The NBA offseason provided a massive challenge for the Sixers’ newly constructed front office. Anchored by the poor decisions of previous regimes, Daryl Morey took on the incredulous task to re-shape the team. After an exhilarating couple of days, the results have been impressive. Morey has now shaped a clearer path for the franchise. One that Sixers fans should be very excited about.
RE-SETTING THE ROSTER
The big question entering the offseason centered on Morey’s ability to unclog the team’s salary cap situation. The first domino to fall initiated a series of decisions that led from draft night into free agency. From that, Philadelphia emerged a profoundly different team. Here is how it looks.
With much invested in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, Morey’s moves shows a commitment to the star duo. After a season in which the front office flooded the roster with forwards, the message is now much more coherent. Provide Embiid and Simmons with space and let their natural ability take over. How each piece connects to this puzzle is also very important. So let’s dive into some of Philadelphia’s big moves so far.
Seth Curry comes to Philadelphia as the much-needed sharpshooter. Curry capped off a phenomenal year in Dallas, one that saw him finish 3rd in three-point efficiency and 12th in offensive rating. The Mavericks sniper did a bit of everything under Rick Carlisle. How it compliments the Sixers lineup is very interesting. Here is what I mean.
Curry is a breath of fresh air on a team that lacked shooting, ball handling, and movement. As a spot-up threat, he is absolutely lethal. His 48% on catch and shoot threes was the highest of any player with over 200 attempts, topping a list that included sharpshooters JJ Redick, Duncan Robinson, and CJ McCollum.
It is also within the confines of Rivers’ pick and roll scheme where he adds value. Philadelphia enters the season with limited options in that department. In Curry, the Sixers have another alternative at point guard. Curry is a savvy ball-handler, one who understands how to exploit switches in the perimeter. Watch the calm in which he navigates Bam Adebayo’s defense for a step-back three.
There is plenty to like in how Curry compliments the team’s star duo. A big part comes in transition. Seth Curry is an immediate shooting outlet alongside Simmons. Last season the Sixers star struggled to generate offense in the open court, converting in only 50% of his transition opportunities. Curry is the quick trigger that the team severely lacked last year. His 68% eFG% ranked 10th among all players with over 100 transition possessions, thus providing a much needed compliment to one of the NBA’s most electric open court players.
The fit is equally seamless alongside Embiid. Much goes back to the days Embiid and JJ Redick coexisted. While Curry is not as prolific coming off screens, there is an element to his game that resembles the old partnership. The idea is founded in the same dribble handle off concepts between Embiid and Redick. Dallas deployed a similar look with Porzingis serving in the screener role.
It is going to take chemistry to rebuild the foundation that led to Philadelphia’s previous offensive success. But Curry’s versatility is crucial in connecting the offense to its two foundational pillars.
Danny Green’s arrival signals a clear shift in shot selection. The obvious takeaway is the need for more three-point attempts. But where Green makes his living on the court is also important. One of the most valuable shots in basketball is the ‘corner-3’. Last season Philadelphia did not maximize this value from their shot map. Here is how it compared to the rest of the league, including the Clippers and Rockets.
Extending defenses horizontally was a big miss in Brett Brown’s system. But it is a large part of the new coaching culture. This becomes even more apparent when we juxtapose Green’s shot selection to the departed Josh Richardson. Pay particular attention to the volume in shot attempts from the area highlighted in red.
Eliminating Josh Richardson’s mid-range offense will go a long way to increasing output. But it is Danny Green’s high volume attempts from the corner that moves the needle further. Last season Green attempted 39% of his threes from this hot spot. It is a substantial uptick from the previous Sixers regime. It also provides a quick safety valve to Joel Embiid double teams. Only two seasons ago Green finished a championship run shooting an impressive 50% from the corner. Infusing a similar type of production alongside Embiid will move mountains for the Sixers big man.
Many will brush Terrance Ferguson as a toss-in on the Al Horford trade. But what he brings as an alternative should not be overlooked. The emergence of Luguentz Dort coupled with a poor shooting season made Ferguson expandable in Oklahoma City. What the Sixers get is a wing who defends at a very high level. Just last season Ferguson impressively defended a group of All-Stars. Take a look.
