Sixers Mailbag #7: The Return of Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall
This Monday we continue our 76ers mailbag series, where we discuss some of the pressing topics around the team.
In this seventh edition of the Sixers mailbag we take a look at what to expect from Kendall Marshall, on what exactly Robert Covington’s true ceiling is, on letting Stauskas create at the end of games, on the possibility of adding Ben Simmons to next year’s roster, and whether the team could trade either Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor.
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.
“What’s an honest expectation for Kendall Marshall?”
I would guess, just in terms of pure numbers, somewhere around 20-25 minutes, 7 points, 5 assists, and 2 turnovers per game, shooting in the upper-30’s (~38%) from three point range.
In terms of impact, I think it’s best that we all remain realistic in regards to Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall. Both will provide something the team sorely needs — Wroten’s ability to create off the dribble, and Marshall’s steady hand at the point and ability to hit from the perimeter — but they’re both pretty flawed players. For Marshall, his defense is going to be a real concern.
Also, I think his shot is at the point where you can count on it, but it’s not really a floor spacing shot. It’s one that he needs considerable time and space to get off, as it’s slow, with a low release point, and a bit of a hitch that slows it down even further. Defenders are still going to sag off of Marshall to play the passing lanes, because they think they have time to recover to contest the shot, despite his accuracy, and he doesn’t really shoot it much on the move.
Just having another guard out there to handle minutes without being overwhelmed will be nice, and Marshall at least has enough shooting where he should be able to make an entry pass to the post without his defender sagging so far off of him that the entry pass is impossible to make. So he’ll help, but he’s a long-term NBA backup point guard.
(Note: Marshall is reportedly targeting Thursday, December 10th against the Brooklyn Nets to make his season debut).
“What is Robert Covington‘s ceiling? He is 24. Is the player he is currently about what can be expected of him going forward?”
It’s a great question. He’s a four year college player who is about to turn 25. Especially with a shooter, you’d normally assume his potential is fairly limited, and I think expecting a huge jump is probably unrealistic. But there are a few things which give me hope.
- Improving his team defense. Covington can still get beat from time to time on man-to-man defnese, but I think you’ve already seen Covington improve his help defense quite a bit this season.
- Defensive rebounding. He’s rebounding much better this year, which opens up more of a role for Covington as a small-ball power forward, where his floor spacing would be huge. It would also open up…
- More of a dribble drive game, especially if playing the power forward. Defenders are so aware of his shooting and close out so aggressively that Covington doesn’t need to be Chris Paul with the basketball to get into the lane, he mostly just needs to be able to make straight line drives confidently in traffic. He’s made some progress in this regard, but improving more could really open up his game. He’s already shown a knack for getting to the free throw line, so pretty much just doing what he currently does, with less turnovers, would make him an insanely efficient offensive player.
I think when Covington came back earlier this season he clearly wasn’t himself. His jump shot was off, his legs weren’t under him, and he was just out of sync. He’s been absolutely incredible over his last 8 games: 17.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 3.6 steals (!) per game, shooting 45.5% from the field and 42.4% on 8.3 (!) three point attempts per game.
During that eight game stretch, he has a usage rate of 23% and a true shooting percentage of 62.6%. There have been 44 players in the NBA who have played at least 30 minutes per night while using at least 23% of their team’s offensive possessions over their last 8 games. Covington’s 62.6% true shooting percentage is the 5th most efficient mark among those 44 players. The guys ahead of him? Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George. He’s been incredible.
His play is pretty much the prototype for the new-age three-and-d: 61.8% of his field goal attempts have been from three point range, he has a free throw rate of 32.4%, and his 4.8% steal rate is among the league leaders.
Can he maintain this play? Probably not. But I think he can improve over last year’s numbers, while becoming a better defender, and he certainly has some facets of his game that he can improve upon and make him even better.
“Thoughts on letting Nik Stauskas handle the ball in late game situations?”
I mean, sure? It’s not like there are all that many perimeter options on the Sixers.
For as frustrating as Stauskas has been shooting the ball, and as much as he struggles defensively, he generally makes pretty good decisions with the ball in his hands, and he’s shown an ability to get to the hoop off the pick and roll, even if the team seemed to abandon letting him create while he was going through his (extended) shooting slump. Considering how horrible the Sixers’ guard play has been in late game situations, I’m not opposed to it.
That being said, the biggest detriment to letting him create in late-game situations might come on the other side of the court: his defense might be so bad that you just can’t afford to give him late-game minutes.
