Hollis Thompson. Daniel Orton. James Anderson. Vander Blue. No, these are not literary figures from 16th century Britain. These are players who (at least in part) have been associated with the Sixers’ 2014 season. The potpourri of well-traveled players, largely unknown to the casual fan, serves as a telling metaphor for Philadelphia’s plight – unrecognizable and, to some extent, sui generis.
The 76ers’ campaign has continued to chug along like the faltering locomotive that it is: affording experience to long-term linchpins (i.e. Michael Carter-Williams) and steadily inflating the playing time (and trade value, ideally) of the team’s unwanted veterans. Disregard regular season wins, acquire currency. It’s a fundamentally simple strategy.
So, where does that leave the evaluation of the team’s faceless rotation fillers, and what may the future hold for Philly’s youthful, less-identifiable contributors?
We’ll start with Mr. Anderson. The journeyman, playing on his third team in four seasons, has started in 32 of a possible 50 games with the Sixers. Despite the hefty playing time, he hasn’t been the marksman that we’d anticipated. The former Oklahoma State star’s attributes have been marginalized in the context of his lacking team, as he has registered career-worst marks both from beyond the arc (30.0%) and at the charity stripe (73.3%). His otherwise very solid 56.4% conversion on 2-point attempts has helped to stabilize his trigger-happy decline, contributing to his True Shooting percentage of 53.8%.
Ultimately, the characteristics of his game have functioned as the ideal fit for this floundering franchise – a one-dimensional “shooter” armed with a decent touch who is scarcely hesitant to let it fly, often in voluminous quantities. Given the statistical decline, It will be interesting to see how his 2014 endeavors (while transient at times) fare as an audition for further, more limited roles in the future.
Philadelphia’s gaping backcourt holes are equally responsible for Elliott Williams’ resuscitated career. Williams, though, has failed to entrench his candidacy for a place in the league during his 30-plus game pit stop in Philadelphia. Paltry shooting across the board (including an underwhelming 29.4% from deep), non-existent defense (he owns an eye-gouging individual defensive rating of 113), and continued carelessness with the ball suggest the former first-round pick hasn’t delivered replacement-level production.
Fortunately for the Sixers, perimeter struggles haven’t dogged the entire roster.
The undrafted Hollis Thompson has steadfastly earned playing time under Brett Brown. With precipitous outside shooting, Thompson’s offensive efficiency in reserve spots – connecting on 53.9% of his shots from within the arc and an above-average 36.6% from beyond it – has been a welcome addition to the Sixers’ setup. His rebounding is not overly flattering for a 6-8 forward, yet the 56.5% TS% and modest turnover percentage of 11.5% work to compensate for the gaps in his unpolished, developing game.
This level of play, combined with the realistic possibility of a post-trade deadline vacuum on the wings, is why some (note: me) forecast Thompson to be a “breakout” candidate in the season’s second-semester. His output reflects glowingly on the potential of taking a flier on untested prospects.
Finding value in low-cost, unguaranteed D-League alumni is a practice that Sam Hinkie is all too familiar with after his tenure in the Rockets’ front office. The intermediate cost of such a strategy is sturdy, and the brand of basketball put forth as a result is often anything but aesthetically pleasing, yet it’s not hard to imagine why 2014 may be the year where a sojourn as a 76er created a launching pad for sustainable, role-playing careers — whether in Philadelphia, or elsewhere.