Sixers Mailbag #21: Can You Keep all the Big Men?

Does drafting Ben Simmons at #1 overall influence how you build the roster going forward? Can you keep all the big men?

Whether or not Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor can succeed playing together is a key question for the Sixers this season | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Will Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel both be on the roster next year? | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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

In the 21st edition of our Sixers mailbag we discuss how the potential drafting of Ben Simmons impacts the Sixers’ later picks, how Simmons would fit with Joel Embiid, and whether or not the Sixers really need to alleviate their crowded front court.

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.

“With Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and, presumably, Simmons all coming in as rookies next year, would it be prudent to consolidate and package the MIA &a draft and stash  OKC picks to move up and reduce the influx of rookies?”

— John

I think there is some truth to the fact that you can only develop so many high-value players at once. Not so much in terms of skill level (say, shooting the ball), but in terms of playing time, and touches, to not only improve their in-game recognition and reaction, but also to keep the players happy. So I do see some benefit to not going into the season with all of Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, and two additional first round picks on the roster.

That being said, I don’t think trading picks is the only way to alleviate that situation. I don’t think you’re really going to move up very far by combining the two picks. It may get you up to the 18th-20th picks, at best. What I’d have more interest in doing is the best of both worlds: draft and stash. Take two prospects, increase your chances that you hit on one of them, but let them develop in an environment where they can get consistent playing time.

He’s fallen in recent mock drafts, but I’d still have a lot of interest in Isaia Cordinier for just this reason. Ton of upside, but somebody who isn’t ready to play right away. For the Sixers, that’s fine. In fact, it may be a benefit. It would be nice if there was a more realistic option to using the D-League without taking up an NBA roster spot (Josh Huestis type is very rare), but we’re not there yet.

“I can’t help but question the notion that a Dario Saric/Ben Simmons pairing would not work or would not be an ideal pairing.”

— Scott

First, I don’t think you can ask Saric to defend the small forward spot full time, or even with much regularity. I think his lack of lateral foot speed is going to be exposed doing that.

So when the two are on the court together, you’re going to ask Simmons to defend small forwards. Which, physically, he’s capable of doing, but it detracts from some of his biggest strengths. You’re going to pull him away from the hoop, and thus limit his rebounding opportunities. Also, one of Simmons’ potential strengths on the defensive end is his ability to switch. While his off-the-ball awareness wanes at times, Simmons’ physical tools gives him some flexibility in this regard. He’ll be put in more pick and roll situations defending the 4, and I think that benefits him.

To answer a similar question from David (@legsanity), no, I wouldn’t look to move Saric ASAP. Because I do think Simmons is capable of defending the three for stretches, and because Saric’s shooting and off-the-ball movement would fit in well offensively with Simmons, it’s something that can work. You’re just not maximizing your best player. So for 10 minutes per game? Sure. I just don’t look at the two as a starting pair.

“RE: Kevin Pelton’s projected rankings have Dragan Bender #2. Do you have Bender rated this highly? More importantly, do these projected WARP ratings affect your thought process regarding what Sixers should do if we get the #3 overall pick from Boston?”

— Vincent

I think Kevin’s models are always something I look at, but I’m not going to move a prospect based on them alone, especially when it’s something as close as moving a prospect I have ranked 3rd (as I currently do with Bender) up one spot to 2nd. I think even Kevin would tell you being that exact is not really the purpose of his projection models, but more to find guys who drastically diverge from consensus by either being terribly underrated or terribly overrated.

So what I use projection models for is more to find aspects I might be overlooking, and then go back to the film and re-evaluate them more closely than I did before. So while I find Bender at #2 interesting, it’s not something that, alone, is going to change my ranking.

(Also, it’s important to point out that the less a guy plays, the more noise there is in a projection model. So Bender’s lack of playing time certainly cuts into the confidence level in such a projection).

“Is there any chance Wade Baldwin or Denzel Valentine become Sixers? Seem like good fits with Simmons, but they may not be position to get them”

— Kevin (@KevinXmann)

Is there a chance? Sure. Especially with the rumors of a trade, getting another pick in the teens is certainly a possibility. I do agree that they are both good conceptual fits with Simmons. The Sixers are going to need another pick to do so (they’re clearly not in play for #1, and I’d be surprised if either lasts to 24, although stranger things have happened), but they’re certainly options if that does wind up happening.

