Oct 20 2014

Nerlens Noel: A Defensive Upgrade, Even In His Rawest Form

All the evidence points to Nerlens Noel becoming a game-changing defender in the NBA.

This shouldn’t surprise to anybody, of course. His potential on that end was the primary reason why he was a consensus no. 1 pick before tearing his ACL while working for Kentucky. But the 6-foot-11, 228-pound power forward has lived up to the hype in the summer league, and now the preseason. His five blocks and four steals through three games suggest he’s a future box score all-star. That, combined with his athleticism and court sense — he moves around in a seemingly effortless manner — could make him a perennial All-Defensive Team candidate.

In a limited sample of meaningless competition, Noel has demonstrated he can do it all.

Close out on a wide-open shooter after a blown defensive rotation? Check.

Stop a side screen-and-roll play, and recover in time to prevent an attack? Sure, why not.

Stop two consecutive pick-and-roll actions and then cut off a drive to the rim, all in the same play? Wait, what?

That play from that last clip is particularly terrifying. Noel’s ability to shut down several actions in a single play gives him glaring similarities to players such as Serge Ibaka, fellow Wildcat Anthony Davis, and yes, even a young Kevin Garnett. In Philadelphia’s defensive system, which relies on help defense and athletic ability, the hi-top fade could be just what the doctor ordered.

Noel’s mobility may allow Brett Brown to experiment with the defense too. Philadelphia zoned up on the majority of its pick-and-roll coverage last season, but would mix it up from time to time when the personnel allowed. Brown has already had Noel aggressively trap pick-and-rolls after icing screens into the corners on a few occasions, where his freakish wingspan has terrorized ball handlers.

And if that isn’t enough, Noel has shown some early signs that he may be agile enough to keep up with smaller wing players, which would allow him to switch on pick-and-rolls. There will be no solution to the LeBron James-Kevin Love-Kyrie Irving problem, but having an athletic shot-blocker that can defend multiple positions will certainly ease the pain.

Just a reminder: Noel is only 20 years old. He still can’t purchase alcohol legally. Yet he already seems capable of defending in a way that only a handful of players can. Now let’s not go overboard; Noel won’t be a candidate for 2014-15 Defensive Player of the Year. He’ll have to deal with the mental and physical hurdles that all rookies do; he’s already looked to be a bit jumpy or foul-prone at times, and several times he’s lost track of his man as a result of ball-watching.

But these are minor roadblocks that the Sixers rookie has all the tools to overcome. Noel, if healthy, has as good a chance as anyone of becoming an elite defender. Even in his rawest form, he’s a defensive upgrade over the Sixers bigs of yesteryear.

Oct 18 2014

Changes At Hoop76

We’re almost two years into the Hoop76 experiment, and like the team we cover, it’s been a process. Some things have worked and some things haven’t, but we’ll continue doing what we can to add to your Sixers experience.

On that note, expect to see some more of us after a slow offseason. We’ll be bringing back 5-on-5, weekday game recaps, and may be adding some new features. As for the staff, most of the starters are returning. Co-founder Tom Sunnergren has moved on — we thank him for his awesome contributions — but Wesley Share will be getting some looks at point guard as the assistant editor, veteran Bryan Toporek will be our Luc Mbah a Moute, and some other familiar faces are coming off the bench. This isn’t yet a blog that’ll contend for a championship, but we’ve got talented writers on site-friendly contracts, and tons of future second-round picks. We’re getting there.

Also, we’re looking for more writers. So if you want in, hit me up at hoopseventysix [at] gmail [dot] com and tell me why you’d be a good fit. Provide a few links if you have them.

Thanks as always for stopping by the site. Looking forward to surviving the 2014-15 season with you.

Oct 16 2014

Life Without MCW: Examining the Sixers’ Backup Guards

Well, it’s starting to look like we’re going to have to get used to life without Michael Carter-Williams.

On Monday, the Sixers point guard told The Intelligencer’s Tom Moore that the original timetable for his bum shoulder – which was operated on in early May – was six-to-nine months. That makes him a near-lock to miss the start of the season, and while there’s not yet a return date, Brett Brown said that the Rookie of the Year is “a ways away” from full-contact basketball.

It’s the scenario we all thought was impossible: the Sixers, somehow, may be worse than anticipated.

But there is a silver – err, copper – lining. With MCW out, we’ll get a slightly better idea of what the reserves can do (probably very little) against NBA competition. There doesn’t yet seem to be a clear front-runner among the potential backup point guards, but let’s take a look at the candidates.

