Sixers Mailbag #8: What is Going On With The Sixers?
This week we continue our 76ers mailbag series, where we discuss some of the pressing topics around the team.
The 8th edition of the Sixers mailbag focuses on one simple question: what exactly is going on with the Sixers and all of these front office shake-ups? We also take a look at some of the assets the Sixers have accumulated, the 2016 draft, and the Philadelphia Phillies.
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 the (heck) is going on?”
Panic. It honestly seems like there’s a little bit of panicking going on.
That has nothing to do with either Jerry Colangelo or Mike D’Antoni. You can make the right hire, and the right decision in general, for questionable reasons.
But when you size up the when and the why of it all, it seems like Joshua Harris and the Sixers’ management staff is panicking. Both Colangelo and D’Antoni were available in the offseason. If it were as simple as wanting another NBA mind to bounce ideas off of, there would have been no reason not to bring them in sooner. Instead, it looks like a clear reaction to what has gone on of late.
So fans are left not only trying to figure out the power struggle going on at the Wells Fargo Center, but also the mindset of Harris, the most important guy in the equation. What made the Sixers unique, and what, theoretically, allowed them to acquire incredibly talented players (Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric), and what gave them the leverage to absolutely kill teams in trades (Michael Carter-Williams trade, Sacramento trade) was their patience.
The need for immediacy was something most general managers were burdened with, and it is the mother of many crippling mistakes. That seemed to be one of the great competitive advantages the Sixers had, and now it could be gone.
The ironic thing is, the (relative) struggles of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor could be a big part of the reason ownership is panicking. If they wanted more certainty from the top draft picks they’ve tanked the last two seasons for, they could overreact. But not having that certainty just makes it more damaging if they do overreact: hitting on a legitimate building block in the top of the draft is still the thing that will define the franchise going forward.
Again, none of that is to say that either Colangelo or D’Antoni would be the wrong people for the job. It’s also not even to say that they’re on the path to making mistakes. And even beyond that, they could overreact and *still* have it work out, if Joel Embiid comes back healthy, if ping pong balls bounce their way, or if Okafor or Noel improve upon the weak points of their game.
It’s just that the mindset they could possibly be showing with the why and when of these hires is a mindset that could be prone to mistakes, or at the very least a mindset that could strip away one of their great competitive advantages.
Sean Forman (@sean_forman):
“What percentage of national commentators on the Sixers understand they could add 6 first rounders next season?”
I think everybody knows about it, but I think most people just don’t value it yet.
(Note: the 6 first round picks include Dario Saric and Joel Embiid, who are unlikely to play this season but could next year).
I honestly think people forget how much uncertainty there is at this stage of any rebuild. It happens almost all the time.
Heck, even the Milwaukee Bucks, who were darlings just a year ago, are sitting at 10-15. Their #2 overall pick, Jabari Parker, was just recently benched, hasn’t been an impact player at this stage of his career, and is a questionable fit with some of the other frontcourt talent they’ve assembled. Michael Carter-Williams, who they just acquired last season for Brandon Knight, has been benched, and looks like a disaster of a trade. Greg Monroe, who they just committed $50 million to, has been a big reason why they’ve lost the defensive identity they worked so hard to build last season.
Improving from 34 wins, which is where the Sixers were when Sam Hinkie inherited them, to 41-45 wins is not all that difficult, especially in the watered-down Eastern Conference. It’s whether you have the horses necessary to make that next jump that’s the real question. The Sixers have thrown out the window dressing, and job security, in making that initial improvement to try to increase the chances they get those necessary horses.
Until some combination of those players and draft picks start to turn into tangible superstar players, the narrative isn’t going to change. It’s kind of unfair, as all great players, at one point, were just “assets”. But Hinkie has taken the path that he believes gives him the best mathematical odds of finding that transcendent player, but it’s a path that has afforded him the least leeway in the court of public opinion, so it’s not surprising.
But yes, adding 6 first round draft picks next season accomplishes two things: more chances at a superstar player, and more legitimate NBA depth. Most of the problems the Sixers currently face are short-term, which is why the reaction from ownership that previously seemed fully on-board is somewhat surprising.
“How do you see the point guard minutes breaking down once everybody is back at full strength?”
I think Isaiah Canaan will eventually be playing almost exclusively at the shooting guard position once Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall are off of their minute restrictions and able to play on back-to-backs. The Canaan at point guard lineups, which draw a lot of ire from Sixers fans (and mostly deservedly so) I think are primarily done to put Okafor in the best position to succeed, because shooting is so important for Okafor’s post-up and face-up offensive style of play.
With Marshall back they could have somebody who can run an offense *and* occasionally make an outside shot, so whatever force is pulling Brown back to the Caanan at the point lineup will be diminished. I think you’ll also see some Tony Wroten at the shooting guard position as well.
Breaking down 48 minutes at the point, and everybody is healthy, I’ll just spitball and say 25 of those will go to Marshall, 12 to Wroten (with another 15 or so at the 2), and 11 to TJ McConnell.
(Note: that doesn’t mean these are what they’ll actually end up playing, since injuries are almost guaranteed to come up again throughout the year).
(Note 2: I think the increased availability of point guards will push the Sixers into more small-ball lineups, with guys like Hollis Thompson and Nik Stauskas playing more small forward, and guys like Jerami Grant and Robert Covington playing more at the 4, although I think this was going to happen anyway).
“Who is the better fit for the Sixers – Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram? How close is Ingram as a prospect?”
Fit? We’re talking about fit? Not quality, but fit? Fit?
Give me talent. The Sixers’ short-term problems are related to fit, but their long-term problem is still governed by not having a two-way star that you had confidence would become an elite (top-10 to 15) player in the league. Forget fit, man, give me talent.
In that respect, I do think Simmons is a pretty significant step up from Ingram. He doesn’t just impact a game, but dominates a game, in so many ways. I actually think as the year goes on and the memory of that 43 point explosion against North Florida fades, Simmons is going to become underrated. Not that he won’t still be the top-ranked prospect on most (all?) draft boards, but people will increasingly question his status as an elite prospect because of his shooting, and vague, nebulous criticisms about killer instinct.
13 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 2 block stat lines just aren’t sexy enough.
I also think Simmons as a small-ball (but modern-day) power forward next to Noel or Embiid could be tantalizing. I actually think they could end up being a great fit with Simmons’ elite rebounding and ability to defend multiple positions.
Yeah, Ingram’s shooting, and ball handling for somebody of his size, would add a dynamic the Sixers need, and he very well could end up in the running for the second pick. But I think Simmons is special enough that he’s the prize regardless.
Jon White (@jondgc):
“Who will win more games: the Warriors or the Phillies?”
This is depressing.
I think the Phillies have made some great moves over the last 12 months, and have an absolutely loaded farm system. I’m absolutely stoked about their future.
And you could start to see some of the come to fruition this year, although I think it’s more likely that happens in July or August than it is in April.
But even great prospects take time to really have significant impacts on the won/loss column. Even a guy like Chase Utley, who got his first full season in the majors at 25, only produced about 2.3 wins above replacement. Jimmy Rollins, despite coming up at 21, didn’t produce more than 3 WAR until he was 25, his 4th full season in the league. It takes time.
So despite the fact that “the Phillies are kicking the can down the road and punting on another season”, I’m very excited about their future. But they’re in store for another bad season this year.
Even if you assume they’re going to match last year’s win total of 63, the Warriors would “only” have to go 40-17 (70.2%) the rest of the way. Considering they’ve won 85% of their games over the last two seasons, that seems like a slam dunk.
Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.