Dec 07 2015

Sixers Point Guards In A Box

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, 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.

Nov 24 2015

The Sixers’ Turnover Problem Is So Bad That It (Almost) Makes You Miss Doug Collins

The Sixers set a franchise record with 31 turnovers in last week’s loss to the Pacers, and in case you missed it and need a good cry, CSN Philly made a video of every single one. Two nights earlier against Dallas they committed 17 turnovers, a totally normal team total for a game. Except that was only in the first half. They finished with 27.

The combination of the turnovers and the 12th straight loss to start the season against the Pacers was so bad that it left some of the most dedicated Processors wondering if it it was all worth it. It was downright unwatchable.

This isn’t anything new; turnovers have been a problem since Brett Brown’s tenure began and they’ve caused the team to suffer on both ends of the floor. In Brown’s first season, the turnovers were symptomatic of the team’s league-leading pace and its rookie point guard who coughed up the ball nearly four times a game. That carried over into last season — even after Michael Carter-Williams was replaced by gypsy point guards — as they finished dead last in turnovers, again. This would be a good time to note that the Doug Collins Sixers set records the other way around.

(Quick tangent: In his senior season as a backup point guard at Boston University, Brown averaged just 2.7 turnovers and 5.2 assists per 36 in 19 minutes a game. You can only imagine the headaches these Sixers teams have caused him. Anyways, back to his living nightmare…)

The Sixers have regressed even further this season. With Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten out, the point guards have consisted of of an undrafted rookie, an injury exception, and a 6-foot-1 gunner. It’s no surprise that once again, Philly is off to a historically bad start, averaging a league worst 18.9 giveaways a game. No team has averaged more than 18.3 since the Nellie Ball 1994-95 Golden State Warriors.

But the turnovers aren’t just a problem for the offense. Check out this possession from Friday’s Charlotte game, where a busted pick and roll from Hollis Thompson and Okafor leads indirectly to a Hornets 3-pointer.

After Jeremy Lamb’s steal, the Sixers do a good job of stopping the initial fast break by getting back into the paint and keeping Nic Batum away from the rim. However, once the first option is stopped the Sixers scramble to match up and like a costly game of Musical Chairs T.J. McConnell is left standing in the middle of the floor all alone while Batum has curled to the corner for a wide open three.

According to Inpredictable’s Points Per Possession stats, the Sixers rank 10th in points allowed per possession after a made shot at 0.97, but on possessions after defensive rebounds and live ball turnovers, they’re allowing a league-worst 1.2 points per possession. tells us they’re caught back peddling on 17.6% of all their possessions which is second worst in the league only behind Toronto, but they’re giving up 21 points a game to the other team thanks to the turnovers.

That, as much as the dysfunctional offense, is what’s been killing the Sixers since Brown took over.

There is some hope on the horizon with the impending return of Marshall and Wroten, though both guards are turnover prone. This problem isn’t going away overnight. It’s fair to wonder if Sam Hinkie is at fault for not throwing Brown a veteran point guard life preserver to lean on when times got tough as Bryan Toporek pointed out last week. These turnovers are the root of so many problems for both the offense and defense and perhaps if they did have some stability at the point guard position some of these issues would be alleviated.

But until the Sixers can get the turnovers under control, their offense and defense will continue to suffer, and they’ll remain at the bottom of the standings and the top of the lottery race.

Nov 17 2015

Could An Old Guy Help The U-24 Sixers?

On opening night, the Sixers trotted out a starting lineup devoid of any players above the age of 24. Only one player on the roster—Carl Landry—was born prior to 1990, and he has yet to play since he’s recovering from a wrist injury.

With the Sixers off to an 0-11 start for the second straight season, that naturally begs the question: How much is the team being harmed by its complete lack of veterans?

Writing for The Cauldron, Seth Partnow recently highlighted one way the absence of a proven point guard could have long-term ramifications for Jahlil Okafor:

Okafor, in particular, might learn some bad habits just to get by as a post scorer, and that could limit him later. It’s no accident he shot 38.6 percent from the floor in preseason, with his offensive game limited to isolation postups where he received the ball as much as 18 feet from the basket and was forced to batter his way through packed defenses to get shots up. A proven floor general would be better able to reward him with accurate passes when he does successfully rim run in transition or duck into the post from the weakside in the half court. Without that positive reinforcement, will he learn to keep making those movements?

