of our weekly Sixers mailbag we talk about whether Sam Hinkie is the right main to rebuild the Sixers, the Lakers draft pick, and more.

Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie talks with Joel Embiid before a game last season | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie and Joel Embiid are both key pieces in the Sixers rebuilding plan | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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

In this sixth edition of the Sixers mailbag we take a look at whether you should have faith in Sam Hinkie, how important it is for the Sixers to get the Lakers draft pick this year, and what we like (and dislike) about Jahlil Okafor’s play so far.

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.

Sean O’Connor (@soconnor76):

“Would you root for a Sixers win on Tuesday, considering the win would put us one game back of the Lakers?”

Oh, I’d root for a win, no doubt. Sure, I think the Lakers are going to lose a ton of games. Heck, at this point I think there’s a pretty good chance the Lakers end up with a worse record than the Sixers, when you combine in their incentive to lose, their inability to reign in Kobe Bryant, their youth, their porous perimeter defense, and Byron Scott. So I would get why losing would be advantageous. But this team has such a black cloud hanging over it that one or two wins would wash away, just as a carrot to Brett Brown and the young guys for all the hard work they’ve done, I’d love to see them get a win, and the Lakers provide them by far their best chance.

David Leggieri (@legsanity):

“What effect will Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten returning have on the team?”

I think it will have a positive impact, but not quite to the level that some are anticipating. Both have pretty big limiting factors, potential fatal flaws, in their games. For a team that has so many problems because the point guards just aren’t a threat from the perimeter, neither Marshall or Wroten really fix that: Wroten because he’s not accurate from the perimeter, and Marshall because his slow release, which needs a considerable amount of space, doesn’t stretch the defense as much as his numbers might otherwise suggest. And for a team that has such a problem with turnovers, Wroten can certainly make that worse.

But, right now the complete inability for anybody on the team to create their own offense from the perimeter is a huge problem. Having Wroten around should prevent them from having as many late-clock situations, for better or worse. Having two more players that Brett Brown can lean on and that have legitimate NBA skills will certainly help.

Tom Primosch (@ThomasPrimosch):

“Do you think Sam Hinkie really believes Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor can play together?”

I’m not sure he ever really believed they could play together, nor do I think that was really his priority. Did he hope they could develop into a pair that could play together? Probably. But I think his goal was more to find players who have the best chance of being great, and that he’ll figure out the details later on, because passing on greatness is almost always more damaging than having too much talent that doesn’t fit well together.

And it’s something I do agree with. Right now the biggest problem with the pairing isn’t that they don’t fit, it’s that neither of them look like they’re on their way to being a dominant two-way player. If there was more long-term certainty around either of them, their lack of fit together would be a relatively minor concern.

The two go hand-in-hand though, of course. The reason there is uncertainty about Okafor and Noel turning into two-way players are some of the same limitations that make it difficult for the two to work together.

The bigger long-term question is whether Okafor was the best talent on the board at #3 rather than his fit with Noel. And it’s the first (major) decision this administration has made that I think is questionable.

David Leggieri (@legsanity):

“What is Okafor’s best/most effective post move?”

That spin move that he uses to go back to his right hand, by far. He has just enough over his right shoulder that defenders can’t completely sit on the spin, and he’s so deceptively quick, so balanced, and does such a good job of creating separation with the move that it’s tough to guard without a double team.

Chris (@hugetinymistake):

“Are you concerned at all about Okafor’s defensive effort?”


I’ve said before that it’s his defensive rotations, more than his man-to-man defense, and even more than his athleticism, that concern me the most long-term. But it’s sometimes hard to differentiate exactly what’s wrong with the rotations. Is his recognition just a second or two slow? Does he commit too late due to indecisiveness? Or does he bail on / not finish plays? I’d guess it’s mostly delayed recognition / slow committal, but until it’s fixed, his defensive rotations are always going to be the biggest concern about Okafor, and sometimes that legitimately can look like he’s not giving effort.

Rob McGinnis (@robmcginnis):

“Talk me off the ledge?”

This plan has always been about upside, not safety. The “if things go right” (Joel Embiid can return, drafting Ben Simmons and Jamal Murray / Kris Dunn) portion is still present, and has a ton of potential. I’ve said frequently that rebuilding teams need that stroke of good luck, that “looking back on it, this should have never happened”. If the Sixers get that to happen to them once or twice, there’s still a ton of upside to this rebuilding method. And I do still think they’ve done about as much as could be expected to give themselves as many opportunities as possible to capitalize on luck.

Samuel Kim (@pickleSAM, with a similar question from @FreddyGeezy)):

“Are Okafor’s recent inefficiencies more related to his physical limitations or is it still mainly floor spacing?”

