When Kendall Marshall debuts (potentially Thursday against Brooklyn), he’ll be the 12th point guard Brett Brown has coached in his three-year tenure as Head Camp Counselor. We’ve seen them come in all shapes and sizes and this year’s group is no exception.
Because the Sixers’ point guards are are so radical in their differences, I thought it’d be helpful to apply Seth Partnow’s point guard visualization tool — Putting Point Guards In a Box — which categorizes floor general based on characteristics like Shoot First vs. Pass First, On-ball vs. Off-ball, Floor-Spacer vs. non-shooter, and Driving vs. Probing.
It’s important to remember as we look at these that these metrics are meant to, as Partnow says in his piece, “…measure only of what a player is trying to do, not how well it is done.” In other words, these charts tell us more about how a point guard fits, rather than how well he’s producing.
Before we get started, here’s a quick chart explainer, via Partnow: “The inner diamond corresponds with league average rates, values extending past this diamond mean a player is towards the listed side of that scale, while values which are wholly inside this diamond indicate the player’s style is more towards the opposite end of the spectrum. Again “more” is not necessarily better or worse, these charts describe style, not achievement.”
Tony Wroten – The Driver
This graph shape is hardly a shock. The only remaining Team W.H.O.P. member and longest tenured Sixers point guard (102 games) has two elite skills — getting to the rim and turning the ball over — and they were on full display in his first game back on Saturday.
Last season in the first seven games before Michael Carter-Williams returned from shoulder surgery, Wroten averaged 21.9 points, 6.7 assists, and 2.7 steals while shooting threes just above league average on almost five attempts a game. His counting stats and efficiency dropped when MCW returned — perhaps because he was playing hurt. He was diagnosed with a torn ACL in January, but may have hurt the knee prior to that in a November contest that caused him to miss 7 games.
Those stats are more helpful for a fantasy basketball team than a real one. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Wroten will never be productive, or that he has nothing to offer in his current, raw form. If there’s one thing Wroten can do, it’s get into the lane. Per SportVU, Wroten led the league in field goals made from drives per game last season. It doesn’t matter who’s in front of him. For better or worse, Wroten always finds a way.
This could be a big boost for an offense lacking a backcourt playmaker. While the recent stretch of “close but no cigar” games was encouraging, the late fourth quarter execution has been horrific. Far too often Isaiah Canaan would just dribble the air out of the ball before hoisting a contested three with the shot clock expiring with little to no player movement from anybody else. When the Sixers get caught melting in butter, they need someone that can create their own shot. Robert Covington leads the team in turnovers in part because he’s often been the one stuck with the hot potato. This is a problem Wroten could potentially help solve.
It’ll be interesting to see Wroten find a role with this team because we haven’t seen him play with guys this talented. Last year he had limited time with NBA player Robert Covington, and played alongside a less refined version of the offensively inept Nerlens Noel. The current group has more offensive talent, if nothing else.
As for spacing, Wroten won’t be much help. Last year he couldn’t even hit wide-open 3s. Per SportVU data from NBA.com, he shot just 33 of 122 (27%) on threes when the the nearest defender was 4 or more feet away.
Wroten’s other fatal flaw is turnovers. Last year he coughed up the ball 32.5% of all his possessions, ranking ninth worst in the league among guards with 500-plus minutes. The Sixers are averaging a league worst 18.6 turnovers a game and he had 5 in just 13 minutes in his debut against the Nuggets. So while his strengths could help the league worst offense his weaknesses could submarine it all at the same time.
Isaiah Canaan – The Gunner
Isaiah Canaan is not a point guard.
That’s the simple fact. But due to the injuries to Wroten and Marshall, Canaan was thrust into the starting point guard role. The strategy of surrounding Okafor with shooters makes sense, especially with the passing ability he showed at Duke. Canaan fits that description, but as maestro of the offense he has failed in spectacular fashion.
