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May 21 2014

Was All the Sixers’ Tanking Worth It?

The Sixers threw away the 2013-14 season in what many suspected was an attempt at maximizing their chances of winning the 2014 NBA draft lottery.

So now that they’ve landed the No. 3 pick, instead of No. 1, can we say that the shameless tanking, the 26-game losing streak, and the endless nights of Brandon Davies bricked jumpers were all worth it?

Well, we can’t answer that without a time machine. But if we’re to value process over results, I’ll say yes.

The goal of this season wasn’t to land Andrew Wiggins. It was to develop players, preserve cap space, and maximize the value of the 2014 lottery pick. Sure, the Sixers wanted to win the lottery, but by finishing with the second-worst record, they not only earned a 19.9 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick, but they also earned a 0 percent chance of landing picks No. 6 through 14.

That top-five insurance is particularly valuable considering this draft class (based on questionable reports and big boards) appears to have a four-player top tier: Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker and Dante Exum.

Yes, rookies are unproven and unpredictable, and even the top ones in this year’s crop have their flaws; Wiggins lacks assertiveness, Embiid has a questionable back, Parker can’t play defense, and Exum can’t shoot. But the 2014 class is, collectively, as good as any in years past.

That’s why much of this year’s anti-tanking rhetoric  “you’re throwing games just for a 25% chance of getting Andrew Wiggins!”was a farce. With a draft class this deep, it was never just about landing one prospect. It was about building the value of an asset, one that the Sixers can and will use to either land a top prospect, trade down, trade up, or trade away altogether. (Kevin Love, anyone?).

And hey—it’s not like Cleveland is immune to screwing up the No. 1 pick. The Wiggins dream may still live on.


  • hk99

    The “tanking”, or at least the rebuilding in earnest, began when they traded Jrue for Noel and NOLA’s 1st pick in 2014. I would hope Hinkie would make that trade again (and again and again) if he was facing the situation that he faced last June. Once they decided to do that, they weren’t going to be a playoff team in 2013-14, so trading pieces who were not projected to be part of the future for other assets became a no-brainer.
    I have long felt that, if you are not in the top 4 or so teams in the NBA, you are probably better off being in the bottom 4 than in the middle ~22. This franchise has suffered through too many years of just missing or barely making them followed by a quick exit for me as a fan. Having MCW, Noel, #3, #10 and five 2nd round picks makes me more optimistic about this team’s potential to eventually be a contender than I have been in a long time.

    • Bryan Toporek

      I’m right there with you, HK. The fact that an ENTIRELY FEASIBLE starting lineup in 2014-15 is something like MCW-Nik Stauskas-Thad Young-Jabari Parker-Nerlens Noel is still pretty incomprehensible, given how screwed this team appeared to be in the aftermath of the Andrew Bynum fiasco. Knowing how the lottery turned out — and that the Sixers got two top-10 picks in the deepest draft in a decade — I have to imagine Hinkie isn’t regretting his decision to trade Jrue one bit. (After all, had the Sixers kept Jrue, there’s almost no chance they draft MCW.)

      I don’t think the Sixers are suddenly winning 50 games next year — I’d bet the under on 30, for sure — but there are clear signs of progress being made after years and years and years of treading water. It’s an undoubtedly exciting time, even if we’re still in the early stages of the rebuild.

  • robbybonfire23

    O.k. here is the rope-a-dope sheet on this “star-player” imposter, Wiggins. This is for his team’s entire schedule for 2013-2014…..

    1. Wiggins scored 21.60 % of his team’s total points; while missing 23.73 % of his team’s shots from the field.

    2. Wiggins, recorded 54 of his team’s 523 assists, that is 10.325 per cent.
    Wiggins played 1148 of his team’s season total of 7050 minutes, that is 16.28 per cent.

    3. Wiggins recorded 129 of his team’s 920 Defensive Rebounds, that is 14.02 per cent.
    Again, that is while playing 16.28 per cent of his team’s season total of minutes.

    4. Wiggins committed 80 of his team’s 463 turnovers, that is 17.28 per cent.
    Again, that is while playing 16.28 per cent of his team’s season total of minutes.

    Point #2, above, represents the powerful case for this player being “notoriously selfish.” The rest of the points are an indictment of his ability-level, which was not even on a par with the overall ability-level of his TEAM, scrubs and all!

    The prosecution rests its case, Your Honor.

    (Statistical source: thesportsnetwork.com.)

    • Bryan Toporek

      Playing devil’s advocate here: Couldn’t some of these perceived flaws be explained away by his teammates? I wouldn’t expect him to corral a huge percentage of his team’s defensive rebounds playing next to Joel Embiid, whose ceiling is being compared to Hakeem Olajuwon. Same goes for assists — it seems as though most of the ball-handling responsibilities fell on Naadir Tharpe & Wayne Selden, whereas when Wiggins got the ball, the primary expectation in most cases was likely to be aggressive & force his way to the rim. It’s not like Kansas stuck him out there as a point forward, you know?