This is a fair concern. The Sixers had the league’s worst offense in each of the past two seasons, and bringing in a veteran floor general may have helped them inch toward respectability. Additionally, with the team centered around two low-post players, a point guard capable of feeding an open big down low could help. Nerlens Noel’s comments about Ish Smith toward the end of last season underscored how essential such a floor general can be.

While the eventual returns of Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten may help mitigate that particular concern, there’s a larger point worth considering. If a veteran manages to stick around in the league for upwards of a decade, he’s learned certain tricks of the trade that may not be readily apparent. It could be as simple as knowing where to stand in a given set to ensure maximal floor spacing, highlighting the noteworthy particulars of a scouting report or giving intel on opponents based on prior experiences. Though a few additional veterans likely wouldn’t move the needle much in terms of wins and losses—the Sixers were destined to finish toward the bottom of the league’s standings once Joel Embiid underwent a second foot surgery—they could have imparted on-court lessons that benefit the young players’ long-term outlook. There’s also something to be said about their potential impact off the court.

Take, for example, these two blog posts from journeyman and former Sixer Nazr Mohammad, in which he divulged some of the secrets of how he managed to stay in the NBA for 17 seasons.

I was fortunate enough early in my career to have guys like George Lynch, Aaron McKie, Eric Snow, and Theo Ratliff as my veterans. These guys told me to be ready. I can remember them telling me, “When your number is called – and it’s going to be called – you better be ready.” If I didn’t have those veterans telling me that over and over, I probably would have missed some opportunities and my career could have been a lot shorter as a result of lack of preparation.

The Sixers are woefully short of that type of veteran locker room experience. Intellectual capital is a commodity, and the Sixers’ personnel is lacking in that area. That wasn’t the case in seasons past, however.

In 2014-15, the Sixers kept Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Jason Richardson around rather than cycling through their roster spots on an endless series of 10-day contracts. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Mbah a Moute was acquired in part because of his relationship with Embiid (and because Minnesota wanted to dump his salary in the Thad Young trade). Richardson, meanwhile, seemingly embraced his role as a mentor as he worked his way back from a knee issue that cost him the entire 2013-14 campaign.

“It’s been challenging, but it’s opened my eyes to a lot of things,” Richardson told’s Max Rappaport during the team’s 2014 media day. “Kind of just seeing it as a coach, helping the young guys out last year is fun for me. To study the film, actually break down the film, help the guys out when they were doing something wrong, it just gave me a different perspective of basketball that I’d never seen before.”

Granted, there’s also a downside to signing veteran players, as ESPN’s Kevin Pelton highlighted on Twitter:

Roster spots and minutes are finite; adding players who aren’t part of the long-term future could stunt growth of younger players. We’re seeing that play out with the Los Angeles Lakers right now, with Byron Scott playing Lou Williams over prized rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell in the fourth quarter. That’s the danger of a rebuilding squad employing a head coach who feels as though he’s fighting for his job—he’s going to prioritize short-term goals (winning) over what’s best for the long-term future of the franchise (player development).

Brett Brown hasn’t yet fallen victim to that same trap. He might not have a choice given his personnel, but he seems to be on the same page as Sam Hinkie and the front office with regard to what the team’s primary focus should be. With his contract set to expire in 2017, though, there’s no telling how he’d react to having more veterans at his disposal, particularly in light of Nik Stauskas’ early-season struggles. Would Sauce be buried on the bench if the Sixers had a veteran 2-guard ready to step into the starting lineup?

Given the choice between the Sixers stealing a few extra veteran-led wins and maximizing the development of young players, it’s difficult not to prefer the latter. There’s reason to wonder, however, whether this team might be better off with an additional veteran or two.

Nov 13 2015

#SmallSampleSizeTheater: Early-Season Sixers Stats Of Note

Eight games into the season, it’s far too early to determine which statistics are trends and which are small-sample-size outliers. Last year, after all, the Atlanta Hawks started off 5-5 before notching 38 wins in their next 43 games. It often takes a bit of time for offseason additions to grow comfortable with their roles, leading to some particularly eyebrow-raising results in the first few weeks of the season. (See: The Nets beating the Rockets on Wednesday.)

Unsurprisingly, the Sixers once again have the league’s worst net rating (minus-13.8), largely thanks to a middling offense and a severe regression on defense. Missing Nerlens Noel for the past two-and-a-half games certainly hasn’t helped matters in regard to the latter, while the absence of Robert Covington, Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall may be hamstringing the team’s offensive output. Both the lackluster offensive and defensive ratings figure to regress to the mean, at least somewhat, as the Sixers get healthier and add more warm bodies to the rotation.

