The Sixers are in desperate need of a point guard this offseason. While Tony Wroten, Isaiah Canaan, Ish Smith or Pierre Jackson are possible backup material, Sam Hinkie and Co. will almost certainly be looking to acquire a prospective full-time floor general, perhaps multiple.
Tuesday’s draft lottery will go a long way toward determining how they go about doing that. If the Sixers land a top-four pick — there’s a 69.5 percent chance of that happening — they’ll almost assuredly have a shot at drafting either Emmanuel Mudiay or D’Angelo Russell on June 25. It’s currently unclear which prospect they prefer — a league executive told Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer that Russell is “the guy they want,” while Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler says they’re high on Mudiay. Back in February, former Sixers coach and current SMU coach Larry Brown told Marc Narducci of the Inquirer that the team had “been interested” in Mudiay, who originally committed to playing at SMU before ultimately going abroad instead.
In other words, no one has any firm idea about the Sixers’ draft plans at this point in the process. Considering the team has yet to work out any prospects, anyone saying they know who Hinkie prefers should be taken with an enormous helping of salt.
Drafting either Mudiay or Russell might be the Sixers’ preferred scenario, but there are options — albeit limited ones — if they go the free-agent route.
Two of the top-tier point guards on the market—Brandon Knight and Reggie Jackson—are restricted free agents whose teams are likely to match any offer sheet they receive. Goran Dragic, meanwhile, hasn’t been shy about his desire to re-sign with the Miami Heat after he officially declines his player option. And unless Rajon Rondo suddenly develops a jumper overnight, the Sixers would be certifiably insane to dump huge money into a long-term contract for the 29-year-old.
That leaves the Sixers with few other free-agent options. Here’s a brief look at what they’ll be sorting through.
Jeremy Lin, 26, UFA
If the Los Angeles Lakers don’t fire Byron Scott this offseason, Jeremy Lin will almost assuredly be leaving in free agency. The two frequently butted heads, most notably about the frequency of pick-and-rolls, which led to Scott misusing Lin for much of the year.
While “Linsanity” may be a thing of the past, Lin’s skill set may be of interest to the Sixers. Nearly 40 percent of his possessions this past season were as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, and he finished in the 72.5th percentile in terms of scoring in those sets, per Synergy Sports. He’s also increased his 3-point shooting percentage over each of his five seasons in the league, knocking down 36.9 percent of his attempted triples in 2014-15.
No one will mistake Lin for a lockdown defender, however. The Lakers gave up 108.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, and his defensive box plus/minus decreased from 3.0 as a rookie to a career-worst minus-1.3 with L.A. Because of those defensive deficiencies, the Sixers likely wouldn’t consider Lin a franchise-caliber point guard, but he’d be a potential asset off the bench if he doesn’t command a gigantic salary.
Cory Joseph, 23, RFA
With both Patty Mills and Tony Parker signed through the 2016-17 season and a number of other high-priority free agents to tend to, the San Antonio Spurs may be forced to allow Cory Joseph to walk. Thus, if the Sixers are genuinely intent on stealing Joseph from San Antonio, they should sign him to an offer sheet ASAP after the July Moratorium lifts, officially putting the Spurs on the 72-hour clock.
The question becomes: Have they seen enough from him in limited minutes to merit such an interest? During the 14 games in which Joseph started this season, he averaged 13.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists while shooting 56.2 percent overall and 44.4 percent from 3-point range. However, he’s not a prolific long-range shooter, having attempted only 118 treys over his four-year career.
The Spurs allowed 2.0 fewer points per 100 possessions with the 6-3 Joseph on the court this season, and he’s had a positive mark in defensive box plus/minus for each of the past three years. However, he was essentially average at defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers, per Synergy. Luckily, Brett Brown will have intricate knowledge of Joseph, having worked with him for two years before coming to Philadelphia, thus giving the Sixers an informational advantage over other free-agent suitors.