      I’m not saying he’s guaranteed to be a star — all of the top prospects have their warts — but I’d be hesitant to write him off because of a 30-game sample size. After all, if we did the same with MCW in the middle of the 2013-14 season, would we consider him a piece worth building around? Say, these 30 games? http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/c/cartemi01/gamelog/2014/#31-59-sum:pgl_basic

      When I look at Wiggins, I don’t see a guy who’s anywhere near as ready to contribute to an NBA team as Jabari Parker, Dante Exum or even Joel Embiid. I do believe, however, that athleticism tends to translate well to the NBA, and that with the right tutelage, the kid could develop into something great. Even if his offense never develops, he’s almost assuredly going to be an elite wing stopper (something that statistics, even advanced ones, often fail to quantify, especially in college). And considering how badly the Sixers struggled on that end of the court last year, I’d say that’s something that merits strong consideration if he is still on the board at 3.

      • robbybonfire23

        These are good questions, Bryan. His youth is his bargaining chip, and therefore he does have enormous potential for growth and maturity, and for bringing his currently unharnessed skills together.

        The Wiggins – Embiid face off is fascinating. Yes, Embiid is your DR guy on anybody’s team. But we can still have reservations where it comes to Wiggins’ shooting and play-making, as for where it is now. And why, given Embiid’s much higher FG percentage, would Wiggins be your go-to guy? I put this dreadfuly mis-directed offensive scheme on the coach, more than upon any player.

        And why didn’t Wiggins step up in the tournament, when Embiid was M.I.A? Just 1-6 from the floor, 4 total points, 2 DR’s and 1 assist, with your season on the line, in nearly 40 minutes of playing time – so that, given ANY positive contribution from Wiggins on that night, vs. Stanford, Kansas wins going away, instead of going home a 3-point loser.

        All I want for Christmas is Exum, Vonleh, Randall, or Anderson, to maximize our draft position, and minimize this having to work with a work in progress “head case” like Wiggins. And the “Canada Syndrome” in effect here should not be taken lightly, either.

        • Kevin Herman

          To be fair to Wiggins though he has all the tools to be an elite Wing Defender and that matters. I agree on offense he was not very impressive. I think the floor on him is Andre Igoudala type player and that is a pretty good player although not a super star. None of these guys with the exceptions of Embiid were really really good as freshman. Nerlens Noel had a much better freshman season then Parker and Wiggins.

          • robbybonfire23

            Physical tools, yes, Wiggins has those to an advanced degree. My questions have to do with attitude and work ethic, and whether players like Wiggins and LaVine, also gifted athletically, but lacking in basketball skills or maybe even I.Q. at this time, will come around later, because it is difficult to envision them stepping in and making an impact, right away.

            Interesting you mention Parker and Wiggins, given that I have them down as the two most over-rated top-tier draft candidates.
            Where Noel is concerned, in his final season in college he graded below where Embiid was, this year, but above Tim Cousins, who still graded quite well.

            I see teams drafting from a contingent of Embiid, Vonleh, Randall, Anderson, and Smart moving up right away. I see teams drafting Wiggins, Parker, and of course the Hood’s, LaVine’s and Gary Harris types, having to take a hit, at least for awhile, and in some cases, permanently, for falling for the media hype and for their own scouting report inadequacies.

          • hk99

            robby,

            Without being in Kansas this season, it’s really hard to know about Wiggins’s attitude and work ethic. I’ve read in multiple places that his personality is not one of being an alpha dog like Michael Jordan and he’s more laid back and complacent. If so, that’s different than not having the right attitude and work ethic. To me, as Kevin Herman states above, Wiggins’s downside is something like AI9, an athletic, very good or great defender who is inconsistent on the offensive end. His upside, if he develops his offensive game, is higher than anyone else in this draft. As a Sixers fan, I hope that they have a chance to be the team that tries to unlock that potential. Having said that, I highly doubt that he’ll be there at 3.

          • robbybonfire23

            HK –

            The value of the exchange of ideas and impressions (and to some extent, statistics) here, is the cross section of methods of analysis we are all a part of.

            So that when you say Wiggins is “an athletic, very good or great defender who is inconsistent on the offensive end,” that sends me to my final season numbers compilations for him, for review.

            And what I find is a different picture of his non-shooting or “floor game,” as I call it. I readily admit my floor game composite rating is a combination of some offensive (assists and turnovers) components, as well as the D components of defensive rebounds, steals, and blocks, so the picture can be construed as a hybrid, not a complete indictment of Wiggins’ defense.

