Mail-It-In Mailbag: Would The Sixers Be Better If They Had Not Made Any Trades?
And what will it cost to keep Josh Richardson
Adam Aaronson, whose legal name is Sixers Adam (@SixersAdam on Twitter), covers the Sixers for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez. He has been legally banned from covering the team in person, but that ban will be lifted in March of 2020. He is brought to you by the Official Realtor of The Process, Adam Ksebe.
As I sat down to write this week’s Normal Column, I had absolutely zero clue what to write about wanted to make sure I covered what you, the reader, wanted me to talk about. So, this week’s piece is a mailbag. All questions were submitted on Twitter. Let’s mailbag, shall we?
Question #1: @BenEmbiidHinkie asks: “Undo the Butler, Harris, and Fultz (Trade to Orlando) trade. No big time free agent signings. Say we re-sign JJ. Which version is better?”
Fun question! So if my memory (questionable) and math (equally questionable) are correct, the Sixers would look something like this in your hypothetical:
Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz, Landry Shamet, James Ennis III, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, and one or two mid-level type of free agent signings. Let’s say a helpful wing and a competent backup center.
That team is definitely very good, but are we sure they wouldn’t run into similar walls that the 2017-18 team did against the Celtics? There are three top-flight defenders in Simmons, Covington and Embiid. But after that… it gets murky. Despite his best efforts, Saric would be exploited as a defender -- as would Redick to an even greater extent. Shamet would likely suffer a similar fate.
Fultz can hold up on that end, but his presence would bring about issues on offense -- as we saw last season, he and Simmons are simply an untenable pairing. Sixers lineups featuring both #1 overall picks were brutal last season, posting an Offensive Rating of 100.9 according to Cleaning the Glass, almost two full points per 100 possessions worse than this year’s Golden State Warriors, who have the worst offense in the NBA. This was an admittedly small sample size, but it was pretty evident when watching that Fultz and Simmons could not coexist.
So, despite this year’s team being a major disappointment to date, I think what the Sixers have now is better than what they could have had if they remained inactive.
I think all of this illustrates a deeper point about how the Sixers have gone about addressing roster concerns over the last two seasons. While you can argue that the all-in trades the Sixers made were not the right ones (I would agree with this assessment), I don’t think they could have afforded to rest on their laurels with the group they had. The 2017-18 team served as a wonderful launching point into contention, but it was not a fully-formed contender. The Sixers knew their cap space was going to dry up in the 2019 offseason, so they took a leap of faith with the Jimmy Butler trade and then another in selling (most of) the farm for Tobias Harris. Maybe the “star-hunting” mindset should have led the Sixers in other directions. But, even after seeing suboptimal results, it was absolutely the right mentality.
Question #2: @psubeatboxer asks: “What’s an underrated/appreciated storyline or stat about one of the members of the Sixers’ bench mob?”
Since Sixers discourse has been so negative recently, I’ll give you a handful of quick and fun stats:
James Ennis currently has an offensive rebound percentage of 7.3, 34th-best in the NBA. Every single player ahead of him is a big-man, and the only other perimeter player in the top 50 is Jimmy Butler (6.6%, 42nd-best).
When Matisse Thybulle shares the floor with Joel Embiid, the Sixers have a Defensive Rating of 102.9.
Norvel Pelle leads all NBA players with at least 100 total minutes in blocks per 100 possessions (6.4), 1.5 more than second place (Daniel Gafford).
Lineups featuring both Trey Burke and Ben Simmons have an Offensive Rating of 120.0.
Every single three-pointer Furkan Korkmaz has made this season has been assisted.
Question #3: @WillWork4Sneaks asks: “In your opinion, what’s more important to the team via buyout or trade? Shot creator/playmaker or knockdown shooter?”
While this may have been a valid debate to have before the season started, I think the answer has become pretty clear -- the Sixers’ single biggest need is a viable half-court shot creator. Whether that means trying to pull off a Chris Paul trade, acquiring a depth piece like Alec Burks or even giving more run to Trey Burke, it is imperative that the Sixers head into the playoffs with at least one more trustworthy playmaker than they have right now.
Question #4: @FredStewart1712 asks: “What is the likelihood Mike Scott gets sent somewhere? I love him in fact he is my background but he just seems out of funk. When he’s on he’s great but when he’s off he is very very off and it’s always been inconsistent but now he seems more consistently off than anything.”
Mike Scott has always been a realistic trade piece: at $4.7M in salary and the Sixers lacking any other medium-sized salaries, his is the easiest to use in order to facilitate a deal. Last week, I wrote about why the Sixers should think twice before moving Scott, among other trade-related thoughts. But it’s becoming harder and harder to imagine the front office being hesitant to move him, as his struggles on both ends have continued. So as of now, I’d say there is at least a pretty decent chance Scott is moved at the deadline.
Question #5: @comrade076 asks: “Thinking ahead, what would the Sixers have to do to keep Josh Richardson past his current contract. And is it realistic?”
The short answer is that the Sixers would need either willingness from ownership to go deep into the luxury tax (and I mean deep into it) or a salary dump of one of their current starters, likely Al Horford, in order to retain Richardson. J-Rich is owed $10.1M this year and $10.8M next year before coming up on a player option which he will almost certainly decline.
Let’s say Richardson declined the player option, and the Sixers gave him a deal starting at $20M (this seems like a fair valuation to me). With just the starting lineup, Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton under contract, the Sixers would already be nearly $5M over the tax in 2021-22, with seven roster spots left to fill. They would become one of the priciest teams in the NBA.
Josh Harris, David Blitzer and co. certainly have the financial wherewithal to handle this, but whether or not is a realistic expectation is hard to say -- and it might depend on the level of success this team achieves before Richardson hits the open market.
@ChennyChen_Chen asks: “Al Horford becomes the full-time backup C. Is this realistic, and who would you slot into the starting lineup as a result?”
@TjFlannery24 asks: “Move Horford to bench ehhh?”
If the Sixers can acquire an established starting-caliber perimeter player at the Trade Deadline, I would likely be a proponent of starting them over Horford, whose fit alongside Simmons and Embiid at the same time has been obviously wonky. For example, the starting lineup makes more sense if Robert Covington is slotted into Horford’s spot, creating more space for the stars to operate and adding defensive versatility.
If the Sixers were to move Horford to the bench without making any external additions, it would have to be for Matisse Thybulle, who started in place of Embiid on Wednesday and has been part of the closing lineup when a starter is out several times this season.
But overall, I think this has become too common of a talking point. Horford and Embiid barely ever play together other than the beginning of each half and the end of the game. As long as that remains the same, taking Horford out of the starting lineup is not going to change that much about how the Sixers operate from substitution to substitution.