Aug 08 2014

Anthony Bennett to the Sixers?

The Thad Young-Anthony Bennett rumor had been floating around for a few days (as part of the T-Wolves-Cavs blockbuster centered around Kevin Love and Andrew Wiggins) but it looked dead yesterday when Adrian Wojnarowski reported that there wasn’t a third team involved.

Reportedly, it’s back on.

This could be a three-team trade, or a side-trade, or it might not happen at all. For now, it looks like Bennett — 2013 No. 1 overall pick, who might’ve had the worst rookie season of any No. 1 overall pick — is headed to Philly. And Thad — the Sixers’ best player, who might’ve had the worst season of any team’s ‘best player’ — is going to Minnesota. This one’s interesting.

Bennett was a disaster last season (6.95 PER!), and we’re not quite sure why; maybe it was his asthma, maybe it was because he was out of shape, maybe it was because of the shitty Cavs environment, or maybe he’s just terrible. It’s likely that last year is the worst-case scenario, making this a good buy-low opp. It would’ve been an even better buy-low opp if they acquired him before summer league, where he was arguably the better of Cleveland’s No. 1 overall picks. The hope for the Sixers is that the Brett Brown system (and a tonsillectemy) can get the 6-foot-8 combo forward back in shape and playing to his potential.

This trade isn’t a no-brainer, and that’s because Thad is a good basketball player on a fair contract ($9.16 million this season with a $9.72 player option next season), without any injury or character red flags. He’s been an efficient two-way player over his seven-year career; an eFG% of .517 while shooting 50 percent from the field. And though last season wasn’t his best, he’s added a 3-point shot to his arsenal. He’s also only 26 years old. And there’s no one better at turning garbage into gold. If this is for real, he’ll be missed.

If you’re craving more Bennett-Thad content, I direct you to this post from Liberty Ballers editor Derek Bodner on his personal blog. We’ll have more on this as details come in.

Jul 31 2014

Windhorst: Sixers Fighting Lottery Overhaul

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported yesterday, via multiple sources, that the NBA’s plan to overhaul the lottery has met strong opposition from Sixers management, which, for obvious reasons, is hoping to delay any sort of changes that could come before next year’s draft.

In the current system, the NBA’s worst team has a 25 percent shot at landing the top pick and a top-four guarantee; the second-worst team has a 19.9 percent and top-5 guarantee; third-worst has a 15.6 percent and a top-six, and so on, with odds decreasing as you move further down the 13-team lottery.

In the new lotto format, according to Windhorst, “the bottom five or six teams could have an equal chance,” which in theory, would discourage tanking.

From ESPN:

The rough draft of this plan was met with opposition by 76ers management, which is in the midst of a multiseason rebuilding project that is dependent on a high pick next year. The 76ers, sources said, are hoping to get the NBA to delay the plan’s implementation for at least a year because it would act as a de facto punishment while just playing by the rules that have been in place.

The 76ers, however, may struggle to gain support from Silver or fellow teams for holding off on the changes. Philadelphia’s planned sink to the bottom has caused a drag on revenues in one of the league’s largest markets and has upset some other teams, sources said.

Worth reiterating: the Sixers’ plan — disregarding regular season wins, collecting ping pong balls — is a byproduct of a CBA that rewards losing and regulates the salaries of rookies and superstars. It’s understandable, then, that they would disapprove of a major change right in the middle of their rebuilding process. But considering the Sixers are pretty much the embodiment of what the NBA wants to eliminate, they may have trouble gaining support from the 29 other teams, many of which may be morally opposed to losing on purpose. (It won’t help matters that they’re below the salary floor; a signal that they’re not even pretending they want to compete in the short-term.)

My stance is that the current CBA, not tanking, is the problem. Even if there is a lotto adjustment, the slots will still be weighted and draft picks will continue to be valuable commodities, there will remain an incentive to lose; though instead of the horrible teams gunning for the No. 30 spot, you’ll have the terrible teams gunning for 5/6 as soon as they’re out of playoff contention. The proposed change wouldn’t solve tanking. Instead, it’d put a Band-Aid on the problem — which doesn’t necessarily need solving.

Jul 29 2014

Kyle Korver and ‘the most unusual three ever hit’

Over at Grantland, Zach Lowe wrote a feature on Kyle Korver, the 3-point genius who, against all odds, has become one of the league’s most dangerous offensive weapons. He’s coming off a season where he converted 3s at a ridiculous rate of 47.2 percent, playing a career-high 34 minutes/game and helping the Atlanta Hawks reach the postseason. He also made at least one 3-pointer in 127 consecutive games, breaking Dana Barros’ record of 89.

And somehow, Korver keeps getting better. Though he’s 33, and heading into his 12th NBA season, he was one of the 19 players invited to the USA National Team training camp held July 28-Aug. 1. Not bad for a second-round pick.