“Do you think Ben Simmons would play PG for us and have a 5 of Simmons, Covington, Saric, Noel, Okafor/Embiid?”
I think players play whichever position they can defend. You’re not going to want Ben Simmons defending point guards.
I came into the college season thinking Simmons was a power forward until he improved his jump shot, at which point he’d slide over to his “more natural” small forward position. I now think that was incorrect. I think Simmons is a modern-day power forward, and the kind of guy that can be so unique, and such a tremendous match-up problem, that teams have to gameplan against.
The big change in my thinking comes from his defensive rebounding, which he’s been showing is very legitimate, as he has an incredible 29.8% defensive rebounding rate. With the way the NBA is trending, you want a power forward who can defend the pick and roll, and really defend multiple positions. The usual trade-off to finding a guy like this is a drop in defensive rebounding, but Simmons can get you all the benefits (and more) of modern-day power forwards without any of the (major) drawbacks.
Keeping him close to the basket defensive, allowing him to crash the defensive glass, and giving him more opportunities to push the ball in transition, and get the Sixers into early offense, and giving him a slower defender to take off the dribble and make the drive-and-kick passes that he’s executed so effortlessly so far this season is the way to go, I think. If he gets anything even remotely resembling a jump shot, he’s going to be incredible.
On a related note: Simmons is the only player in the sports-reference database (minimum 200 minutes played, dating back to 2009-10) with an assist rate greater than 30%, turnover rate less than 12%, and a defensive rebounding rate greater than 20%. He has a combination of skill sets which just don’t normally go together.
Related note #2: Seth Partnow of Nylon Calculus had an interesting chart, which showed big men who can get defensive rebounds and use that to get their team into early offense. It showed the value of great rebounding guards (a la Russell Westbrook), but also bigs who can competently handle, and push, the ball to ignite a break (a la Draymond Green, Paul George, Julius Randle, etc). Simmons, and Dario Saric, are tremendous at this.
“It’s early, but if the Sixers draft Ben Simmons (or similar caliber), do they pursue big free agent for 2016, or save money and stay young?”
I think one common misconception is that the Sixers won’t pursue a big free agent. They did last year, showing interest in both Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler.
The more more important questions are: will big free agents have any real interest in the Sixers, and, if not, will the Sixers show more interest in role players?
The answer to the first question is it probably doesn’t matter what the Sixers do in the draft, they’re not going to be a destination in free agency. Veteran players don’t really care about young players, they want to win, and they probably want to do so now. Young players, even great young players, take years to really lead a team to being relevant.
As for whether or not they’d have interest in the lower-level free agents, the guys that aren’t “no brainer maximum salary” players (so the Sixers can actually “overpay” to sway them), I think that depends on whether or not they have a guy they’re really, truly confident in being a franchise player. I think there’s a good chance they do, but it’s probably not quite the guarantee most are hoping for.
Even without that franchise player, you could see the team try to target a player (a la Avery Bradley), but this would once again be dependent on the Sixers believing they’ve identified a guy before the market did, in an effort to get a young player on a contract which will eventually become a steal. This market this summer could be an opportunity to do that, since this new salary cap will be so drastically different than what we, and general managers, are accustomed to.
Craig Oliver (@CraigOliver212):
“The Sixers are better, at least watchable, when they go small – is it going to be sooner that one of the C’s get traded?”
I think two things:
* Whether they are watchable or not, or even better at basketball or not, isn’t really going to dictate whether they move either Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel. They can stagger their minutes enough (i.e. each getting 24 minutes per night at C, then 8-10 minutes per night together) where they can evaluate, and build up, their trade value without moving either of them immediately, while also keeping their two most talented players on the roster and giving them a chance to see if the pairing can improve over time.
* That being said, I think Sam Hinkie is one who places value in reaching a conclusion before there’s time for a league-wide consensus to be formed. I think you saw this with the Michael Carter-Williams trade. There’s a point where a prospect goes from “great athlete who can push the ball in transition but needs to fix his shot” to “guy about to get paid who has a fatal flaw”. Having a guy with a fatal flaw on the roster isn’t necessarily a problem: it’s having a guy where the league has figured out his fatal flaw when you get burned.
So do I think Hinkie trades either of the two centers because the team can play better in a small lineup? Nah, probably not. But do I think it’s possible Hinkie might come to a conclusion on either Noel or Okafor before the general public, or even the rest of the league, does, and move one of them earlier than we might expect? That I do think is possible. But I would be surprised if anything happens during the 2015-16 season. If it happens incredibly early the process, I would guess draft time is more likely.
Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.