Mail-It-In Mailbag: Predicting The Sixers Rotation and B-Ball Paul's Future
With significant transactions coming to a halt and training camp still a few weeks away, we have officially reached the portion of the year that is most difficult for us scribes to find inspirations for stories.
Adam Aaronson, whose legal name is Sixers Adam (@SixersAdam on Twitter), covers the Sixers for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez. He believes cantaloupe is the best food in existence, and is brought to you by the Official Realtor of The Process, Adam Ksebe.
With significant transactions coming to a halt and training camp still a few weeks away, we have officially reached the portion of the year that is most difficult for us scribes to find inspirations for stories. And that’s why this week I’m relying on you to give me material.
Let’s begin another Mail-It-In Mailbag.
From @JackMichael_17: If you had to name 5 bench players who would get regular rotation minutes for the Sixers who would you name?
As I wrote about last week, barring a consolidation trade of some sort (we’ll get to that later), the Sixers are going to have some genuine training camp battles for roster spots. They currently have 17 players on NBA deals, and on opening night that must shrink to 15.
For now, let’s assume that there isn’t a trade coming and that the team’s opening night roster will look very similar to how it looks now. Figuring out the next five guys to get consistent playing time after the projected starters (James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, PJ Tucker, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid) is an interesting exercise.
De’Anthony Melton is likely a lock to play given his two-way versatility, his track record that is far superior to the other reserve guards on roster, and the fact that he was acquired with a first-round pick. I would imagine that, barring an injury, he logs the most minutes of any reserve this season.
Given his excellent regular season last year, Georges Niang likely joins Melton as a lock. Niang’s viability in the playoffs remains unclear, but at least during the regular season the floor spacing and decisiveness that he provides are tremendously helpful to a team built around ball-dominant stars. The Sixers need players who can thrive in an off-ball role on offense, and Niang is exactly that kind of guy.
I wouldn’t call it a mortal lock until training camp and the preseason, but I would be shocked if Montrezl Harrell is not the primary backup center when the season begins. As impressive as Paul Reed has been at times (again, we’ll get there soon), Harrell’s history as a very useful offensive player and his prior experience playing for Doc Rivers with the Los Angeles Clippers make him the clear frontrunner to be Embiid’s nightly backup.
This is where things get a bit more tricky -- the Sixers have a couple more perimeter slots to fill, with quite a few candidates who have been useful bench players in the past.
Despite the frustration he has caused among the fanbase in recent months and the rumors that he was available for trade this summer, I would still be a bit surprised to see Matisse Thybulle out of the rotation entirely. As brutal as his offense is -- he is one of the single worst offensive players in the NBA among regular rotation players -- his defense remains excellent, even if his All-Defense selection in 2021-22 might have been a bit rich. Having a defensive weapon as versatile as Thybulle makes life a whole lot easier for coaches, and I expect Rivers to give him every chance to prove his worth to the team.
With the last slot here, I would confidently point to Danuel House Jr., who was brought in on a multi-year deal at the full bi-annual exception -- these facts are signs that he is expected to be a noteworthy member of the rotation. House is a perfectly competent wing who can guard reasonably well and is an average to above-average spot-up shooter.
Those would be the 10 guys I envision as opening night rotation pieces for the Sixers, even if it means leaving out someone like Shake Milton, who has been a rotation mainstay for years now. And despite his putrid season last year, Furkan Korkmaz has the ability to play himself into consistent run. But those two may have to wait for an injury in order to get a real opportunity.
Of course, Embiid will miss a handful of games this year even if he stays relatively healthy -- on those many nights, Reed will likely get the chance to back up Harrell. So even if he is out of the regular rotation, he will likely get minutes of some sort on a decent basis.
From @LukasLucas1995: With many Sixers asst. coaches going on to become successful coaches (Monty Williams, Ime Udoka) do you think the organization regrets letting any go? Do you think they’ll learn and actually give someone like Sam Cassell a go after Doc?
To answer the first part of your question, I’m sure the Sixers severely regret letting each of those guys leave the organization. They’ve both proven to be among the league’s elite coaches, with each one already having an NBA Finals appearance.
However, the Sixers should not conflate the success those two have had with their evaluations of assistant coaches like Cassell, who has interviewed for head coaching jobs in the past, or even Dave Joerger, who is one of Rivers’ lead assistants.
I’ve always had trouble projecting how an assistant coach will fare after being elevated to a head coaching role, mostly because what assistants actually do is typically not publicly-available information.
For that reason, I won’t even pretend to have any idea how good of a coach Cassell would be -- I know that he worked with Ben Simmons quite a bit before turning his attention to Harden, and I know that he is very well-liked by the players. He is undoubtedly a valuable part of the organization.
From @marykatemch: What do you think the future holds for our (my) Lord and Savior Basketball Paul?
Last week I wrote about the several implications of the Harrell signing, one of the biggest ones being that Reed is in a less favorable spot. Once the favorite to be Embiid’s primary backup center, Reed is now looking at an uphill -- though not impossible -- climb into regular rotation minutes.
For now, though, that is Harrell’s role, and I have a hard time seeing that change barring injuries or a severe drop-off in production from Harrell. As we saw very well last season, Rivers much prefers to give higher-leverage minutes to veterans over young players, especially veterans who he is used to coaching like he is with Harrell.
With that being said, it’s not like Reed is going to end up back in the G-League -- as I wrote about earlier, we all know Embiid frequently needs games off. In those games, there is no doubt Reed will get run. If you’re part of the massive legion of BBall Paul believers, don’t give up hope just yet.
From @davidrhode: Which of the current Sixers are least likely to be here on opening night?
Mike Levin and I have long speculated about some sort of consolidation trade coming because of the Sixers’ abundance of interesting players.
Next up I’ll get to what that trade could look like -- but if we assume no trades take place between now and opening night, I think the most likely guy to be let go is Trevelin Queen. The Sixers clearly are high on Queen, but I would guess they won’t value him more than someone like Isaiah Joe, or even Charles Bassey.
From @jmkrav: Who is on your wishlist for realistic targets if the Sixers ever pull off @Michael_Levin’s long rumored consolidation trade?
Because of Furkan Korkmaz’s $5 million salary this season and the team’s ability to cobble together two other NBA contracts, the Sixers actually have a decent amount of trade options, whether they pursue that before training camp or in the middle of the season.
It’s always hard to identify specific candidates this far before the season, because we have no idea which direction most teams will be headed in. Most veterans often find their way to good teams these days, which dampens the player pool considerably.
A few names off the top of my head: Rudy Gay of the Utah Jazz, who could be plugged in at the stretch four spot off the bench if Niang struggles. It’s worth mentioning that Utah is fielding trade calls on Jordan Clarkson as well, but they can probably get more for him than what the Sixers can offer. Terrence Ross is a rumored Sixers target every single year, as he seems to perpetually be on the trade block for the Orlando Magic. The Sacramento Kings are hoping for a turn in the right direction this year, but if they struggle, free agent signing Malik Monk could give a new team a major offensive boost. A personal favorite of mine is Jae’Sean Tate of the Houston Rockets, though I’m not certain that he’ll be made available.