In case you’ve forgotten, the 6-foot-7 Ashton Kutcher look alike first made a name for himself 11 years ago with the Sixers. He was drafted by the Nets with the 51st pick in the 2003 draft, then immediately traded to Philly for $125,000, which would cover summer league. Korver struggled as a rookie under Randy Ayers, who tried getting the sharpshooter from Creighton to develop a mid-range game. That didn’t work, at least not immediately; he shot 35.2 percent from the field (with a 2P% of 28.3) in his first year.

But Korver’s career took off the next season when the Sixers hired 3-point friendly Jim O’Brien.

Here’s Lowe:

In the team’s very first practice, Allen Iverson ran a two-on-one fast break with Korver filling the wing. Iverson dished to Korver behind the 3-point arc. Korver took two dribbles, nailed a 17-footer, and waited for the applause.

O’Brien was livid. He screamed for Korver to look down at the 3-point line. O’Brien told him that if Korver ever passed up another open 3-pointer, he would remove him from the game. Korver remembers one thought flying through his head during O’Brien’s tirade: This is awesome.

Korver led the league in made 3s that season, establishing himself as perhaps the league’s deadliest shooter. But he would not be pigeonholed as a spot-up guy chilling in the corner. He liked moving too much for that. Korver grew up in Lakewood, a small town within Greater Los Angeles, and he fell in love with the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s. “Everyone on that team was running, cutting, and passing,” Korver says. “To me, that’s still perfect basketball.”

To fully understand what Korver meant to Philly, it’s important to consider context. In part due to personnel, and in part due to coaching, the Sixers never had a lights-out 3-point shooter before Korver’s arrival. In the six seasons (1997-2003) under Larry Brown, the team finished last in 3-point attempts thrice, second-to-last twice, and 24th once. They had capable shooters, like Keith Van Horn, Aaron McKie, and briefly, Toni Kukoc, but they were nowhere near as effective as Korver. Even if they were, they’d likely have been underutilized with a 3-point opponent like Brown calling the shots.

Korver was, in many ways, the perfect 3-point specialist for the mid-2000s Sixers. With his smooth stroke and underwhelming athleticism, he fit all of the white-guy-shooter stereotypes. But unlike predecessors Van Horn, Kukoc, and Matt Harpring — who arrived with unfair expectations — he could shoot the lights out, and just as importantly, played with a 3-point friendly coach.

Korver’s Sixers tenure ended in his fifth season, when he was traded to Utah for Gordan Giricek and a first-round pick, a move that opened up playing time for Thaddeus Young and created cap space for the 2008 offseason. (Philly would end up needing every penny of its Korver savings for its five-year, $80 million offer to Elton Brand.) Though in spite of his short-lived Sixers tenure, he remains the franchise’s last, and perhaps only 3-point ace. In just 337 games, he nailed 661 3-pointers (1,618 attempts) at a 40.9 percent clip, good for second on the Sixers all-time leaderboard. (Iverson  leads with 885, but needed 2,864 attempts). It’s possible, if not likely, that Korver is — and will remain — the best 3-point shooter in Sixers history. If and when a Sixer surpasses Iverson’s total, it’ll likely have more to do with the changing pace of the game, than the player himself.

On that note, I’ll leave you with highlights from a classic Korver performance from his sophomore season in a 106-104 overtime win over the Pacers. He finished with 23 points off the bench and hit seven 3s, including “the most unusual three ever hit” (1:20).

Stick around for a few minutes and you’ll catch an Iverson game-winning buzzer beater.

Jul 18 2014

Should the Sixers Make An Offer to Eric Bledsoe?

Last month, Bryan outlined a strategy that a cap-savvy/healthy team like the Sixers could utilize in restricted free agency: offering a hefty contract in the hopes of either landing a borderline all-star, or as a consolation prize, driving up his price for a competitor.

As we’ve seen with the Mavericks signing of Chandler Parsons (three years, $46 million) and the Hornets attempt to pry away Gordon Hayward from the Jazz (4/63), the restricted free-agency market is a dicey game. The Sixers, in spite of their cap room, have chosen to avoid it thus far, but there are still a few RFAs, including Greg Monroe and Eric Bledsoe, that they could go after. The latter is reportedly far apart in contract talks with Phoenix and Philly, with more than $30 million in cap room, is in a unique position to make a play for the talented combo-guard.

So, the Sixers are the only team not from Phoenix with the flexibility to jump in and make Ryan McDonough sweat.

This puts the Suns in a predicament. While Bledsoe is a dynamic, two-way player, a max contract could restrict their spending in the near- and possibly long-term.1 Losing Bledsoe would hurt, but with Goran Dragic and the newly acquired Isaiah Thomas already in the backcourt they have replacements. The Suns proved last year that they could get by without Bledsoe, going 20-19 in the competitive Western Conference while their second-leading scorer sat out with shin and knee injuries.