The Favorites: Alexey Shved vs. Tony Wroten

Neither player is advertised as a point guard, but it was Shved’s original position in Europe and Brett Brown has already mentioned that he wants Wroten to transition there this season.

As far as playmaking and running an offense goes, neither are fantastic options. Wroten is the more gifted passer, but his subpar decision making and bad case of tunnel vision lead to countless bricks and turnovers, as you’ll see in this 27-second clip.

Shved had similar issues while playing in Minnesota. Part of that could’ve been a result of his situation. The 6-foot-6 Russian had limited ballhandling opportunities while spending most of his time on the court with point guard J.J. Barea. In trying to get the most out of his minutes, he’d often force low-percentage shots. Shved shot only 29.2% while sharing the floor with Barea per NBA Wowy, but shot 39.6% when he got full control of the offense. For what it’s worth, he’s looked like a new man in the preseason, showing some impressive court vision and distribution through the first few games.

Neither player is a world-beating defender, though right now Shved may be the better option. Wroten, despite his athleticism, was ineffective defensively last season, often wandering away from his man while gambling for steals.

Shved will likely remain a net-minus defensively as well as he’s mostly a tweener on this end, but he is much more disciplined than Wroten in that he’ll rarely lunge out of position for steals and stick to his assignment. While Wroten has the higher ceiling, Shved may be more suited for the backup role right now.

Casper Ware: More Than a Wildcard?

Ware may just be a shoot-first point guard at heart but he’s shown impressive court vision in his first few preseason games, especially in both transition and drive-and-kick situations.

Now don’t get me wrong. Ware will never be the first option to run an offense, and his size (5-10) makes him a defensive liability. But he’s a nuisance to deal with on both ends and can be a burst of energy off the bench; he’s proved he can play hard too, having earned both Big West Player of the Year and Defensive Player the Year honors in his junior season at Long Beach State. And unlike Shved and Wroten, he can actually hit a jumper. He’ll probably buy himself some playing time this season based on that fact alone, as the roster is barren of any shooters outside of Hollis Thompson and Jason Richardson.

While there’s little chance that Ware gets any serious consideration to start over Shved or Wroten, don’t be surprised to see him take control of the offense for four-to-five minute stretches.

So, Who Gets the Nod?

It’s anybody’s game. The three leading candidates have split minutes in the preseason (though Shved had a DNP-CD on Tuesday), and none seem to be separating from the pack. If Brown wants an athlete, it’s Wroten. If he wants the (relatively) steady veteran, it’s Shved. If he wants shooting, it’s Ware. And don’t forget about Malcolm Lee, the ex-Timberwolves shooting guard who has gotten into a couple preseason games. None of these options are particularly appealing, but in the land of the Sixers backcourt, the one-eyed guard is king.

One thing we can be certain of: it’ll be rough watching this team without MCW. Please, Michael, get well soon.

Oct 14 2014

The New TV Deal, the Sixers, and You

As you might’ve heard, the NBA just cashed in. Adam Silver and Co. locked down a nine-year television rights agreement that will net the league about $2.66 billion annually and about $24 billion when all is said and done. As Kevin Draper noted on Deadspin, this deal may single-handedly raise your cable costs by a couple dollars a month.

So, what does that mean for the league? Commissioner Adam Silver, blunt as ever, said it will “have a profound effect” on the salary cap, putting each and every NBA owner in handsome shape in the 2016 offseason, when the deal is expected to kick in.

What about the Sixers?

If the deal took effect immediately, reckless spenders like the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets would benefit. Those teams, once limited by the salary cap (currently $63 million), would be able to return to their big spending ways. But in the short term, with at least two seasons until the big cap jump (it could reach $90 million), the thrifty Sixers maintain their edge. They might use it next summer, with a restricted free agent class that’s set to feature Jimmy Butler, Alec Burks, Pero Antic and Reggie Jackson. And don’t overlook Goran Dragic, who could opt out and become an unrestricted free agent. With Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas already in the backcourt, there’s a realistic chance Dragic is the odd man out. The Sixers will have the ammo to pay  multiple fringe all-star talents. Whether they’ll want to is a different story.

How the Sixers’ Personnel Will Be Affected

Of the players currently on the roster, Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel have the most to gain in the somewhat near-term. The two-year team options on the back end of their rookie deals expire in the summer of 2017, and being the cornerstones that they are, they’ll likely be the first Sixers to capitalize on the rising cap. Unless, of course, Hinkie flips both of them for the rights to the CSKA Moscow organization.

