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Sixers Mailbag Season 3 Vol. 1 - Checking In On Draft Prospects

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Answering your questions on the draft, Richaun Holmes, Ersan Ilyasova, and more.

NCAA Basketball: CBE Hall of Fame Classic-Kansas vs UAB Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Liberty Ballers mailbag is making a triumphant return after an extended time away. In this edition, we talk about some of the top prospects for the 2017 NBA Draft, Richaun Holmes’s fluctuating playing time, and Ersan Ilyasova’s future in Philadelphia.

@c_madonna76: Who at the top of this draft other than Fultz really fits our core?

Outside of Fultz, who looks to be far and away the best prospect in this draft, I haven’t necessarily been blown away by anyone else, especially at the point guard position. UCLA’s Lonzo Ball seems to be a really hot name within the draft community, but my initial reviews are that he’s a really tough fit within this Sixers team.

A lot of hype interest surrounding him has to do with whether or not you believe in his unorthodox jump shot, and I have my doubts about its ability to translate. I’m not worried so much about the form itself -- he’s at least consistent with it -- it just takes him forever to get it off, and I’m worried about its effectiveness against longer NBA players. There’s also the fact that Ball hasn’t shown a knack for being able to score off the dribble. According to Hoop-Math.com, 14 of his 222 made shots around the rim have been assisted, and only three of his 18 made three-pointers have been unassisted. Ball has got to be able to show he can create looks for himself, and so far he only looks to shoot when teammates are creating looks for him. In UCLA’s game against Texas A&M, Ball did start to play downhill a little more, and knocked down a real difficult stepback three late in the game. If Ball shows he’s both willing and able to do that on a more regular basis, then those concerns will begin to go away. He is arguably the best passer in the country, but the Sixers already have a phenomenal one in Ben Simmons, and you’re expecting him to be your lead guard. Playing Ball off-ball also isn’t ideal, or something he’d probably be happy with. He can likely hack it somewhere in the NBA just on his passing skills alone as he tries to find his jumper, it’s just unlikely to be with the Sixers.

Dennis Smith Jr. is another guy who I expected to shine immediately, and he’s had an up-and-down start to his freshman year North Carolina State. The highlight reel athleticism is evident when he gets out in transition, but not nearly as notable in half court sets. He’s spent a lot of time dissecting defenses and finding open teammates with good passes, but when it comes to creating his own offense, Smith isn’t nearly as good. He looks complacent settling for jumpers, and he doesn’t do a good job of creating separation from defenders off the dribble. Smith turned the corner much better in his 30 point performance against Loyola-Chicago, yet struggled to do the same in matchups against more physical guards in NC State’s games against St. Joe’s and Montana less than ten days ago. While he works on finding his perimeter stroke (just 8-29 from beyond the arc thus far, and six of those eight makes were catch-and-shoot attempts), finding some burst to the hole will be big for his progression.

Kansas’s Josh Jackson has been the most intriguing player in my eyes outside of Fultz. Standing at 6-foot-8, 200 lbs., Jackson’s got really good size for the two guard position, and he’s a remarkably good passer for someone who isn’t a primary ball handler for the Jayhawks. His defensive potential is off the charts, and he’s using his length right now to pull in 1.6 steals per game. The biggest question in his game right now is his shooting ability. Jackson has a bit of a hitch in his release, and he’s really struggling at the line, shooting just 54.1 percent. He’s a threat to go to the basket every time he has the ball in his hands; being able consistently knock down pull-up jumpers will certainly help his development. The shooting issues seem correctable, and I like his chances to be an impact player at the next level.

Two other guys I’ve been high on thus far are Kentucky’s Malik Monk and Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, who can both shoot off the catch or off the dribble. I really think Isaac will be a guy to watch; his size and effortless shooting stroke makes him a top-five talent. French guard prospect Frank Ntilikina is another one to keep an eye on. Just 18-years-old, he’s done a solid job of adjusting to playing off ball despite being more of a natural point guard, and is shooting the ball really well.

@jimadair3: If the season shakes out with everyone basically playing as they are now, what should the Sixers do about Ersan Ilyasova?

