Welcome back to the 12th edition of the LibertyBallers Sixers Mailbag! You can check out our previous installments at our story stream.
Joel's fat! Everybody hates MCW! Nerlens is running his mouth! The Sixers lost to the Knicks!
Excited to get to some non hot-takey, actual basketball discussion. Let's get to the questions.
Q: Would you rather pay Reggie Jackson or Brandon Knight this summer? I noticed Brandon Knight is shooting >40% on catch and shoot 3's. He has the size to be a Hinkie guy. Meanwhile, Reggie Jackson has some heart and has shown flashes in very important games for the Thunder. Now he has been all but relegated to a deadline deal and inevitable free agency. Any thoughts?
I like both Jackson and Knight quite a bit. I thought Knight would be solid in the NBA, but he's made bigger strides these last two years than I expected. He's playing really well, especially this year.
While I think that Jackson might end up being the more dynamic scorer, I think Knight fits the team better. If there's one thing Knight has always done it's make shots dribbling off the pick and roll, and with Embiid (and perhaps Okafor) here to set picks and roll to the basket, that skill set would be very useful. To be fair, Jackson has done a very good job of that this year as well, I just have more faith in Knight's success carrying forward in that regard.
The other area where Knight has a (big) advantage over Jackson is shooting off the catch, another big skill set for a point guard in the Sixers (likely) future offensive scheme. Knight has shot 44.4% on his 2.9 three point catch and shoot attempts per game on the season. Jackson is shooting only 21.3% on 2.0 attempts per game in the same situations.
I also think Knight is finally starting to put things together as a defender.
That being said, I think you have a much better chance of getting Reggie Jackson in the summer, due to a combination of the Thunder's salary cap situation and the Bucks drastic improvement this season. And he's certainly an interesting name to think about. I just wish that he were a little bit less streaky in his outside shot and that he played in control more frequently.
Q: My question is concerning Hollis Thompson. After his rookie season we all had the hope he could become a good 3-and-D-weapon at the perimeter for the 6ers. But in this season he only hits 33 % of his threes. My guess is that the lack of playmaking and offense creators puts him in worse situations to shot. He has to create a lot more for his own shots, an ability he is not capable of. In addition he takes a lot more threes than last year, so he can may-be not hold his percentage. What do you think?
I think a couple of things.
First, I think Hollis prioritizing a quicker release could be playing into things, as even a slight change in shooting motion can impact a shooter's effectiveness. Especially on his contract, I give him time and let him see if he can develop the muscle memory and consistency that he previously had.
I touched on this the other day in my Robert Covington article, but more shot-creators and guys who can draw a double team will always help shooters, and Hollis is no exception. A little bit over 61% of Hollis' catch and shoot opportunities are contested, which is a high percentage, even for a guy who is mostly a set-shooter. Not as high as Covington's ridiculous 74%, but high.
What's interesting, though, is that he's connecting far less when he's open. He's actually connecting on 41.2% of his three pointers when a defender has been between 2' and 4', but only 34% when the closest defender is between 4' and 6', and only 32.6% when the closest defender isn't within 6'. Last year, he was automatic with space: 47.9% from three with the nearest defender between 4' and 6'.
On the positive side, Hollis improving his shooting percentage (39.1% to 41.2%) on three pointers while defended closely is a good sign that maybe his quicker release is working. His drop in effectiveness when open, though, is weird. My hunch, based on his past history, is that the drop in effectiveness will eventually progress back up to his career norm, and then we'll have an effective shooter for cheap.
Q: From everything you’ve gather, what is the status of Embiid’s foot? Is he able to do cardio? Has he been cleared to run? We’ve read this past weekend about the concerns regarding his maturity and weight—which may be valid—but the team has yet to indicate that he is far along enough in his rehab to begin conditioning. I was perplexed by Keith Pompey’s article because it’s been unclear that he was ready to begin "conditioning" exercises.
He's able to run on an anti-gravity treadmill. That, along with elliptical training, have been the primary methods of increasing his heart rate. In theory he could possibly be able to use aquatic exercises to get his heart rate up without putting much pressure on his foot, but I haven't heard any reports of him doing so. I'll try to remember to ask around to see if that's happened at all.
That being said, as I mentioned in my recap from last night's game, Embiid went through what was probably the most intense drills I've seen him do this year, either before games or at practice, Wednesday against the Knicks. Rather than casually shooting he was shooting in rhythm, getting more lift on his shot, and jogging faster. He's still not cleared to go full speed or make hard cuts, but I would definitely classify it as progress.
As I said when talking about the Embiid situation, my far bigger concern than his weight was the report that he blew off training sessions. Hopefully that was just an isolated, minor incident, and the closer he gets to actually being able to play basketball, it will just be a distant memory.