            Having said that, his overall floor game bottom line score is dreadful, alongside that of the other major draft selection bottom feeders. Wiggins comes in with a “weighted” score of 9.21. I know that means nothing to others, so just let me say that a single-digit floor game score is BAD. And ranks down there with the other “suspects” in this aspect of the game, namely LaVine at 8.46, Hood at 7.97, and Nik S. at 8.07.

            On the high end of the floor game spectrum we have Kyle Anderson at 22.38. Joel Embiid at 20.24, Doug McDermott at 18.96, and Marcus Smart at 17.73. My man Delon Wright came in at 16.11, in this category, to go with my best offensive rating for guards that was out there, this season.

            So, HK, when you combine Wiggins’ floor game rating with his mediocre offensive regression score 2.56 (with Embiid being the hands-down winner in this category at a blistering 4.41), I have to conclude that Wiggins, at this stage, and given his youth, is all about ~potential~ and nothing about anything he has accomplished, so far.

            For me, I would rather have a more polished product coming out of college than a player who needs a major makeover on both sides of the ball. Still, if he becomes the next MJ, I understand this will not surprise the people who are already in his camp, given his mesmerizing and highly instinctive motor skills.

          • hk99

            robby,
            I didn’t see enough of Wiggins’s games to know whether the talk of him being a lock-down defender is accurate. I do know that, in Big 12 conference games, Wiggins was in the top 12 in rebounds, steals and blocked shots, so he must be doing something right on the court.

          • robbybonfire23

            HK –

            Totals are most impressive when they dovetail with high rates of production. In this respect, Wiggins is nothing special. Again, going by conference and NCAA Tournament games, exclusively, I will just share some totals with you…

            In the steals category, Wiggins 28, Smart 55, Kyle Anderson 40, Gary Harris 51, Delon Wright 51, and S. Napier 48.

            Wiggins does better in the blocks column with 22. Other totals include Marcus Smart 10, Kyle Anderson 16, Gary Harris 13, Delon Wright 29, Napier 8.

            In the defensive rebounds category, Wiggins totals 79. Smart had 92, Kyle Anderson a whopping 175 (!), Gary Harris 75, Delon Wright 108, Napier 119, and Juwan Staten had 88.

            Bottom line, HK, is you can say Wiggins is top-10 in his conference; you can say Wiggins is all-world, or whatever. He just does not stack up well with the best guards in the country, and fits in with those who are lagging in most of these categories. Wiggins is strictly a “potential” draft pick, not a pick on the basis of anything he accomplished in college.

            Wiggins really should have returned to Kansas for at least one more year. As of right now, he is not NBA-ready.

          • hk99

            A couple of more points, after which we can agree to disagree and wait and see what kind of NBA player Wiggins becomes. They are:

            1. I do not believe whatever methodology that you use to devalue offensive rebounds.

            2. As I noted before, I do not think that college APG stats translate to NBA APG stats for SG’s and SF’s.

          • robbybonfire23

            You could be correct on the latter point. Not something I have really looked at. As for my devaluation of offensive rebounds, actually HK, it is not MY devaluation of offensive rebounds, and it is not MY methodolgy, I did not invent regression mathematics. When I began running regression figures on the various components of a basketball game, I had no bias and was shocked to find that there is an enormous difference in the innate value between the two kinds of rebound.

            This raises a good question, as least for me. And that is – when doing statistics, should one ignore those that don’t measure up to his preconceptions of their value, or does one apply these unconventional finding in the face of mass skepticism? As a long time horse player, I know the value of proprietary knowledge, plus I know the futility of thinking the way every one else thinks and knowing no more than every one else knows. That stubbornness, I can tell you, can be expensive.

            I did not become involved with regression statistics with any bias, it’s just that year after year offensive rebounds grade close to zero value on a regression basis; whereas defensive rebounds always come in around + 1.25 points value. The scores for each in 1988 were DR +1.25; and OR +0.10,and not much has changed since then.

            I see these games differently, because of my statistical values orientation, and I, obviously regard these high-profile players in a different light also. I find myself separated from the media and the crowd when I champion Delon Wright and Kyle Anderson. I find myself even more alienated when I express major reservations as regards Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Gary Harris, and the rest of the Hood-LaVine fakirs.

            Hey, right or wrong, and I am both, at times, I stand my ground. Give me that!

          • robbybonfire23

            HK – I am “waiting to see,” more than I “disagree.” After the fact we can both be 100% correct. lol.

          • tbowman

            I have to seriously question stats that would suggest Dougie is a solid defender. No chance, no way can he effectively defend anyone in the NBA. As such, I believe there is zero chance Sixers draft him even if still available at 10.

          • robbybonfire23

            Your point is well taken, reason being, I do not break down these players by offense and defense, so much as by shooting game and floor game. This is because assists cannot be classified as offense, where shooting/scoring proficiency is concerned; and of course assists have nothing to do with defense.