With Matisse Thybulle, and now Ferguson, the Sixers have multiple wing defenders at Rivers’ disposal. This unlocks more lineup flexibility, including one where the Sixers shift Ben Simmons to center. Much of Simmons’ prior offensive success centered on ‘space and pace’ lineups. But those lineups made the Sixers vulnerable defensively. Philadelphia is equipped to duplicate this model once again. This time with the defensive depth in the perimeter to complement Simmons (and two other shooters).
One big question mark is Ferguson’s shot. Last season Ferguson’s three-point efficiency cratered to 29%. There are many theories as to why. Ferguson has never been a consistent outside threat, but the third-year wing saw most of his minutes at small forward with the addition of Chris Paul. In a lineup anchored by Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, he suffered from a considerable drop in corner three attempts, a big part of Ferguson’s three-point output the prior season.
More signs also point to a potential uptick in production. Ferguson shot 29% off wide-open three-point looks. This 12% drop from 2018-2019 leads to thinking that he could be due for a return to the mean. Ferguson is an above NBA average free throw shooter, another indicator of an outlier season. An improved shooting year from Ferguson could be the ideal turbocharge to the Simmons’ ‘space and pace’ bench lineups.
The equation with Dwight Howard is not nearly as complex. Howard is a massive inside presence. One easily capable to bring down lobs in Rivers’ pick and roll offense. It is within the confine of the back-up role where we see the value in Howard. For one, he allows the Sixers to match-up with big lineups when Embiid rests. But a key element of Howard’s game revolves around the offensive glass. His 4.7 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes ranked third among all players over 1,000 minutes. Follow how well he positions his body to clean up an Anthony Davis floater here.
So how does this work with Ben Simmons? Last year Simmons ranked 32nd in the NBA in drives per game with 11.9. But only 40.4% of his drives equated to points, putting him 40th among a list of 47 players with over 10 drives per game. In order words, Simmons is not nearly as aggressive off the drive. When he is, it tends to manifest in a pass to the next teammate.
Dwight Howard’s role changes this dynamic. His mammoth presence inside enables Simmons to be aggressive downhill. This is a source of offense in a variety of ways. One, Simmons draws significant attention by attacking the basket. Such attention frees up Howard to clean up any misses near the rim. But most importantly, it also enables Simmons to take the next step in his development. That is, attack the basket to draw contact and get to the free-throw line. This change coupled with a consistent 4 to 5-foot floater turns Simmons into a significantly more potent half court player. Dwight Howard’s Superman-like presence should go a long way to unlocking this potential.
TYRESE MAXEY AND ISAIAH JOE
Tyrese Maxey and Isaiah Joe each bring their own unique set of skills. In Maxey, Philadelphia landed one of the highest upside guards in the NBA draft. Maxey’s two-way potential is tantalizing, but he is far from that player today. Nevertheless, it is not a stretch to envison some contribution from the Kentucky star.
One way is to imagine a role is in space. Maxey is a an explosive downhill athlete who leverages his speed in the open court effectively. Last season 22% of Maxey’s possessions came in transition, where he scored in the impressive 84th percentile (per Synergy). His ability to finish thru contact can be deployed in the half court as well. Maxey made his name finishing at the rim at a high volume and frequency. While the NBA provides a separate challenge, Rivers has the option to deploy him in space, either as a cutter or a downhill ball handler.
On the flip side there is little surprise in what Isaiah Joe brings. The question is, can he carve out enough playing time? Joe is a natural born shooter who extends defenses WELL beyond the three point line. But to get there Joe’s path likely demands pushing Furkan Korkmaz out of the rotation. Last season the Turkish wing made significant strides, leading the team in three pointers made. Korkmaz’ defensive limitations are significant, and that is where Joe may distinguish himself from the competition. The Arkansas sniper is grounded in good team defense fundamentals, with the frame and instincts to impact possessions. Building his name on the defensive end is Joe’s path to the rotation, and the opportunity to inject substantial offense this season.
Daryl Morey came to Philadelphia with a long to-do checklist. After a busy week much of those items have been scratched off the list. The Sixers enter the season a significantly more flexible roster. A team that can now deploy a variety of lineup alternatives. In the big picture these moves signal a commitment to Embiid and Simmons, as workable pieces are now in place to elevate the duo. The Sixers are not championship contenders at the moment, but this season should be gauged by the development of both stars. A season in which Embiid and Simmons push the Sixers into contention would be significant step in cementing their future here. A reversal to last season’s rollercoaster could provide the exact opposite outcome.