Certain early-season stats are worth tracking, however, to see whether they’re a sign of things to come or simply anomalies. In particular, the following four stand out.

Jahlil Okafor’s defensive struggles: Heading into the year, we knew this would be one of the top storylines to follow with regard to the big man’s long-term development. Though his refined post game is perhaps even better than advertised, his defensive aptitude leaves much to be desired. With Okafor on the floor, the team coughs up 113.4 points per 100 possessions to opponents—the third-worst defensive rating of any Sixer, trailing just JaKarr Sampson (122.8) and Robert Covington (121.5). When Okafor is riding the pine, however, the Sixers give up just 95.9 points per 100 possessions, which is by far the lowest of any player on the team.

Okafor’s bloated defensive rating can in part be blamed on Noel’s recent absence, as opponents average 1.09 points per possession with the duo on the floor, per NBAwowy, versus a whopping 1.247 points per possession with Okafor on and Nerlens off. The Duke product is particularly struggling on shots further than 15 feet from the basket, allowing opponents to shoot 50 percent (18-of-36) from that range, which is a 9.7-percentage-point increase over their average. He’s actually been solid close to the basket, holding opponents to 5.6 percentage points below their average within six feet, but he’s often clueless when asked to defend pick-and-rolls.

In theory, pairing Okafor with Noel (and eventually Joel Embiid) will help the Sixers cover up the former’s defensive deficiencies, but that hasn’t yet held true. The Noel-Okafor duo has a net rating of -17.9, the fourth-lowest among the 15 pairings with at least 100 minutes on the court together. In fact, Okafor appears in all five lowest-ranked duos of those 15, largely due to his dismal defensive rating. It’s far too early to definitively declare the big man a lost cause on defense, but the pre-draft concerns have been validated thus far.

T.J. McConnell, Point God: It’s amazing how the Sixers offense can look at least semi-decent with a legitimate point guard orchestrating the action. Through their first three games, Isaiah Canaan ran the point for the Sixers, and unsurprisingly, they ranked dead last in offensive rating, averaging just 90.6 points per 100 possessions over that span. Once T.J. McConnell took over the starting job, though, the Sixers averaged 96.3 points per 100 possessions over their next five games, putting them ahead of the Sacramento Kings, Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies.

On the year, McConnell has the team’s third-best on-court offensive rating (98.9) and the lowest off-court offensive rating (87.0). With Canaan, meanwhile, the offense has actually been more effective when he’s on the bench (95.7) rather than on the floor (93.0). NBAwowy stats bear this out, too: With Canaan on the floor and McConnell off, the Sixers average a ghastly 0.894 points per possession. Conversely, with McConnell on and Canaan off, the Sixers average 0.990 points per possession.

The TL;DR version: When McConnell is running the offense, the Sixers sometimes look like a functional basketball team, but all bets are off when he’s out. Does that mean he’s the Sixers’ point guard of the future? Hardly. But it should inspire some optimism when Marshall and Wroten are healthy enough to enter the rotation, as it could spare the Sixers from having the league’s worst offense for three years running.

A slower pace? In each of the past two seasons, the Sixers have finished among the top third in the league in pace, ranking first and seventh, respectively. During both of those years, they averaged at least 98 possessions per game, as they attempted to out-athlete their opponents with a run-and-gun, transition-oriented attack. Through the first eight games of this season, nothing has changed on the Sixers’ end, as they’re averaging 98.6 possessions per game, a slight increase over the 2014-15 campaign. However, the rest of the league appears to be embracing an up-tempo style of play, as the Sixers currently rank 21st in pace.

The league-wide increase in possessions is almost assuredly a small-sample-size anomaly, as 13 teams were averaging at least 100 possessions per game heading into Thursday. Last season, the Golden State Warriors were the lone franchise to crack that threshold through their full 82-game schedule. (Three teams, including the Sixers, were averaging at least 100 possessions per game through Nov. 11, 2014.)

Would it be a surprise to see the Sixers slow down somewhat this season? Not a bit, now that Okafor’s in the fold. One of the team’s main avenues of offense is setting up post-up opportunities for the big man around the basket, but it takes time to create such opportunities. The Sixers likely won’t finish in the bottom-third of pace this season, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them closer to league average than top-five.