The Sixers, meanwhile, would be in a better position to take on Bledsoe’s max without inhibiting their long-term plans. In the next year or two, they’d lose some of their coveted flexibility, but would still possess more than enough cap space to facilitate trades and do Hinkie things. (Keep in mind that with a new TV deal kicking in, the cap is expected to raise as high as $80 million, something that the Suns, Sixers and Bledsoe are keenly aware of. In other words, a max contract this summer could very well be a bargain two years from now.)

The fit could be interesting too. The Sixers were rumored to have spoken to Exum about running a two-point guard lineup, and Bledsoe is coming from the same double-alpha dog system in Phoenix. A lineup that includes Bledsoe, MCW, Nerlens Noel, and Joel Embiid has all the makings of a lock-down defense.

There are cons as well. For one, he’s injury prone; he’s missed 87 games over the past three seasons. While his defense is strong, his offense is questionable. He’s turnover prone (3.3 a game last season) and he’s a poor, albeit improving shooter, as he converted about 36 percent of his 140 three-point attempts last season to up his career rate to just below 33 percent. Not exactly the ideal lights-out off-ball guard to place next to MCW and the twin towers, if and when they take the floor.

That said, fit and injury history certainly haven’t scared Hinkie off before, and 24 year-old talents like Bledsoe don’t come along often. He’s an intriguing option, one to keep in mind while his camp and Phoenix’s continue their negotiations.

1. ShamSports has Phoenix with $34,878,911 on the books for next season, plus the cap holds for Bledsoe, the newly drafted Tyler Ennis, restricted free agent PJ Tucker and Leandro Barbosa. Throw in max money for Bledsoe, Tucker’s new three-year. $16.5 million contract, Ennis’ deal for what is likely to be 120 percent of the rookie scale and whatever happens to Barbosa and Phoenix only has around $5 million to add anyone else this season to upgrade their fringe playoff team in the loaded West.

Jul 15 2014

The Sixers’ Bottomless Pit of Second-Round Picks and C-List Prospects

“Leave it to 76ers General Manager Sam Hinkie, a former Houston Rockets front-office star, to find the diamonds in the rough.” – Fred Katz for The Washington Post

In his 14 months with the Sixers, GM Sam Hinkie has shown an unprecedented willingness to trade for future picks. As a result of his dealings, Philly ended up with five second-rounders in the 2014 draft: K.J. McDaniels (No. 32), Jerami Grant (No. 39), Pierre Jackson (in a trade for Russ Smith, the 47th overall pick), Vasijile Micic (No. 52, who will reportedly stay overseas in 2014-15) and Jordan McRae (No. 58).

It’s entirely possible that most, if not all of these rookies are out of the league in a few years. According to Roland Beech’s analysis for 82games.com, the average second-round pick isn’t expected to be more than a deep bench player. On Basketball-Reference.com, Justin Kubatko plotted the expected win shares for each draft pick over the first four years of their respective careers; all second-rounders were expected to produce fewer than five win shares over that four-year span1.

But the way that Hinkie acquired all these 2014 picks—and other future assets—might be more indicative of the Sixers’ future than how McDaniels, Grant, Jackson, Micic and McRae turn out2.

Below is a chart summarizing/simplifying all of Philly’s trades since Hinkie took over in May 2013; the second-round picks are bolded and the ex-Sixers are italicized. (See the footnotes below for additional details.)

Traded Received
Jrue Holiday, 42nd pick 2013 (Pierre Jackson)3 Nerlens Noel (6, 2013) Dario Saric (12, 2014) PHL 2017 1st (via ORL) ORL 2015 2nd
Glen Rice (35, 2013) Arsalan Kazemi (54, 2013) Pierre Jackson** (42, 2013) Jordan McRae (58, 2014) Cash
*2014 2nd (P31-55) Furkan Aldemir** Royce White
*2014 2nd (P31-50, 56-60) Tony Wroten
*2014 2nd (P31-40, 46-60)
Byron Mullens LAC 2018 2nd
*2014 2nd (P31-45, 51-60) Eric Maynor WAS 2015 2nd DEN 2016 2nd
Spencer Hawes Jerami Grant (39, 2014) Vasilije Micic (52, 2014) Henry Sims Earl Clark
Evan Turner, Lavoy Allen 2015 2nd (IND, via GSW) Danny Granger

To summarize: Hinkie traded Holiday, Rice (35th, 2013), Hawes, Turner, and Allen. He turned them into Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric, a 2017 1st, Wroten, Sims, Grant, Kazemi, Micic, McRae, Aldemir, FIVE future second-round picks, and cash.