Then, there’s Dario Saric, our ol’ flashy passing, smooth-scoring Croatian friend playing on a complicated three-year deal for Anadolu Efes in Turkey. With the financial benefits he stands to gain from playing in the NBA with the rising cap, one way or another, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which he pulls a Fran Vasquez. But it could force him to rethink coming over in two years, and coax him into playing out that third year in Turkey.

If Saric waits at least three years to sign with an NBA team, he’ll be granted the right to negotiate a more lucrative contract.1  His maximum starting salary under the current rookie scale would be $2,164,080, so he could finagle a heftier deal. Nikola Mirotic did exactly that: he stayed overseas for three seasons, and ended up signing for three years, $16.6 million as opposed to the $5 million over four years he could have gotten under the rookie scale. In 2017, Saric could earn even more than that.

It’s possible that he’ll prefer the financial stability, before an inevitable lockout in the summer of 2017. But if he’s feeling lucky, he has a lot to gain by waiting it out.

Where Does that Leave Philly? 

It’s hard to get excited about this, especially when Philly was already in great cap shape, but the deal gives Sam Hinkie more options, and greater flexibility. The disgraceful GM that’s disrupting the sanctity of our beautiful game is in a position most rival executives would envy. There haven’t been many major free agent decisions thus far, aside from the occasional “should I sign Brandon Davies or Gani Lawal” in-house debate, but the heavy lifting is coming soon enough. If the Sixers spend right, they could put together something special.

1. If a first-round pick doesn’t sign with his drafted team within three years, he has the ability to negotiate the contract — at least three years, at more than 120 percent the rookie scaled salary – as if he were a free agent.

Follow Wesley on Twitter: @wshareNBA

Oct 09 2014

Sixers Preseason Is What You Want It to Be

The Sixers lost to the Celtics 98-78 in their preseason opener on Monday. Nerlens Noel fouled out, and was all-around terrible (2-of-9, 4 turnovers), Henry Sims was even worse (3-15), and ex-Sixer Evan Turner was arguably the best player on the court (15 points, 10 boards, 6 assists).

Disaster, right?

Wrong. None of that should matter. It’s the preseason, and it’s one game, without Michael-Carter Williams. It’s a tiny piece of relatively meaningless data. But that didn’t stop anti-Hinkite commenter Buke from jumping to conclusions and offering this scorching hot take on the thread of the DepressedFan.com Sixers blog.

Take it away, Buke (parentheses mine):

After watching tonight’s game, I can’t think of any good reason to disagree with you (re: commenter eddies’ heady’s anti-Hinkie remarks). Boston looks like it might be one of the weaker teams in the league, but at least they are a marginal NBA team. The Sixers aren’t even that. In the long run, the team may demonstrate that we are unduly pessimistic, but that won’t happen for some time.

Notice that there isn’t a peep tonight from the Hinkie “plan” enthusiasts. Apparently only us skeptics watched. Reality basketball isn’t nearly as much fun for them as fantasy basketball.

I should note that there’s typically plenty of good insight in the DepressedFan.com threads. Also, Buke’s view here isn’t the consensus, even among the Hinkie skeptics.

But this isn’t some isolated rant. It’s one of many you’ll see from a certain segment of the Sixers fan base – and while some takes are hotter than others, they all use the same formula: have a hypothesis, seek evidence in support, ignore counter-evidence, and draw a conclusion.

Buke’s hypothesis: Sixers are doomed. Evidence: They were blown out in a preseason game. Ignored counter-evidence: MCW was out. The game was close through three quarters. Conclusion: Hinkie’s plan won’t work.

Here, let’s try it again, this time with the Hasheem Thabeet trade. On Aug. 26, the Sixers gave a trade exception and a protected second-round pick (likely relinquished) to the Thunder in exchange for cash and the 7-foot-3 career backup center. This was a nothing deal; Philly grabbed a few extra bucks and OKC got a little cap relief. Everybody wins.

But that’s not the way Brian Ward, who runs Depressed Fan, saw it.

Via DepressedFan.com:

In a vacuum, this isn’t a big deal at all. Neither is using the #12 pick on a guy who you won’t have to pay for two years, or passing on a number of deals that would’ve netted you the same thing as trading your best player when all it would’ve cost is some of the cap space you aren’t going to use anyway, or choosing to build your practice facility across the river for tax credits.

In a vacuum, none of those things are a big deal. When one team has done all of those things in the past six months…well, what do you make of it? You all know where I stand.

Ward’s hypothesis: Josh Harris is in it for the money. Evidence: He acquired cash, cut player. Ignored counter-evidence: Thabeet is terrible. Conclusion: Management isn’t prioritizing winning.

