Arnett Moultrie's rookie season was, by and large, uneventful.
Most of it was spent wearing a furry seal backpack on team charters and making sure that the 76ers' veterans had warm donuts waiting when they arrived to practice. During games, Moultrie's prime responsibility was ensuring that that the seat on the end of the Sixers' bench wouldn't fly up and accidentally hit someone.
After being selected with the 27th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Moultrie appeared in just 47 games this past season, a surprisingly low figure for a team that was (and continues to be) desperate for big man help. With a straight face, team advisor Rod Thorn said that the Sixers considered Moultrie a top-10 talent, yet head coach Doug Collins thought it best to keep his rookie locked in the attic next to George Bluth.
There are those who banged the drum for Moultrie harder than others, but it was clear to anyone paying attention that the Sixers didn't give their first-round pick a fair shake last season. There was even a point where Collins himself stopped pouring over Maurice Harkless' box scores long enough to note that Moultrie should play more.
If Collins is as introspective as he loves to tell us that he is, there will be a moment this offseason where he thinks about how he used Moultrie, and then say to no one in particular: "I've made a huge mistake."
Happy Arbor Day, #Sixers fans! twitter.com/Sixers/status/...— Philadelphia 76ers (@Sixers) April 26, 2013
The blame doesn't lie entirely with the former 76ers' coach, however. Moultrie's conditioning, or lack thereof, was often offered as an excuse as to why there wasn't enough time in the rotation. An ankle injury suffered over the summer kept the 6'11" rookie out of the Orlando Summer League, and Moultrie was noticeably out of shape during the first two months of the season.
So while the Sixers headed out West last December to get pummeled by the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, Moultrie was sent to
Army Sioux Falls to benefit from some much-needed playing time. A presumably in-shape Moultrie returned to the team in January, but much like Tobias Funke's time as a standby for the Blue Man Group, the calls to the bench came few and far between.
Collins' aforementioned epiphany came in early February, and from that point on, Moultrie was a semi-regular member of the Sixers' rotation. He didn't always get run, but when he did, he proved to be fairly effective.
The box scores tell most of story: There were a dozen games during his rookie year in which Moultrie logged at least 18 minutes. He managed to grab at least seven rebounds in half of those contests, and he scored at least 10 points in five of the 12 games.
What makes those figures even more impressive is the fact that Moultrie never played more than 28:50 in any game this season. We still don't know whether he's more Ann/Annabelle (George Michael's relatively non-descript girlfriend) than Annyong (a seemingly bit player who was the mastermind behind a much bigger plot), but there appears to be at least a faint glimmer of potential there.
Moultrie worked the offensive glass like a champ as a rookie: His offensive rebound rate of 15.4 was the fifth-best mark in the league for players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game last season.
And while there's plenty of room for growth on the other end of the court (neither his block rate nor his defensive rebounding percentage is commensurate with someone who is nearly seven feet tall), Moultrie isn't a horrible defender, either. According to Synergy Sports, Moultrie allowed just 0.72 points per possession in 2012-13 (though, admittedly, many of his minutes came in garbage time).
Jordan Sams' pre-draft preview of Moultrie was startlingly prescient - the same strengths and weaknesses that were on display during his career at Mississippi State have pretty much followed him into the NBA:
Unfortunately - despite athleticism suggesting he should - Moultrie is an underwhelming shot-blocker and defensive rebounder. However; he's a very good offensive rebounder and can finish at the basket via cuts, offensive rebounds and alley-oops - things Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner would immediately benefit from.
He has a decent shot for a big man, and his drastic improvement in free throw percentage at Mississippi State suggest there's still room for improvement in that aspect of his game.
At a total cap hit of just $4.3 million over the next three seasons, the Sixers would be foolish to part ways with their 22-year old big man. It's a stretch to assume that the new head coach will give him the starting nod next year, but there's little reason to believe that Moultrie can't replicate what he did this past April (6.3 PPG and 4.8 RPG in 18.0 minutes per night) as the first or second big off of the bench.
Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown don't (or, at least, shouldn't) figure in the Sixers' long-term plans, so it makes little sense to give them extended playing time at Moultrie's expense next season. Every minute Hawes spends on the court botching dribble handoffs, shooting long twos and setting "screens" is a minute taken away from Moultrie's development. And since neither Hawes nor Brown them exactly exude veteran leadership (or even "Caged Wisdom", for that matter), the best way for Moultrie to learn how to play in the post is by actually stepping out onto the court.
Who knows? There may be money in the banana stand, after all.