Or put it this way: the Sixers lost an average starting point guard, a second-rounder, three expiring contracts, and pride. They gained a top-tier rookie, a No. 12 overall pick, their own 2017 first-rounder (which was originally traded to Orlando in the four-team Dwight Howard megadeal), and a mystery 12-pack of C-list prospects. Even accounting for the low success rate of second-round picks, that’s a massive expected return on a relatively small investment.

For what it’s worth, analysts gave the Sixers favorable reviews for their 2014 second-round haul, with Hinkie taking fliers on lengthy prospects whose physical gifts could help them carve out productive NBA careers. ESPN.com’s Chad Ford had McDaniels as his 24th-ranked prospect on his Big Board; landing him at 32 could prove to be an absolute heist. NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper highlighted McDaniels, who boasts a 6’11.25″ wingspan despite only being 6’6″, as one of his second-round picks with “the best chance to last” in the NBA, calling him a “human stat sheet.”

Grant (No. 34 on Ford’s Big Board) can’t shoot worth a lick right now—he went 6-of-20 from downtown during his two years at Syracuse—but it’s difficult not to be enamored with a 6’7.75″ prospect who touts a 7’2.75″ wingspan. His freakish length and athleticism may fit nicely in Brett Brown’s up-tempo style of play.

McRae, who stands 6’5.25″ with a 7’0.50″ wingspan, is an equally rangy prospect who could be nightmarish on defense next to Michael Carter-Williams. Micic, like MCW, is a 6’6″ point guard. And Jackson, who injured his Achilles tendon during the first game of Orlando Summer League last week and could miss the entire 2014-15 season, lit up the D-League last year. He averaged 29.1 points per game (second only to Manny Harris) and dropped a D-League-record 58 points against the Texas Legends on Feb. 4.

On paper, these rookies look good. But that’s besides the point. In the second round, even the savviest GMs are blindly throwing darts at a dartboard and hoping one sticks. The good news for the Sixers is that they have more ammo than their competitors. They have three second-rounders in 2015 (excluding their own5) and more are likely on the way. Give anyone enough throws, and eventually they’ll hit the target.

Follow @btoporek

1. For reference’s sake, Thaddeus Young, the 12th overall pick in 2007, produced 4.5 win shares as a rookie, per Basketball-Reference.com.

2. All transaction data via ProSportsTransactions.com.

3. As you can see, Hinkie quickly forged his reputation as a trade junkie on the night of the 2013 draft. He traded Jrue Holiday for the No. 6 pick (Nerlens Noel) and a top-10-protected 2014 first-round pick; sent Glen Rice Jr. (No. 35) to the Wizards for the rights to Nate Wolters (No. 38) and Arsalan Kazemi (No. 54); moved Wolters to Milwaukee for Ricky Ledo and the Bucks’ 2014 second-rounder (Nemanja Dangubić, who turned into Jordan McRae and cash); then sent Ledo to Dallas for another 2014 second-rounder (Russ Smith, who turned into Pierre Jackson).

4. Hinkie continued that madness on the day of the trade deadline. He sent Spencer Hawes to the Cavaliers for two 2014 second-rounders (Cleveland’s and Memphis’), Earl Clark and Henry Sims;  absorbed Byron Mullens for a 2018 second-rounder from the Clippers; took on Eric Maynor in a three-team trade for two additional second-rounders (a 2015 from New Orleans and a 2016 from Denver); and capped off the day by acquiring a 2015 second-round pick of Golden State’s (from Indiana) for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen.

5. Assuming they miss the playoffs, the Sixers’ 2015 and ’16 second round picks belong to Boston (via Miami) as part of the Arnett Moultrie trade.

* Protections were put in place to ensure the Sixers would keep these second-round picks.

** Jackson and Aldemir were second-round picks, but Hinkie acquired them after they were drafted. Hence why they’re not in bold.

Jul 11 2014

LeBron to Cleveland … Lin to Philly? (Update: No)

Update: Jeremy Lin to the Lakers, and Bosh back to Miami.

LeBron is going back to Cleveland, which means all sorts of crazy shit is about to go down. Starting with …

Chris Bosh possibly heading to Houston. If that happens, Daryl Morey will have to do whatever he can to clear cap space, which means Jeremy Lin and his $14.89 million contract (and $8.37 million cap hold) are probably headed elsewhere. Perhaps to Philadelphia.

As Liberty Ballers’ Jake Pavorsky reported a few days ago, the Rockets and Sixers have agreed in principle to a deal that would send Lin, and at least one first-rounder to Philly, in exchange for a bag of chips. Or protected second-round pick.

For what it’s worth, I think Lin would actually be a half-decent fit with the Sixers. He can score, he can handle the ball, and, well, that alone puts him ahead of most of the players currently on the roster. Details are still coming on the trade that may or may not happen (is it Houston’s first round pick? Is it New Orleans’? Is there another prospect involved). Either way, expect the Sixers to milk a first-rounder (or two) out of one of these teams that are desperate to shed salary.

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