It happens with every transaction, and not just on the DepressedFan thread. The Sixers dealt Thad Young because they don’t care about the fans. Dario Saric/Joel Embiid were drafted because they want to win the 2015 lottery. Harris is a hedge fund guy, so this is all a conspiracy to get the team to New Jersey.

And it happens the other way around, too. In some places, including here, the Hinkie support borders on blind worship. The Sixers GM was praised for trading Turner for acquiring a second-rounder; the former no. 2 pick was a bust, but he was averaging 17 points. The return there was laughable. Likewise, the organization was lauded on draft night, perhaps to a fault. Take the Joel Embiid selection. Here at Hoop76, we had him sixth in our mock draft. The foot and back injuries scared the shit out of us. But much of that skepticism disappeared the second the seven-foot Cameroonian’s name was called on draft night.

Hypothesis: Sixers are building a winner. Evidence: Embiid is bound for stardom. Ignored counter-evidence: Serious health concerns. Conclusion: Embiid was the right pick.

Yes, we think that management knows what it is doing. But also, we want to think that management knows what it is doing. We trust the rationale of Harris, Hinkie, and Brown, and co. We’re on the bandwagon.

This type of thinking, at its worst, can be just as faulty as Buke’s, and that of the Hinkie haters.

This isn’t to say that any of these hypotheses – Hinkie is a fool, Embiid is the next Hakeem – are wrong. But we haven’t tested them. The experiment may run through 2025. It’ll take some time. We don’t know.

What we do know is that last night, the Sixers earned their first preseason victory, beating the Charlotte Hornets 106-92. Noel had a KG-esque stat line  (10 points, 9 rebs, 3 assists, 3 blocks), Wroten ran the offense efficiently (15 points, 6 rebs, 7 assists), and even Elliot Williams looked good (3-5 3pt). This is, indeed, a promising core. If your glass is half full, you already knew that.

Oct 02 2014

Take the Over On the Sixers’ 15.5 Wins

The Westgate SuperBook released its NBA win totals on Tuesday, and to the surprise of no one, the Sixers line is the lowest. And it’s not even close. Philadelphia is at a historically low 15.5 wins while the next worst team, Milwaukee, is at 24.5.

With that in mind, here’s some advice for all you degenerate gamblers: Stop gambling. But before you do, head to the ATM, call your bookie, and take the over.

Sure, Philly isn’t built to win this season. Their most accomplished players – Jason Richardson and Keith Bogans – may not suit up for the team in 2014-15. Their most talented players – Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, and Joel Embiid – have health question marks. The rest of the team consists of second-round picks, D-Leaguers, and fringe NBA talent. It’s a league-low $36-million payroll, and GM Sam Hinkie may get exactly what he paid for.

But, 15 wins? It would take a disastrous season for this team, with this personnel, and this coach, to get there. Only 27 NBA teams (prorating the shortened seasons) have pulled off that feat, and smart money says the Sixers – short on skill, but long on conditioning and athleticism – won’t be the 28th.

For evidence, look no further than last season. The run-and-gun Sixers stormed out of the gate by winning their first three games, and then had a four-game streak to start 12-21. Then Michael Carter-Williams wore down, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes checked out/were exposed (and were traded), and the infamous 26-game losing streak followed. Yet still, thanks to a red-hot 4-6 finish capped off by a 100-87 win over the LeBron/Bosh-less Heat, they finished 19-63. They were who the experts thought they’d be: a bad, but not all-time bad team. Good enough to beat the 16.5 line, which Tom correctly advised on taking the over.

Coach Brett Brown enters this season with a similar roster. Gone are Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, and James Anderson; taking their minutes are Nerlens Noel, Henry Sims, and some combination of Alexey Shved, K.J. McDaniels, and D-Leaguers to be named later. The newcomers, arguably, are as good as the departees. The offense, ranked 30th in efficiency last season, can’t get much worse. And with Noel in the paint, McDaniels and Jerami Grant on the perimeter, and MCW back to full strength, the 27th-ranked defense could turn into one that’s merely subpar. That alone could get them to 20 wins.

The Sixers have the makeup of a team that’ll improve as the season goes on. Their players are young, athletic, and in some cases, desperate for NBA employment. They’ll run like crazy, shoot 3-pointers, bust their butts on defense, and play within the system. Occasionally they’ll resemble a competitive NBA team. And unlike last season, their major contributors will still be here after the deadline; there’s no one left to give away. It takes six months of consistently terrible basketball — and organizational dysfunction from the top down — to reach the 67-loss mark. With some 3-point variance, and a dose of hustle, the Sixers should be able to avoid that fate.

Older posts «