            So that by doing it the way I do it, assists, which are the highest “weighted” non shooting/scoring component of any given basketball game, are given their full due.

            So you may say you don’t like McDermott’s D, and to some extent be correct in your reservations about him, there. I simply say I like his overall floor game, plus his offensive capability is well-documented. Actually the biggest knock on McD is his being a senior. His time for development at the NBA level before the physical decline sets in is relatively limited. I would like him bettter, and frankly he would have enjoyed a much higher plateau NBA career, had he come out two years ago.

        • Bryan Toporek

          CBS Sports’ Matt Moore had a great breakdown of that Stanford game, which showed that Wiggins wasn’t as bad as the box score might otherwise suggest: http://www.cbssports.com/nba/eye-on-basketball/24499748/why-andrew-wiggins-early-tournament-exit-doesnt-limit-his-potential

          Once Embiid went down, I’d say it’s no surprise Wiggins struggled at times. Opponents could sell out defensively on stopping him and letting his teammates beat them. Having a 7-footer who’s not Kendrick Perkins on offense forced Kansas opponents to commit a body to Embiid at all times. Tarik Black doesn’t command that type of respect.

          And then, even with Embiid out, he had games like he did against West Virginia, where he singlehandedly kept his team competitive with a 41-8-2-5-4 night. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXt5JtlWnps

          I think what you mentioned at first — “given time and patience on the part of his NBA organization” — describes the Sixers to a T right now. They’re at least one year away from realistically thinking about the playoffs. There’s time for Wiggins to develop in Philadelphia, which I’m not sure is true in Cleveland (or, to a lesser extent, Milwaukee).

          Again, I’m not saying this draft is Wiggins or bust — I think there’s a very real case to be made for any of the top four guys — but I would admittedly be pissed if they passed up two of those guys to take Randle or Vonleh. Not saying those guys don’t also have the potential to be great, but I think the top four are clearly in a tier of their own. Barring some incredible workouts, I’d also be surprised if Kyle Anderson goes in the lottery.

          • robbybonfire23

            Bryan –

            Seems to me this team, with a big assist from Noel, could be in top contention, at least in the division, as soon as next season. Nets will be down at the old folks home; Boston is on the way back but also rebuilding; the Knicks should be improved with new management but need to resolve their dead-end Carmelo situation; Toronto is the X factor, as least to me, really don’t have a handle on them.

            As regards Kyle Anderson being overlooked, early, I could better evaluate him if I knew his position splits on a clock basis, given he is a swing man. Overall though, his floor game is brilliant. Last week I mistakenly stated that Marcus Smart was the top floor game player in the college ranks this past season. Now, looking over my stats, I see that Smart was a distant second to Kyle Anderson. Anderson may be a late first round pick, but he is a plum who should surpass higher- ranked draftees, quickly. We take Gary Harris over Anderson, damn, we deserve what we get, there.

            I did watch the Kansas – West Virginia highlights you put up. Sensational effort and results for Wiggins, yes, I concur. Great game for him. I also went to the Stanford game highlights and, inexplicably, he seems invisible, a shadow of the player he was vs. WVA. Not sure why the dramatic ups and downs in his play, but there could be implications there, where his NBA career is concerned.

    • hk99

      robby,

      Have you looked back at how accurate your statistical analysis of college players has been in predicting their professional success? I asked this question (at least) once before and I’m not sure if you answered or, if you did answer, that I saw your answer.

      One more point in regards to Wiggins’s assists. The qualifications for an assist in college are much more restrictive than they are in the NBA. Therefore, college PG’s typically get a much higher percentage of their teams’ assists. FWIW, other “notoriously selfish” players like Kevin Durant (1.3 APG and less than 10% of his team’s assists) have turned into decent NBA players and slowly learned to share the ball more – look at how Durant’s assist numbers have increased almost annually throughout his NBA career. Also, a fellow named Michael Jordan averaged barely more APG than Wiggins in his 3 seasons in college, which by your standards would make Jordan merely “extremely, but not notoriously” selfish.

      To be clear, I am not suggesting that Wiggins is the next coming of Jordan or Durant. I am just putting out there that I’m not so sure that APG in college is a statistic that is very predictive of what might happen at the next level.

      • robbybonfire23

        H.K. –

        I answered you, in depth, in this regard. I will research and see if I can find it, I did see it here a couple days ago. Bottom line was Turner graded well in college, so I missed that one badly, and the 76ers cannot be blamed for taking him in the draft. I did make the point that we were unlucky to get Turner between Wall and Cousins being taken.

        Wall and Cousins did grade quite well, their final season in college, so they, unlike Turner, to some extent validated my findings.