Q: With trade talks surrounding guys like MCW and Wroten, how do you think GMs around the league would currently rank the Sixers top 5 or 10 assets? (Embiid, Nerlens, MCW, Saric, KJ, Covington, Wroten, 2015 1st rounder, 2015 Heat pick, 2016 1st rounder, etc.)
I posted my asset rankings the other day, and my guess on how other GM's around the league would value them would likely be about the same. If I'm changing anything, I would slide MCW up to #5 for my league-wide ranking, as he was held back a bit on my Sixers focused rankings due to his fit with Embiid (and possibly Okafor).
To summarize: Embiid, 2015 1st, Noel, Saric, MCW, in that order.
Q: Several media outlets are reporting that Sacramento has made Nick Stauskas available via trade, presumably for a big. You think Brett Brown and Hinkie are interested? Would you trade the Heat pick even up for Stauskas? Or do you think maybe a combination of Wroten, Sims, a couple of 2nds and maybe taking some salary off their hands could make that work?
I don't think Sims with Wroten and/or a combination of 2nd round picks gets it done. Sacramento thinks they can use Stauskas to get them a legitimate big to play alongside Cousins, either a rim protector or a stretch 4, and I don't see Sims being either of those, even if his mid-range game has improved considerably. I also think they may not do it for the 2015 Heat pick, even if value-wise I think it would be fair.
Could the Sixers hop in as a third team in a trade, giving up the Heat pick to a 3rd team, who then sends a big man to Sacramento? Maybe. I would have to really think about that. I did like Stauskas quite a bit heading into the 2014 draft (had him 9th the day before the draft), and a half of a rookie season isn't enough to make me completely lose faith in him, and it would represent a good buy-low. But there are a number of guys in this draft that intrigue me as well.
Q: If we ended up with the #2 overall pick in the next draft, would you trade Saric and that pick to acquire the #1 pick in order to draft Jahlil Okafor?
Great question, and not the easiest one to answer.
My head tells me that trading two guys (Saric and either Porzingis or Towns) who may be a better fit with Embiid for one guy who very well may not fit with Embiid doesn't make sense. But my head also thinks that Okafor is really starting to separate himself from the pack, and that if he does have the best chance of truly being great and franchise changing, giving up Dario Saric for greatness is a risk worth taking.
I'm leaning towards probably, but that's very tough. I see a little bit more from Towns or Porzingis and I'm changing that to no.
Q: Free throw shooting was the biggest project for Nerlens in the past season and Brown invested a lot of time and work. Brown said many times that the goal for his rookie season is about 60 % from the foul line (the long term goal was 70 % FTs in the whole career). After halftime of regular season Noel hits 52 percent of his free throws, not much more than in his one year at Kentucky.
After the tremendous effort last year I am a bit disappointed of the results. What do you think? Do you share the disappointment? Or was Brown`s goal of 60 % a little bit too high?
And when you left aside the result, how does Noel shooting form looks to you? Is it better than in college, so that better results are only a matter of time? Or is it a case of a too small sample size?
To answer the first question, he's shown improvement of late. He's shooting 54.5% from the line over his last 15 games and 56% over his last 10, compared to just 51% over his first 23 games. So I think there's some room for optimism.
Did Brown get a little optimistic? Maybe. I think if he said "Noel will improve from 53% to 55%", people would not react well to that. But as long as he's making steady progress I'm not overly concerned. Progress frequently takes longer than we hope/expect/plan for, and rebuilding a jump shot is not an overnight (or over the summer) endeavor.
As for his form, I'm not a big fan of the hitch he has in his release at the top. It should be tough for defenders to contest, but I do worry about repeatability. But I suppose you have to find a balance between textbook form and what he's comfortable with.
Q: Assuming they draft two players in the first round next year, how much should the Sixers invest in free agency vs allowing more time for young drafted players to develop?
Does it have to be an either/or?
I think they can draft a stud in the top 5, somebody with the Heat pick, and still have the ability to head out and grab either a wing, a point guard, or a big man (depending on needs after the draft) who fits their personnel better and allows them to run more of a semblance of an NBA offense, all without impeding on developing the guys we really care about.
I've stopped including my big board here, at least until it changes. It's still the same as when I previously released it Not that I haven't had thoughts, especially as D'Angelo Russell and Kelly Oubre play out of their minds, I just tend to not be reactionary and quick with my changes. That being said, you can always check here for the current iteration.
That will wrap it up. Thanks to everybody who submitted questions, and my apologies if I didn't answer yours. One thing: if I didn't include yours I still have it saved for a future mailbag. I tend to prioritize a combination of unique questions and time sensitive questions, and I try to get to those first. So if you haven't seen yours, keep watching, as it might just show up in a future mailbag. If you want to make sure I haven't forgotten about it, feel free to email me.