Of late, I think his biggest problem is that he’s just not been able to win his 1-on-1 matchup, something that I touched upon this weekend. I think part of that is floor spacing, part of that is a need to round out his offensive game, but also partly that it’s just tough to beat the best man-to-man post defenders in the league, like Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol are.

To me, what I took from it wasn’t that he struggled in his 1-on-1 matchup, but how he needs to diversify his game (team defense, perimeter shot to space the floor, more consistent defensive rebounding) so he can still be an impact player even when he has 1-on-1 match-ups that are going to be tough to win.

Doug Zinar (@Darth_Doug):

“Why should we have faith Hinkie can build a team? Even if we get the 1st pick what makes you believe he can build around it?”

Well, I’m not here to tell you to have faith in Hinkie. My faith has been placed more in the system, and the necessity of building through the draft, than individual decision makers. Truth be told, we just don’t have enough information to really judge Hinkie as a decision maker yet. Impressions? Sure. But these are the kind of things that take years to fully vet.

(It’s also the kind of things that we tend to react to before we really should, because we want to rush to judgment and hold people accountable, even if judgment at the time is impractical).

From what we’ve seen, I think most of his trades have been home runs. The Jrue Holiday and Michael Carter-Williams trades were fantastic examples of selling high before the market caught up, something which he’ll get killed for because he “took a step back”, but something which is absolutely vital for a general manager to be able to recognize. The Dario Saric and Nik Stauskas trades were also good examples of using leverage over desperate front offices to his advantage. (Note: I consider the decision to make the trade different from the decision to pass over Payton. The team wasn’t going to draft Payton even if the trade wasn’t available, so I consider that a scouting/drafting decision).

As for drafting? That’s obviously the biggest question. Grabbing Noel at 6 was a big win, and I will always defend the decision to draft Embiid as having been the right one. Guys like Embiid, if they work out, don’t become available. You have one opportunity to get a player of that caliber, and that’s at the draft, and you don’t pass on him for an Aaron Gordon type.

The two questionable ones are Michael Carter-Williams and Jahlil Okafor. The Carter-Williams one I can’t fault him for: he ended up turning the 11th pick in a poor draft into a high-value asset. Did he maximize the value? Obviously Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ascension presents a huge what-if, but hitting on every late-lottery diamond is obviously unrealistic.

Okafor’s going to be the big one. There were a lot of people — myself included — who raved about Porzingis’ upside. The thought that he could struggle to translate was a common one at the time, but as we get more and more evidence that he’s not going to bust (three 20/10 games in his last five, four in his last seven), it’s a decision that’s going to increasingly come under scrutiny.

Truth is, we’re years away from knowing for sure on any of these young kids, and no decision maker has a 100% clean draft record. So have faith? Faith is a little bit strong, but I think there’s some positive (and negative) marks on his (admittedly early) record.

I do believe that much of the rest is noise. If the Sixers were, say, 4-14 rather than 0-18, there’d be much more focus on Noel and Okafor rather than the embarrassment many perceive the Sixers to be. It’s the role players that have prevented the 4-14 from happening, but I do ultimately believe it’s Okafor and Noel (along with Embiid, Saric, and future draft picks) which will determine the long-term success and failure of “the process.”

vaughn (@vbfive):

“How important is getting the Lakers pick this year given the cap space they will have now with Kobe retiring?”

I think it’s important in the fact that we’d all like some certainty, and certainty does have some value in team building, because the earlier you know what pieces you have (and don’t have), the sooner you can address those shortcomings.

But I don’t worry too much about the Lakers improving next year. The Lakers had a ton of cap space this past offseason and it got them nowhere. They’ll have cap space next year, but so will more teams. If the Lakers improve it will be because of the loss of Kobe (and potentially Byron Scott) and the improvement of guys like D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle than it will be because of the changing cap dynamics.

Francis Parker (@franciszomes):

“Nerlens didn’t look like himself after returning from injury. Why? Still injured? Fit issues with Jah? Something else?”

I think it’s likely a combination of both, plus some needed offensive improvement. I think part of Noel’s improved play last year did have something to do with Ish Smith, which raises the question of whether it was tied largely to player development or was he put in a better spot more frequently? And which is more important in terms of long-term sustainability?

That being said, I do think he clearly doesn’t look like the same player that ended last year, or even the one that started this year. His fit with Okafor is obviously in question, but his stats, particularly his defensive stats, are significantly down even when he’s playing without Okafor. I’d guess both the nagging wrist and knee injuries are playing a significant role here.

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.