Patrick Beverley, 26, RFA
Every discussion about Patrick Beverley begins with his defense, and rightfully so. He’s the definition of a defensive pest, particularly adept at hounding pick-and-roll ball-handlers and opponents in isolation settings, per Synergy. To wit: Opponents only shot 26.8 percent against him in isolation this past season, which put him just outside the 88th percentile among all players.
Offensively, he’s a none-too-shabby 3-point shooter, having knocked in 35.6 percent of his 323 attempted treys in 2014-15. However, his overall field-goal percentage has dropped over each of the past three seasons, going from 41.8 percent as a rookie to 38.3 percent this past year. The Houston Rockets also rarely use him as a “traditional” point guard, as James Harden is often responsible for handling the ball and initiating offense. Over his three-year career, he’s averaged just 3.0 dimes per game, which may be cause for concern if the Sixers view him as a potential long-term answer at the 1.
Beverley is coming off torn ligaments in his left wrist that required season-ending surgery, which may drive his price down a bit in restricted free agency. With Sam Hinkie having come to the Sixers from Houston, he should have some inside insights about Beverley that other GMs don’t. To date, however, there’s nothing suggesting the former Arkansas Razorback is franchise point guard material.
Norris Cole, 26, RFA
See how quickly the free-agent point guard pool thins out? When Norris Cole is one of the five best options, you know you’re dealing with a shallow position beyond the top-tier options — none of whom are likely to take their talents to Philadelphia this summer.
Cole isn’t an efficient shooter — he’s yet to knock down more than 42.1 percent of his shots in a given year, and his 3-point percentage has dipped over each of the past two seasons, going from 35.7 percent in 2012-13 to 31.3 percent this year. He’s never averaged more than 5.0 assists per 36 minutes, and he has yet to come anywhere close to a league-average player efficiency rating. Cole also has negative marks in both offensive and defensive box plus/minus in each of his four NBA seasons.
So… yeah. Brown might be somewhat of a point guard whisperer, based on what he got out of Wroten, Canaan and Smith, but Cole doesn’t exactly scream long-term starting point guard.
Shane Larkin, 22, UFA
Do you see Hinkie building around a 5-11 floor general who’s been a defensive minus during each of his two years in the NBA? Not unless he’s capable of consistently hitting above 40 percent from deep.
Shane Larkin, however, doesn’t quite fit that mold. It took a slew of injuries for him to get regular rotation minutes on a dismal New York Knicks team, where he shot just 30.2 percent from 3-point range on the year. The Knicks’ offense only averaged 95.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor this year, which should be a major red flag given the Sixers’ struggles on that end.
Larkin may carve out a long-term NBA role as a J.J. Barea-esque backup, but the Sixers already have a wealth of backup floor generals to sort through. Hard pass.
Beyond these five, the free-agent point guard market is largely filled with players in their late 20s and early 30s, none of whom would be in their prime when the Sixers begin making a push toward title contention. Matthew Dellavedova is out there, too, but given his play backing up Kyrie Irving during the playoffs, one can only assume the Cleveland Cavaliers will manage to bring him back in the fold.
In terms of finding a franchise point guard this offseason, in other words, the draft is the best avenue to do so.
Does that mean it’s Mudiay, Russell, or bust? Not necessarily. Perhaps the Sixers consider trading down — particularly if they fall to Nos. 5 or 6, likely missing out on both top-tier floor generals — to acquire a mid-first-round pick and some additional assets. They could always attempt to flip one of the future first-round picks owed to them (from the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat or Oklahoma City Thunder) for an additional first-rounder. Maybe they manage to package a few of their 18,000 future second-round picks to move back into the 20s, opening the door for someone like Jerian Grant, Delon Wright, Tyus Jones or Terry Rozier.
The Sixers have already met with Murray State point guard Cameron Payne, according to Kyler, so it’s clear they’ll be doing their due diligence on a number of point guard prospects beyond just Mudiay and Russell. Based on their limited options in free agency, it makes perfect sense to do so. With no presumptive franchise point guard in the fold, leaving the draft without a high-upside floor general wouldn’t bode well for the Sixers’ chances of advancing their rebuild significantly in 2015-16.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via NBA.com or Synergy Sports. All lottery scenarios via LotteryBucket.com.