Trading K.J. McDaniels for Isaiah Canaan was seen as a questionable move at the time, even as Sam Hinkie anointed him the 76ers starting point guard in his post trade deadline press conference. As time went on, the trade only began to look more and more puzzling, as Canaan appears to be a role payer without a clear role in Philadelphia, and not good enough at his core skill to compensate for his weaknesses.
Canaan shot just 38% from the floor and 36% on threes as a Sixer, though that underscores his effectiveness in the Sixers' system. Because 66% of Canaan's shots are threes, his effective shooting and true shooting percentages aren't awful, but also not good for a role guy who is six feet tall and decidedly not a point guard.
Looking at his Houston statistics now, I'm not sure why we expected as much point guard play as we did, and maybe that's a case of us and the team setting unrealistic expectations. Canaan's turnover rate was higher than his assist percentage in Houston, which is abominable for a point guard. Though really, playing alongside James Harden and the like, he played more minutes off point.
In Philadelphia, his turnover rate dropped and his assist rate nearly doubled. That's markedly better than what we should have expected. He didn't shoot as well, but that's a given with the greater responsibility he had in Philadelphia, along with some worse teammates to feed him.
But even then, he still wasn't nearly good enough to be an NBA point guard. The most important thing a point guard can do in most instances is create good opportunities for others. Whether that's through breaking down the defense like a surgeon playing Operation, or through drawing so much defensive attention through shooting, or some other third way, Canaan doesn't draw attention.
He's best cast as a wing player. But Canaan is six feet tall, with a short wingspan and little hope of guarding anyone, and struggles to line-drive to the rim off of dribble penetration. That's the baseline for an NBA wing player. If he could shoot better, maybe he could sniff a role on a good team.
I'm not waiting for that, though. Canaan is 24, two years older than Tony Wroten, who also figures to be in the backup point guard discussion and is coming off ACL surgery. Wroten should be the guy next year backing up whoever the Sixers draft, sign, or trade for to become the starting point guard of the team, and hopefully of the future. Canaan is not that, and doesn't do enough to warrant keeping around.
Canaan's contract works well as a trade placeholder. His third year is at the league minimum, just like the first two seasons. Though it is mostly guaranteed, it could still be moved in any trade via the minimum salary exception. While undesirable compared to other Sixers with minimum contracts used as pawns (Brandon Davies, stand up - you too, Casper Ware), Canaan shoots well enough that you could stash him as a third point guard. Trading him or dumping him for nothing would not be swallowing a pill dry, like sending JaVale McGee down the river was for this coming season.
And on top of that, aesthetically, Canaan is maddening to watch. Since he couldn't beat guys off the dribble, waiting to see how he could dribble a possession away into a desperation three inspired rage not seen since Evan Turner bricked 18 footers on his way out of town, or since Lou Williams stalled for time he didn't have while launching fadeaways. Brett Brown often felt the same way - there's a reason Ish Smith usurped him in the rotation as quickly as he did.
It seems like a letdown considering the Sixers traded McDaniels, a fan-favorite, to make the deal for Canaan. Hopefully, the Sixers find another gem with the draft pick (39th overall) acquired in the deal as well. Just last season, the Sixers picked 39th and got Jerami Grant, who is promising if not completely effective. Maybe they can hit again on that selection.
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