With the Sixers’ recent struggles at the backdrop of the NBA trade deadline, it was becoming increasingly clear the need for a roster tune-up. On Wednesday night, Sixers General Manager Elton Brand echoed those sentiments. And in doing so, the Sixers acquired Golden State’s Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III in exchange for draft compensations. They also shipped out James Ennis to recoup one of the second rounders given up to acquire this new talent. But in Burks and GR3, Philadelphia hopes to unlock some crucial offense for a team struggling to find some. So let’s take a look at what each player brings and how they can mesh with the Sixers’ current lineup.
Not much was expected out of Alec Burks this season in Golden State. But when Steph Curry suddenly went out with an injury, Burks stepped in as one of the Warriors’ main creators. Out of necessity, Golden State immediately trusted him with the ball, where Burks is currently logging 8% of his minutes at point guard (the most since his 2016 season). With the spike in usage, he has displayed a significant array of tools.
But what sticks out the most is his increased aggression as a ball handler. In 1300+ minutes this year, Burks has recorded 345 drives (would rank second on the team behind Ben Simmons). Off the drive, he shoots a somewhat pedestrian 37%. But two things immediately stand out from his game. One is his ability to draw contact and get to the free throw line. The other is his awareness to protect the ball and make the right play. In 19-20, Burks ranks 19th in the NBA in free throws attempts off the drive (95) while committing an absurdly low 25 turnovers. Burks is a high IQ player who often positions his body to invite the foul (think of Jimmy Butler). And for an offense that tends to shy away from contact, Alec Burks is just what the doctor ordered.
It is also on the ball where Burks can expand Philadelphia’s offense. To understand this further, let’s see how this plays out in detail.
Alec Burks' shooting, free throw rate and complementary creation will be a helpful addition to the Sixers' bench.
He's also shooting 37.5% on pull-up 3s (2.7 attempts per game) this season — something Philly could use more of pic.twitter.com/ebGfV2NHGx
— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) February 6, 2020
Burks’ long frame, coupled with his high release point, gives the Sixers a significant option as a pull-up shooter. This is specifically true from the three point line, where he is currently shooting an elite 37.5% on 128 pull-up attempts. So far this season, only Damien Lillard and Jayson Tatum shoot at a higher efficiency on more attempts. And in Philadelphia’s case, the ability to expand the offense on the ball is a SIGNIFICANT need. As we go into Thursday’s game at Milwaukee, the Sixers’ current leader for pull-up attempts is Tobias Harris … with 53 looks from deep. Simply put, when the offense clogs up, the Sixers currently do not have a shot maker that can engineer a quality look. And while Burks’ usage should see a drop in Philadelphia, his ability to create off the drive and pull up from anywhere is much welcomed.
GLENN ROBINSON III
In 48 games this season, GR3 logged a career high 1516 minutes as primarily a small forward. With mounting roster injuries in Golden State, Robinson carved up a significant role as a spot-up shooter and cutter. It is in those two areas where GR3 thrived. Robinson is currently shooting 40% on 148 catch-and-shoot attempts. To put this into perspective, no Sixers starter (excluding Ben Simmons) shoots higher than 36% on this type of look. Robinson provided a significant outlet to Golden State’s quick trigger offense. And in Philadelphia, he can immediately step in as a safety valve to the double teams and zone looks teams deploy to erase Joel Embiid.
But it’s not just as a standstill shooter where GR3 brings value. And this is where things can get a bit more exciting. This season, Robinson averages 2.52 miles traveled per game (20th in the NBA). In the Sixers’ painfully stagnant offense, this type of motion can be significant to unlocking new driving and passing lanes. Let’s take a quick look at how this plays out in Golden State.
Glenn Robinson III's excellent timing on backdoors and sleeper cuts (@Spinella14) pic.twitter.com/VM6fGdpa1r
— r/Warriors (@GSWReddit) November 24, 2019
Robinson is an active player who is constantly taking advantage of a poorly positioned defender and free space. While not a prolific finisher as a cutter, Robinson’s constant motion helps him as a scorer both off screens and in transition. In 75 off-screen possessions, GR3 is currently ranked in the 75th percentile among all NBA players (1.07 PPP). While in transition, Robinson scores on 55% of his opportunities (78th percentile). Under this context, the fit with Philadelphia becomes ideal. The Sixers generate the 8th most transition opportunities in the league, but only score at a paltry 47% of the time. With GR3, Ben Simmons has a quick trigger teammate that loves to run in transition. And Embiid has a willing partner who can serve the (SUPER) lite JJ role.
FITTING BURKS INTO THE ROTATION
With the Sixers looking at a 30 game window to mesh these new pieces, the common consensus will be to bring both players off the bench. Barring any other significant moves, Burks immediately slots in as the back-up point guard, while Robinson complements Korkmaz (and Scott) as the team’s pure bench shooters. Under this framework, the Sixers would continue to prioritize the current starting lineup. Ben Simmons and Josh Richardson toggling between ball handling duties with Al Horford and Joel Embiid bumping heads on the low block. Can this work offensively? Perhaps. But allow me to introduce a new concept. A concept centered around Embiid’s dramatic drop in production when paired with Al Horford. And one I think the Sixers should explore moving forward.
With Burks, Philadelphia now has the ability to field a more conventional lineup. While it may be difficult to convince an established veteran in Horford to come off the bench, the idea is centered on staggering Embiid and Horford’s minutes. Alec Burks provides a significant ball handling option at shooting guard. This theoretically alleviates the paint for Embiid by slotting Tobias Harris at his natural power forward position. Burks is a minus defender, and Philadelphia would require the All-NBA traits of Simmons and Embiid to cover the gaps defensively.
The domino effect is significant. Tobias Harris no longer has to chase smaller forwards all over the court. Josh Richardson no longer has to carry the heavy burden of a secondary ball handler. Simmons could still be utilized as a rim runner and a guy to cave in defenses off the drive. And Embiid, beaten from many failed attempts at playing next to Al, can now breath easier in the paint – where the Sixers need him to dominate more consistently.
GLENN ROBINSON AND THE TURBO LINEUP
In turn, Glenn Robinson provides a similar option for the Sixers offensively. The fit with Simmons (and Embiid) is ideal. But with Ben, Philadelphia now has the chance to duplicate some of the same juggernaut lineups of 2018. When the famous names of Ilyasova and Belinelli echoed thru the city of Philadelphia like a fine Argentine Tango. The 4-out concept with Simmons is simple. Space the floor with shooters and let a stronger and more explosive Simmons attack downhill. A Simmons-Richardson (Korkmaz/Thybulle)-Robinson-Scott-Horford lineup does exactly that. Philadelphia now has multiple options to run and unleash the MVP-like Simmons that we have seen for most of 2020. Al Horford still adds immense value for the stretch run. Primarily as a lineup partner to Ben Simmons. And a guy that can close out games defensively in crunch time.
With the season heading into the stretch run, the Sixers have once again re-loaded in somewhat significant fashion. With Burks and GR3, Brett Brown now has two options to work into the rotation and alleviate the offense’s pain points. For that to happen, it is imperative that Brown sees the value on expanding the rotation. This includes looking for lineup pairings that work, while staying patient with the (likely) defensive lapses that come with introducing two average (to poor) defenders. The Finals expectations remain the same. And the hope is Brown and the team can mesh around these new toys.