Look above, and you’ll see Canaan’s 3-point attempts are literally off the chart. That’s because there is only one guard — including both PGs and SGs — in the league taking more than his 9.3 threes per 36 minutes and that’s…well, Steph Curry.
Canaan likely has no future as a pure point guard, but in a role similar to Spurs guard Patty Mills off the bench — where he’s not running the offense — he could be useful. Brown has some experience with Mills in San Antonio; plus, he was the coach of the Australian National team in the 2012 Summer Olympics when Mills was the leading scorer for the entire tournament. Perhaps when Canaan is secure in that bench role, we’ll get a better gauge of his efficiency.
T.J. McConnell – The Surveyor
T.J. McConnell’s emergence was one of the only uplifting stories early in the season for the winless Sixers. At one point early on he was averaging 8.2 assists per game — good enough for 5th overall in the league.
Defenders quickly caught on to McConnell’s weaknesses. Predictably, his numbers have fallen since then averaging 6 assists per game — 20th in the league and not something many expected from the undrafted guard — but because he’s such a limited scorer that’s not good enough for a starting NBA point guard.
As shown by the graph, McConnell is more a driver/prober than a shooter. As opposing teams realized this, they elected to take away his passing options in the pick and roll and encouraged him shoot.
When allowed to penetrate, McConnell utilizes a technique he borrowed from Steve Nash, keeping his dribble alive through the lane and curling out along the baseline waiting for a passing opportunity.
Of course, Nash was a two-time league MVP and one of the most efficient shooters of all time, so he had a lot more options when teams sunk into his passing lanes. McConnell has actually shot 14 of 24 (58.3%) on shots 10 to 14 feet from the hoop, but really good defensive teams have clogged his passing lanes which leads to long possessions that drain the shot clock.
As the chart shows, he’s not likely to take outside shots, and not likely to take many shots at all. That’s a bit of an issue since his defender can lurk in the lane causing issues for Okafor, slashers, and Noel. McConnell’s refusal to shoot in those situations is Rondo-esque and that’s why he’s on pace to have the lowest Free Throw Rate of all time for the amount of minutes he’s played. That list consists mostly of shooters that rarely drove, but McConnell is somehow getting to the line less than any of them while still driving and penetrating.
Kendall Marshall – The Passer
After a stint with the Sevens in the D-League Marshall earned a spot with the Lakers in 2013-14 and put up 8.8 assists in Mike D’Antoni’s high octane offense while shooting 39.9% from 3 on over 3 attempts a game. The Lakers decided to let Marshall walk and last year he found himself in Milwaukee competing for the backup job to Brandon Knight with Jerryd Bayless. However, just two days after Wroten was shut down for the season Marshall also suffered a season ending ACL tear.
Marshall could be back Thursday against the Nets. He’s been talked about as a savior for this NBA’s worst offense and a lot of that is in the hope that he regains the form he had in L.A. While Sixers Twitter ought to temper its expectations, there’s reason to believe he could be a big help.
What does the above metric tell us about his style? It shows that he’d be the Sixers’ most balanced point guard, but he’s not above average in any of the four dichotomies. He’s a career 37.7% shooter from three, but he only takes four per 36 minutes — that’s in part due to his slow release.
The good news is that last season, 95% of his 3-pointers came when the defender was four-plus feet away and he shot 41% on them. That means that if he’s getting some of the wide open looks that McConnell has gotten (over one per game), then he could be deadly once the ball starts to swing around the perimeter or Okafor is throwing fastballs from the post.
So who is the right fit?
Long term, likely none of them. At least, not as a starter. But they all have something to offer. Wroten and Marshall may help improve the situation not only with their own production, but also by improving the efficiency of McConnell and Canaan by putting them in more limited and specialized roles. This is almost like a fresh start to the season. There’s a good chance that, like last year, the team we saw lose 18 straight to start the season will not be the team that we see post All-Star break.