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Nine Days Till Sixers: The Case for Wilbekin

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Between Summer League and Preseason, the four-year Florida guard has shown enough to earn a roster spot.

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What are the Sixers looking for in a guard in 2015? I have no clue, and judging by the styles of the players we've seen in and out of PCOM lately, I don't think the team has anything close to a specific archetype in mind either. But generally, they should be looking for players who either project to, or currently can, do at least a couple of the following things:

  • Orchestrate a pick-and-roll.
  • Make an entry pass.
  • Make a spot-up three when the defense collapses on Okafor inside, likely in the face of frantic closeouts (or not-so-frantic in Tony Wroten's case).
  • Defend his position.

When it comes to satisfying that criteria, the options at the team's disposal are a, well, fascinating bunch.

Kendall Marshall has legitimate, elite playmaking ability at the NBA level, but tasking him with defending a pick-and-roll is like tasking a lamppost with stopping dogs from peeing on it. Isaiah Canaan is a terrific volume shooter, and may have the off-the-bounce shooting to one-day command legitimate pick-and-roll respect, but, see: Marshall, Section 2. Meanwhile, T.J. McConnell is Aaron Craft with better vision and a "six-figure guarantee," Jackson hasn't been on the floor enough to show precisely what he is other than a hell of a lot of irrational fun and Tony Wroten has an elite ability to be Tony Wroten.

But scanning the choices, including essentially mortal locks in Marshall and Wroten, I see only one player with a realistic chance to do all four of those things at the next level: Scottie Wilbekin.

(Note: In this exercise I'm treating Nik Stauskas as a wing and not part of the back court competition.)

Without any particular high-upside option on the roster, Wilbekin has the versatility and the well-rounded game to slide into any lineup and produce. He could be a low-usage release valve for Okafor in slow-it-down post-up situations and create out of the pick-and-roll as well, thanks to his capability to shoot the ball off-the-dribble (a criminally under-appreciated skill for an NBA creator).

Watch Wilbekin absolutely carve up Cleveland's stalwart one-two punch on defense, D.J. Stephens and Joe Harris, in a high pick-and-roll with Christian Wood. Wood dives to the rim and Joe Harris shows on the perimeter, expecting Stephens, who's fighting over the screen, to eventually switch onto Wood.

Now, plug in a real diving threat like Noel (who seems far more comfortable putting the ball on the floor in faceups than ever before), and you have a fairly competent combination. Guys like McConnell and Jackson probably won't secure the type of consideration from outside necessary to force defenders to fight over screens, and if Jackson does, it's only because the defense is begging him to slash into the lane so it can swallow him whole.

So, Wilbekin's shot the ball more efficiently than any other Sixer in the 88-minute sample size of the preseason we have (64.5 percent True Shooting), he can fill it up from deep both on and off the ball (10-for-27 from three), and he projects to defend his position as well. He's pretty undersized at around 6-foot-2, and his lateral/vertical mobility is pedestrian at best, but being a four-year collegiate athlete at Florida, he always gives it the ol' college try. What he loses in struggling to contain dribble-penetration (third-most opponent points in the paint per 100 possessions thus far in preseason), he makes up for as a defensive irritant who works his tail off, which should also pay off in the team's blitz-happy strategy defending pick-and-rolls, despite his size limitations.

Wilbekin's far and away the most well-rounded backcourt option the team has to pluck from. On a roster lacking the top-tier prospect warranting major minutes and touches, the organization more than anything needs a seamless plug-and-play guy who can produce efficiently in spot minutes once Marshall and Wroten are back.

Jackson and McConnell have shown flashes, and each has his own set of limitations, but Wilbekin's proven far more capable on the aggregate in what we've seen to this point. Assuming the last guard spot behind Marshall, Canaan and Wroten boils down to those three - and all indications are that it will - I don't think the decision should be keeping Sam Hinkie or Brett Brown up at night.