“Do you think the Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram pick changes who the Sixers look at later in the first round?”

— T.D. (@tom_ds13)

I mean, it has to, right? You don’t invest the #1 pick in a guy who demands the ball in his hand and whose greatest strength is creating for others and not try to find complementary pieces. Especially in this draft, where there are so many people of similar talent level, how they fit with the focal points of the team will have an impact on the overall level of success they have.

I think, at times, we’re too quick as a fan base to disregard fit. It makes sense for where the Sixers were, as the top of the draft is usually more clearly defined than late in the first round, and thus focusing on fit more damaging, but I think you have to adjust your thinking a little bit when talking about late-round picks, and when you do finally have that franchise player worthy of being built around.

“Do the sixers keep the current front court intact and wait for desperate playoff teams at the trade deadline?”

— Keith (@KeithRPG)

I don’t think there’s any way you can keep the current front court intact if you draft Simmons.

Let’s just look at this from a minutes standpoint. Let’s say Simmons plays 10 minutes per game at small forward, 20 at power forward. Let’s then say Saric gets 20 minutes per game at power forward. Leave the final 8 minutes per game at that position for situational matchups — maybe Richaun Holmes in a traditional two-big lineup, maybe Jerami Grant or Roboert Covington at a small-ball power forward, whatever.

That leaves Noel and Okafor 48 minutes to split at center, each getting 24. Even disregarding fit, and I think a lot of those pieces fit poorly together, that’s stretching the limits of what would keep these players happy. Does anybody actually see Okafor or Noel being happy playing in the mid-20’s, minutes wise?  There’s a real minutes crunch even if you don’t throw Joel Embiid into the mix, and I think we all hope that’s not the case.

There’s just too few minutes, too many players, and too poor of fits to head into the season with everybody still on the roster.

“Could Ben Simmons and JoelEmbiid play together?”

— Miko (@MikoWitYaMoney)

I think Embiid is just about the perfect center to pair next to Simmons.

First, Embiid has the potential to be an elite team defender, a virtual pre-requisite at one of your front court positions. Second, Embiid has touch on his jump shot, even if it may take a little bit of time to translate that to game action. Third, Embiid has the potential to be an elite pick and dive threat, something that would fit in perfectly with Simmons’ elite court vision. Finally, Embiid can be a dominant defensive rebounder, and the combination of Embiid and Simmons could really lock down that portion of the game.

“Do you think Simmons & Kris Dunn can play together? Is 3 too high to grab Baldwin?”

— Marc (@MWhittington13)

I think Dunn and Simmons would be a poor fit.

Dunn’s shot has, by the numbers, made progress, but it’s incredibly erratic, and thus doesn’t really space an offense. And Kris Dunn just isn’t really going to be the “worthy of a top-5 pick Kris Dunn” if he doesn’t have the ball in his hands almost all the time. While I like the defensive potential those two would have, I think you can invest a lesser asset than the 3rd pick in the draft to get somebody who would be a better fit next to Simmons.

Baldwin, in theory, could be that fit, as he’s a better catch-and-shoot player, especially for his age, and has elite defensive potential as well. Three is definitely too high for Baldwin, though. Even if you think he’s going to be the third best player in the draft, you have the chance to get him in the teens. It would be a complete waste of resources. If that was the direction I’d want to go in, I’d look to trade down.

“Given building blocks may be in place, is there finally some logic to bringing in some vets to help growth process?”

— Anthony (@A_Bartolacci)

I’ve never been on the “there’s no logic to bringing in vets” train, so I think there’s always logic to bringing in a veteran who can mentor the young uys, pass on his institutional knowledge, and be in the right positions on the court.

The key has always been finding that balance between still developing young players, finding veterans who were okay with the realities of the Sixers’ situation, and finding veterans who are legitimate leaders and legitimately think the game at a high level, and have the people skills to be natural teachers. I think veterans who have that combination of qualities are rare, but I always think they have a place, and even more so now that you’re looking to develop very high level talent in Simmons and Embiid.

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.