Nerlens being Nerlens: Guess who leads all Sixers not named Phil Pressey (?!) in defensive rating? And guess who has the highest off-court defensive rating? Yeah. Noel’s offensive game may still be developing, but he’s already a defensive animal, holding opponents to 5.1 percentage points worse on their overall shooting. The quest to become the first player to average two steals and two blocks per game since Gerald Wallace in 2005-06 (and only the fourth in NBA history) is very much alive, with the Kentucky product averaging 1.7 swipes and 1.8 swats through six games.


Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via and are current through games played on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

Nov 11 2015

K.J. McDaniels’s D-League Designation Doesn’t Mean The Sixers Were Right

So in case you don’t keep up on the daily goings on of the Houston Rockets or the Rio Grand Valley Vipers, you might have missed this:

You probably already know the backstory to how we landed here, so let’s keep it short: the Sixers landed K.J. McDaniels probablya few spots below his value in the second round of last year’s draft; the Sixers then offered K.J. a “Hinkie” special, which he understandably rejected; K.J. and his mom then hinted that he might not want to return to the Sixers in 2015-16; K.J. then destroyed everything to start the 2014-15 season, and was thought to expect a huge contract over the summer; the Sixers then dealt K.J. at the 2015 trade deadline for Isaiah Canaan and the pick that would become Richaun Holmes; K.J. tallies just 33 minutes over the remainder of the Rockets’ season, and ultimately signs a three-year, $10 million contract – significantly lower than most expected had he finished his rookie campaign in Philadelphia.

So K.J. gambled on himself, was traded instead, and probably earned the contract that his skill actually warrants while being not all that good right now. Win for the Sixers, right?

Well, it’s not that simple.

We often laud the “Hinkie Special” – typically a four-year, partially unguaranteed, and very cheap deal. And of course we do, because employing a player of Robert Covington’s caliber on a deal that doesn’t nearly equal his actual talent is a masterful basketball move. JaKarr Sampson, Jerami Grant, Hollis Thompson, Richaun Holmes, Christian Wood, T.J. McConnell, and Kendall Marshall are all currently operating under this ridiculously low-risk, ridiculously high-reward deals, and Marshall is an early candidate to be the next Covington of the bunch. Paying key rotational players a deal that grossly underestimates their overall talent can be a key foundation to building a contender, and such as certainly worked in the Spurs and Warriors favor in recent years.

And that’s because we know that those players aren’t being adequately paid, but that also leads to why we can’t be mad at dudes like K.J. McDaniels for rejecting such a deal. The contract he received this July is in no way an indictment on his future as a ballplayer, but more so an example of how the current value of players in the Sixers unique system can sometimes be overrated. K.J. posted his big numbers last season via the minutes granted to him out of necessity, not merit. The same goes for Hollis Thompson in Hinkie’s inaugural season, Jerami Grant last season and T.J. McConnell at the time of this writing, leaving Robert Covington as the anomaly – the lone player who may actually crack a championship rotation.

If the former trio of players were all working on one-year deals at the time of their mini-explosions, we likely would’ve discussed them in the same way we did McDaniels. Big numbers can equal big money in the NBA’s environment — hi, Enes Kanter — and being in the Sixers’ barren rotation can lead to big numbers (but not if your name is Isaiah Canaan). But we obviously know that none of the Thompson/Grant/McConnell group wouldn’t realistically garner minutes in the context of a championship contender like Houston, as was K.J.’s ultimate fate.

This obviously doesn’t also mean that these players will always be bad, it just means that, duh, they’re probably actually worth approximately $3 million per year — for now. But that doesn’t also mean that K.J. McDaniels wouldn’t eventually live up to say, a four-year, $28 million contract.

And whether K.J.’s production for the Sixers and eventual potential warranted such a hefty contract was up to the market to decide this summer. Uncertain was the notion that an NBA team would actually deliver K.J. such a deal in a booming market, and Sam Hinkie decided to trade that uncertainty for Isaiah Canaan and Richaun Holmes. The former certainly doesn’t make up for the potential of what K.J. could have been for this team, and the jury is of course still out on the latter — it’s also worth noting that had Hinkie wanted to, he could have selected Holmes two picks earlier rather than effectively trading the 35th pick away for future returns. But Hinkie was likely ducking out by dealing K.J. in order to avoid doing something he has yet to do: paying for what a player might be by overpaying what he’s worth right now.

K.J. might never be worth that hypothetical $28 million, but even despite his minimal burn in his tryout for Houston last spring, the Rockets figured he’s at least worth $10 million through 2018. But in a context where the salary cap should hit $108 million in 2017, the chances are quite high that the value of K.J.’s current deal will equal that of Robert Covington’s — essentially a drop in the bucket for a quality rotation player. And the fact that the Rockets want him to get some reps in the D-League may only reaffirm the sentiment that he’s worth the investment.

