After the Sixers second win of the season and a nail-biter in Utah, I feel reinvigorated about the rest of this season. I'm singing a happier tune in this week's mailbag. You can catch up on previous installments here.
@PhillyHeel26: Two minutes left, tie game. Which five do you play and why?
I would go with Ish Smith, Hollis Thompson, Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, and Nerlens Noel, because I think that's your best mix of both scoring and defense. Obviously, Smith is the best point guard on the team right now, and his ability to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates is a skill you need on the floor late in games. You could very easily swap out Hollis Thompson for Nik Stauskas, but at the very least you need somebody who's a shooting threat from the outside. I wouldn't put Isaiah Canaan out there because the ball tends to get stuck in his hands when he's on the floor, and there's not a shot in hell he can effectively defend opposing shooting guards. Robert Covington has struggled mightily as of late, but at the end of the day he's still your best wing scorer and defender. Grant is a good fit mostly for defensive purposes next to Noel, although I like what he can do off the dribble. Noel is necessary for his rim protection ability, and has been a serious threat to score off the pick and roll ever since Smith returned.
For those who will inevitably ask why I failed to mention Okafor, I just don't see how he could fit on the floor with this group of guys in an efficient manner. While he is a solid offensive player, you're sacrificing a lot of floor spacing for someone who has shown to score mostly in ISO situations thus far in his career. If they could run the pick and roll with him like they do Noel, it would make him a whole lot more useful in late-game situations. There are also defensive issues that have made Okafor a whole lot tougher to play, but those are much easier to hide if he were on the perimeter as opposed to defending the rim. That's just not how Brett Brown has used him thus far.
Smith might end up having as much of a positive effect on Okafor as he has Noel, but it's going to take time to build that chemistry. I think the Sixers played excellent team oriented basketball on Monday, and I'd prefer to keep Okafor on the bench in late-game situations until Brown can find an effective way to fit him in around his teammates.
@bho14: Which current Sixers are still members of the roster next year given the first-round picks and Colangelo's influence?
Assuming the Sixers end up with three first-round picks, Dario Saric signs a contract like he promises, and Joel Embiid is healthy enough to be promoted to the active roster, that leaves eight spots open on the roster. I think Colangelo's involvement with the team means they'll start to spend some money this offseason, but it'll come at the price of being able to continue to develop some of the guys currently on the roster. My guess is Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor will both be on the team next season unless they receive an offer on one that they can't refuse. When played in his natural position, Noel has shown he can be a dominant defensive force and a useful offensive player. Okafor is still only 20-years-old, and there's no reason to think he can't improve in some of the areas he currently struggles in. The expected additions of both Embiid and Saric also set up the possibility of finding two solid front court pairings. Embiid was an elite defender at Kansas, and Saric's improved shooting range can help you stretch the floor. There's some mixing and matching the Sixers can do there.
Richaun Holmes stays because he's been a spark plug off the bench, and has already provided a larger impact than I anticipated in his rookie season. On a competitive team I think Covington is a solid wing scorer off the bench. With improved talent around him next year his numbers should progress, and considering how cheap his contract is, Covington is worth holding onto. Ish Smith is the only guard who has shown he's worth keeping around, although I've always liked Kendall Marshall and think he's still getting into the flow of the team. Outside of the aforementioned five, I don't think anyone else is a lock. I'm afraid Jerami Grant gets caught up in a numbers game, and no the team no longer has the patience to try and develop Nik Stauskas if he finishes the year shooting like he currently is. The remaining guys on the team seem like pretty reasonable cuts.
@senortalone: If the team improves with Ish, what are the odds of him re-signing? What numbers would you/they offer him?
If the rest of Smith's season continues in a manner similar to the past two games, then I would find it hard to believe that the team wouldn't express interest in re-signing him. He's been effective in returning Noel to his rookie season form, and if his acquisition came at the behest of Mike D'Antoni as previously reported, then I imagine Philadelphia will do their best to keep the guys who would best fit in his system.
Whether it's the pace of the offense or the fact that he's just getting consistent playing time, Smith fits with the Sixers in a way he has not during most of his previous stops in the NBA. Realistically, Smith is a decent backup point guard, and his experience in the league is someone management can point to as a "veteran leader". Because the cap is rising and Philadelphia has an unfathomable amount of money, I would be comfortable giving him somewhere between $4-5 million a year, which would put him in the same category as guys like Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, and Mario Chalmers.
But it'll be up to Smith to decide if he wants to stay with Philadelphia or move onto a team with a better chance at contending, and that's part of the reason he didn't re-sign with the Sixers this summer. With that said, I'm not sure another team would be that comfortable giving him that type of money, and I think both the Sixers and Smith's representatives will be able to work out a deal.
@ABigCatL92: Why is Hollis Thompson still on this team?
For the same reason Isaiah Canaan is still here. The Sixers need players who can shoot from the outside, and statistically Hollis Thompson is good at that. As Max Rappaport noted, Thompson is the first Sixer ever to shoot over 40% from three in his first two seasons with the team, and is miraculously shooting 38.4% this season. The eye test alone will tell you that Thompson is far from a special shooter, but his history forces teams to get out and defend him on the perimeter.
Philadelphia also has a lot of guys with overlapping skill sets on offense. Most of the guys on the roster do most of their scoring around the paint, and that really collapses the floor. If Thompson ever scores, it's typically from the outside. His inability to knock down a three unless it's garbage time is disappointing, but his inability to improve defensively or with the ball in his hands is even worse. If he makes it through this season in Philadelphia, I imagine it'll be his last.
@ArunSundaresan: Is Embiid a better trade chip than Noel and Okafor?
If I had the ability to gauge the trade value of these three with the other 29 general managers in the NBA, I imagine Embiid's would be the lowest. His health is always going to be a question mark, and for what the Sixers would ask in return no team would be willing to give up. He's also only under team control for two more seasons as opposed to a guy like Okafor, who is on his rookie deal for three more years.
But at this point, I don't see a reason to explore a trade for Embiid. The team has invested a lot of time and effort into him, and they might as well see if he can be the dominant two-way player they were hoping for before moving on. Before he injured his foot again this past summer, the word was that Embiid was an absolute terror in the little bit he had been able to scrimmage. A decision on who to move will be easier when the Sixers get to see all of them play, and as things currently stand, they're more invested in Embiid than anyone else.
Thanks for reading. As always, you can send me your mailbag questions on Twitter @JakePavorsky or by email at email@example.com