The Sixers only have one more pre-season game left, and the roster is beginning to take shape. More and more, the players are demonstrating why they may have a shot at the team, or why they are likely to be dropped. The one area that is stubbornly refusing to sort itself out is the point guard battle, where the Sixers brought six suitors into training camp, but only have three spots to offer them.
Among the non-point guards, there are 8 sure-fire locks to make the final roster: Okafor, Noel, and Embiid down low; Covington, JaKarr, and Jerami as larger wings; and Stauskas and Holliswood as shooters. Richaun Holmes looks very likely given his contract and strong play, as does Christian Wood, who impressed with his play and possesses the single most team-friendly contract on the roster. If Carl Landry were going to be cut, Hinkie would have done it by now,
That leaves four spots for Furkan Aldemir and the point guards. While Brett Brown did predict keeping three point guards, it's possible that, given the injuries to the best two starters on the team, the Sixers change tack and keep four of them, dropping Aldemir (and his guaranteed $2.8 million).
Among the point guards, Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten are the two locks. Neither has played at a starting guard level, but both have shown glimpses of potential to reach it. They are head and shoulders above the other players vying for roster spots, and it would be a shock to see either when cut before the end of camp. That leaves two spots for the remaining four point guards and Aldemir.
Isaiah Canaan should be in as well. While he is frequently maligned around these parts, he's also one of the most unique players in the league. Canaan's shooting isn't just a strength, it's absolutely elite in the NBA. Among all NBA players who played more than 35 games last year and attempted more than 2 pull-up 3-pointers per game, Canaan had the highest field goal percentage of anyone, including Stephen Curry.* He may not know how to best leverage this skill, but he has shown an improved assertiveness in pre-season, driving to the hoop more frequently. Paired with Tony Wroten, who is tall enough to guard 2's, Canaan could help to provide a strong offensive punch off the bench. Expect him to be here on opening night.
*All stats courtesy of NBA.com
That leaves one spot for Furkan Aldemir, TJ McConnell, Scottie Wilbekin, and Pierre Jackson.
Pappy Jack looks to be in trouble. He can't stay healthy, missing time in pre-season and Summer League after finally recovering from his torn Achilles. But more importantly, the team has been bad when he has played, and he seems to be a leading reason for that. The defense falls off a cliff as soon as he steps on the court, which isn't terribly surprising, given that he's all of 5'10 with shoes on. But the offense does, too. Jackson's turnover ratio is twice that of either McConnell or Wilbekin, and even when he does manage to marshal the offense to a shot, they haven't been good ones. Jackson's true shooting percentage sits at a pathetic 25% through two games - not a good look for a player whose strength is supposed to be his shot making.
TJ McConnell has been the strongest of the three point guards this pre-season. He is the only one with a positive overall Net Rating, and the improved play is tangible when he steps on the court. He has a strong ability to involve his teammates, as demonstrated by his 39% assist rate through 4 games. He has also shown the best ability to play within Brett Brown's schemes, pushing the ball at every attempt, such that the Sixers achieve 110 possessions per 48 minutes while McConnell is on the court. Jackson and Wilbekin have done well, but not quite as well as McConnell.
McConnell has also been the best defender. He was an elite defender at Arizona, at that has continued as a strength in the NBA.
Wilbekin has been better than Jackson, but not as good as McConnell. He's not the same level passer that McConnell is, and it has been evident in their play thus far. Wilbekin's assist rate is less than half that of McConnell's. He's an okay defender, but not as good as McConnell. His biggest advantage lies in his shooting ability - 64.5% true shooting for the pre-season is very good. But Wilbekin's strengths aren't enough to overcome his overall okay-ness. He does many things decently but nothing well, and that won't be enough for this Sixers' team.
To me, the final roster spot comes down to Furkan Aldemir and TJ McConnell. Through six pre-season games, McConnell has won the point guard battle. The question for Hinkie (and Brown) is whether he's shown enough to displace Aldemir.