But at least for right now, Houston will pay him for what he’s worth. More importantly however, they bought low on the expectation that he’ll evolve to a quality NBA player. K.J. McDaniels did not lose by missing out on money that may not have been there in the first place, but Sam Hinkie did for not taking that chance.

Nov 07 2015

4-on-5: Is Isaiah Canaan Worth A Sixers Roster Spot?

1. What’s the deal with Isaiah Canaan?

Eric Goldwein: Not an NBA point guard. His assist numbers (1.8 per game) don’t lie; as a distributor — as Derek Bodner pointed out — he doesn’t make his teammates better. That said, in the right role, he could still be a productive guard coming off the bench. He can shoot as well as anyone, and has range approaching 30 feet out. Playing a 6-footer at shooting guard isn’t ideal, but in the right situation he could be a decent option.

Xylon Dimoff: I’ll do ya one better, Eric: he’s barely an NBA player at the moment. His height automatically shoehorns him into being an NBA point guard, and his career will crumble in a hurry if he can’t ditch his shoot-first propensity. Very few defensive matchups allow him to play off-ball at shooting guard — maybe it works against Phoenix’s dual-point guard lineup? — and Philly’s defense will crash and burn if we’re relying on Canaan to guard guys with a half-foot height advantage for 20-plus minutes a night.

Ben Smolen: This feels like the set-up for a very bad Jerry Seinfeld joke. But the deal with him is he isn’t a very good professional basketball player. He has one above average skill: shooting (two if you count the fact that Canaan Ball is a lot of fun to yell when he scores). Sadly, when you measure up the shooting against his inability to pass, play defense, or, for the most part, dribble, he comes up sorely lacking.

Drew Stone: He’s a novelty. He doesn’t have the skill set to be a point guard, nor the defensive capability to compete with modern shooting guards. Now that Stauskas is on the scene, the desperate thrill of shouting “Canaan ball!” has faded. He was worth the look for curiosity’s sake, but his days on the roster seem to be numbered. 

2. T.J. McConnell is the next ____.

Goldwein: David Eckstein.

Dimoff: Well he’s already kinda this season’s Matthew Dellavedova, right? Not so much in terms of actual basketball skill, but more in the sense that he hustles, plays gritty, and is all those other cute buzzwords that NBA writers use to describe white players with little basketball ability. I’ll give him this though: he works his ass off on defense (because he has no other choice with his slight frame) and he’s great at probing the lane and finding open shooters — that is, until he’s sufficiently scouted for and NBA defenses play five feet off him while clogging all those precious passing lanes.

Smolen: Total wishful thinking, but I’ll go with Matthew Barnaby. I want him to be a pest! BECOME A PEST, T.J.!

Stone: Obviously we have a very small sample size to work with, but work with it I will. Based on what we’ve seen this series, McConnell could be the next Professor, a.k.a. Andre Miller. He’s very much a student of the game, and he’ll never be an offensive powerhouse, but surround him with enough talent and he has the ability to get the ball where it needs to be and keep the offense in motion. He looks like a legit game manager and I love his shot selection; McConnell only takes the shot himself when the percentages are high or it’s absolutely necessary. I may be more optimistic than most, but I think he’s the real deal. Plus, this story is awesome:

3. What’s your biggest takeaway after five games of the the Okafor experience?

Goldwein: He can shoot free throws! That was a major concern of mine a few months ago; he shot barely over 50 percent in college. But his 79% — even if it’s a tiny sample — is worth getting excited about. His freshman year efficiency for a big was already unprecedented. Give him average FT shooting, and maybe even a jumper, and we could be in for something special. At least on the offensive end.

Dimoff: I’m loving it, begrudgingly; I’d be remiss to ignore that he’s dominating opposing bigs with a bevy of moves early on, and that his overall game is significantly more NBA-ready than his worrisome preseason performance alluded to. Until we have more games to ensure that his early success hasn’t been an aberration however, I’ll stick by my assertion that a Kristaps Porzingis or Mario Hezonja would still be a better fit next to Nerlens Noel.

