In a topsy-turvy NBA season, the Sixers find themselves firmly entrenched among the middle-to-upper echelon of teams in the East. Joel Embiid’s MVP play has lifted a relatively flawed roster and positioned the team out of a potential play-in tournament. While the unresolved Ben Simmons situation continues to drag down expectations, Daryl Morey has recently hinted at smaller moves that could solidify the roster ahead of the postseason. Contextualizing the team’s needs can set the course for the type of trade Morey could make at the deadline.
SQUEEZING MORE OFFENSE FROM EMBIID DOUBLE TEAMS
Embiid’s increasingly dominant season has been the unwavering needle in Philadelphia’s offensive compass. Drawing upon his supremacy in the post, the Sixers indulge in several open look opportunities that result from intense double teams. But making the most out of those kick-out passes has been a rather treacherous task. Through the first 50 games, Doc Rivers’ team is averaging a pedestrian 1.01 points per spot-up possession (good for 51st percentile according to NBA.com). This is more pressing when we dissect how certain players are shooting as a result of a Joel Embiid pass.
TO UNDERSTAND WHAT I MEAN, PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE TRIO OF TYRESE MAXEY, TOBIAS HARRIS, AND FURKAN KORKMAZ
Some suggest that Philadelphia has plenty of shooting firepower alongside Embiid, especially when you factor in the seldomly played Isaiah Joe (or Georges Niang’s limited minutes). But Furkan Korkmaz’s massive struggles coupled with Danny Green’s reliability issues leave the door open for more depth (and output) in spot-up situations.
THANKFULLY, SHOOTING OPTIONS ARE PLENTY, AND SURVEYING A LIST OF LOW USAGE TARGETS NARROWS IT TO A SELECTIVE GROUP OF POTENT SNIPERS
Garrison Mathews is an interesting name and has nearly doubled his three-point volume this year. However, a CBA provision does not allow his contract to be moved until after the deadline. Muscala is someone very familiar to Sixers fans. After an uninspiring stint in Philadelphia, he has enjoyed three hot shooting seasons with the Thunder, including an impressive 43% from distance this year. Both Muscala and Batum give Philadelphia multiple options, and the ability to flex smaller lineups off the bench, something Rivers has not done much of with Andre Drummond at center.
Other names on the list give the Sixers alternatives. Gary Harris has enjoyed a small re-birth in Orlando after watching a promising career flame out in Denver. Ben McLemore is also a name very familiar to Daryl Morey, having enjoyed a career year with the Rockers in 2019-2020. Whichever way the Sixers address the need, there are plenty of options to inch Philadelphia’s shooting a notch above this year’s output, and to provide Embiid with more consistent passing outlets.
A LACK OF REBOUDING PRESENCE AND PERIMETER DEFENSE
Doc Rivers’ quest to inject defense and rebounding into the lineup has landed on a few interesting names. The most recent example is journeyman contributor Charlie Brown Jr. While Brown has been a nice story, his limited impact speaks to a greater problem with the Sixers perimeter defense. How handicapped are they?
TAKE A LOOK AT WHERE PHILADELPHIA RANKS IN REBOUNDS PER 36 FROM THEIR GUARD PLAY
Yikes! Charlie Brown Jr. has been fine, and his 7.2 rebounds per 36 is a significant uptick from what the Sixers have enjoyed at the wing. But his non-existent offensive game makes it nearly impossible to find consistent minutes, which leaves the Sixers thirsty for another defender that can circle screens, deny dribble penetration, and rebound.
On that front, Kenrich Williams should be a name on Morey’s radar heading into the trade deadline. The Thunder swing-forward has been a fine contributor on the glass, averaging an impressive 7.0 rebounds per 36. Beyond his presence on the boards, Williams adds size and a defensive element that has lacked in Ben Simmons’ absence. Williams has defended over 90 pick-and-roll possessions through 41 games and his versatility would be a welcomed compliment off the bench.
Other names that should pique Philadelphia’s interest include journeymen Torrey Craig and Justin Holiday. Last season, Craig was firmly entrenched in Phoenix’s postseason rotation and averaged over 12 minutes per game in the Suns’ finals run. His teammate, Justin Holiday, is another viable option. After plenty of career stops, Holiday finally found a home in Indiana. He’s shooting an impressive 38% from deep in over 1,100 attempts. While not as rugged defensively, Holiday’s offensive output would add multiple dimensions, giving Rivers another chess piece at his disposal.
A SECOND UNIT THIRSTY FOR SHOT CREATION
While the Drummond-led bench lineups have net positive offensive results under Shake Milton, the Sixers once again find themselves in a position for an upgrade. Last season’s addition of George Hill did very little to move the needle, leaving another void heading into the postseason. Some (including myself) suggest that the path forward is to move Tyrese Maxey into that role, with Danny Green returning to the starting lineup (and by moving Matisse Thybule there as well). Evidence suggests this to be a devastating starting duo, with both Green and Thybulle combining for an impactful +34 net points in 104 on-court minutes.
Flipping Maxey to the second unit should by no means be an indictment on his invigorating play. But games like the most recent Embiid-less one against Memphis serve as a reminder of his explosive impact when given the full green light. Staggering Embiid and Maxey should give Philadelphia more offensive thump, with Milton flexing between both groups as a secondary creator and spot-up shooter.
Nevertheless, there are options on the table in the case that Doc Rivers pushes full-throttle on the Embiid-Maxey pairing. Delon Wright has seen his minutes waver in Atlanta and could provide more size at the point guard position. Another name that I like here is veteran Cory Joseph. Unlike Wright’s expiring deal, Joseph carries an additional $5 million player option into next year that could be used to match salaries in a potentially bigger move. Joseph has seen his three-point shot spike up to an impressive 44% this year, and his 2.92 assist-to-turnover ratio would add a surgical solution to the bench unit. Marginal ball-handlers rarely make a dent in the postseason, but in those two, Philadelphia could have the answers to a more coherent back-up group.
How the Sixers navigate the trade deadline should give for plenty of theater. Philadelphia’s big fish is at the center of the table. But even without a Ben Simmons resolution, Daryl Morey finds himself in the position to strike small but land big. He could potentially pave the way for a deep playoff run with under-the-radar moves.