Smolen: I wrestled with the Okafor pick for a long time. In my head, I thought him to be the best remaining prospect, so, on that hand, I thought it was the right pick. In my heart, however, my tempestuous, almost-surely cholesterol-filled heart, I was disappointed. It lacked flash. Didn’t seem to fit. Four games in though, I’m thrilled. He’s an offensive savant and has brought some unexpected positives too: some surprising mobility and a free throw percentage well north of the Deandre Line. If he can keep developing, I’ll be thrilled.

Stone: That him and Noel are actually working together so far. I know that numbers say the team is scoring less when both share the floor, but given the lengthy transition period we thought we were entering, the fact that neither of their games are suffering because of the other’s presence is instant relief. Also, I heard rumors that Jah can score the ball, but… damn, Jah can score the ball.  

4. How many games is this team going to win?

Goldwein: I’m sticking with 24. While there’s been some good individual performances, as a basketball team the Sixers have been horrible — worse than their -14 point margin suggests. The Covington injury makes things that much harder on a team so short on established NBA players. Yes, Covington is that important to this team.

BUT … things project to get better. They already have. Having a rotation-level PG — which McConnell looks like he could potentially be — will do wonders for a team whose offense ranks last in efficiency. Stauskas looks like he’ll not only outproduce Thompson, but maybe even complement him, and the other borderline replacement-level swingmen in the lineup. The Noel-Okafor frontcourt will need some time to figure out how to play together — and Brown will need some to figure out how to best use them — but if/when these things happen, we could be looking at a team that eventually plays at a 30-40 win level.

Dimoff: I’ll bump my previous total up to 24 Ws, due to a few early surprises: the Lakers and Nets are undeniably the league’s current worst teams, and barring those teams’ relegation to the D-League some time before April, the Sixers should certainly avoid notching the NBA’s worst record for a third consecutive season. I’ll also admit I’m maybe unreasonably bullish on the prospects of a Marshall-Stauskas-Covington-Noel-Okafor starting unit, but the overall makeup of Philly’s depth is still atrocious early on.

Smolen: 22. They are a better team than last year. The East is miserable. Noel and Okafor should continue to get grow together. But they are still so remarkably shallow. Here’s my real prediction: The Sixers’ first unit proceeds to play a lot of teams tight, and the Sixers’ abysmal bench gets blown out. Wash and repeat. After the great draft influx of 2016, though, that should begin to change.

Stone: I said 24 and since I said the first win wouldn’t come til mid-November, I’ve got no reason to change it. There’s been meaningful progress the last two games and there’s a lot of bad teams in the NBA this year. But seriously, what’s this blog’s obsession with 24? Do we share some kind of Kiefer Sutherland fetish? I mean, uh… do you guys have a Kiefer Sutherland fetish?

5. Given the top-3 protection on their pick, what’s the optimal number of Lakers wins?

Goldwein: 22, and/or one more than Sacramento. But I wouldn’t count on that. The Lakers (0-4) have a bad coach, a potentially historically bad defense, and I’m not sure they’ll ever figure out a way to score with any efficiency so long as Nick Young and Kobe Bryant are in the lineup, not passing to each other.

The Lakers will be horrible this year, likely horrible next year, and potentially bad the year after that. But as time goes on, the chances that they rethink their organizational approach/land an elite free agent only grows. I’d take the guarantee of a slightly worse pick (6th) this summer over waiting until 2017, when it’s unprotected.   

Dimoff: Oof, maybe 26? But I have bigger worries right now: it’s certainly plausible that the Lakers don’t sniff that number this season, and unless considerable adjustments are looming, it could finish as an offensively bad basketball team through April. Being quarterbacked by the lethal combination of possibly the NBA’s worst head coach and “star” player, the Lakers are, coupled with Brooklyn, unexpectedly in its own disastrous tier at the moment — I was nearly certain before the season that Portland and Charlotte would join them as the NBA’s dregs, but a combined six wins from the Hornets and Blazers early on may prove otherwise. I don’t foresee another season where the NBA features three sub-20 win teams again, and unless a couple squads in the league’s lower ranks suffer “devastating” injury luck — a la last season’s Knicks and Timberwolves — the Lakers may cruise to the top of the NBA Lottery come May 17th.

Smolen: Ideal? 33. I want them to be bad, but safely out of the protection zone. I’d rather them finish with the sixth worst record in the league and feel pretty confident that we’d get the pick than really flirt with the protection kicking in. I’m greedy and I’m impatient. I want everything now. That said, the Lakers almost certainly will be dreadful all year long and will finish with fewer than 25 wins.

Stone: I mean, like, 30, but that’s not going to happen. Have you watched them play? Don’t watch the Lakers play.

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