When the Sixers traded Jerami Grant for Ersan Ilyasova and a future first-round pick, it was initially difficult to see who got the better end of the deal. Early returns have the Sixers looking like they came out on top. Ilyasova, who is on the final year of a five-year, $40 million contract, has been a pleasant surprise, flopping aside. He’s knocking 40 percent of his three-pointers on 4.5 attempts a game, and his ability to space the floor is something the Sixers desperately sought but could not find in Grant. His efforts on the glass have been noticeable, and he’s had three double-doubles in 16 games this season. The Sixers have started Ilyasova over Dario Saric in the past eight, and that might be in part because they can hide his deficiencies on defense better when Joel Embiid is anchoring the defense as opposed to Jahlil Okafor. Ilyasova is currently posting a DRtg of 111, and the Sixers are allowing 107.9 points when he’s on the floor, as opposed to 103.6 when he’s on the bench. From a defensive perspective, he’s not necessarily killing the Sixers, although he hasn’t necessarily been a pillar of stability either.

I’m not opposed to bringing back Ilyasova, but now that the NBA is in the Wild Wild West of free agent contracts, he’s probably going to command a large amount of money on the free agent market. His career numbers stack up pretty similarly with Ryan Anderson, who the Houston Rockets just gave $80 million over four years. Despite being a noted Ryan Anderson enthusiast, I wouldn’t be remotely comfortable with giving him anything in that ballpark. So far, he does seem to gel well with this group, and for stability sake I think a one or two-year deal at $10-12 million a year is fair for both parties. We’ll see what the open market has to say about his worth this summer.

@JoeyHaim: What is the logic of not playing Richaun Holmes at least 25 minutes a night?

As of late, it seems as though Brett Brown has only decided to play Holmes when Joel Embiid isn’t available to play, or when the other bigs get into foul trouble. He’s averaging 16.2 minutes per game this season, but he’s got three DNP-CDs in the last five games alone. For someone who is continuing to show improve on the offensive end without hurting the flow of the team, it is somewhat puzzling his role is so limited. He’s shooting 54.1 percent from the field, and is showing potential as a three-point shooter (7-15), albeit on a little sample size. Holmes’s rebounding has improved notably. His defensive rebound percentage is 21.7 percent, up from 11.7 percent last year, and his total rebound percentage is 15.9 percent. Both of those numbers blow Jahlil Okafor out of the water.

There’s a couple reasons why Holmes isn’t playing more, and they’re likely both Okafor related. Considering the Sixers are already dealing with one pissed off big man in Nerlens Noel, the last thing they need is to agitate another top pick in Okafor — who likely isn’t too happy with having to come off the bench — by having a second rounder dip into his already limited playing time. Okafor’s longterm future in Philadelphia is probably hazy, but his trade value is probably at an all-time low, and the potential of him pulling a Nerlens in an attempt to force the Sixers hand will only make it worse. Whether he means it or not, Brown continues to publicly praise Okafor’s effort, so giving Holmes more minutes would send out very mixed signals.

While Holmes is certainly a better rebounder than Okafor, they both really struggle in rim protection and pick-and-roll defense. According to NBAWowy.com, opposing teams are averaging 1.138 PPP (points per possession) while shooting 47.6 percent when Holmes is on the floor, and 1.065 PPP on 45 percent shooting when he’s on the bench. Although both numbers are horrid, teams are shooting worse in the restricted area when Okafor is on the floor (61.8 percent) as opposed to Holmes (66.1 percent). As much as I feel Holmes deserves consistent playing time, it’s hard to imagine Brown ceding Okafor’s minutes when Richaun isn’t making up for Jahlil’s issues on the defensive end.

@FanSince09: When do you eliminate Joel’s minutes restriction?

It’s going to be up to Dr. David T. Martin and his sports science staff, but I doubt that decision is made at any point this season. The team has surprisingly increased his playing restriction to 28 minutes per game, and that wasn’t something they were expected to adjust until Christmas time. Clearly they’ve seen a large enough sample size to the point where they’re comfortable enough to tinker with the amount of time he’s allowed to play, but any thoughts of removing it entirely are probably still off the table.

In my opinion, the next logical step for Embiid would be to get rid of some of the non-back-to-back games where he sits out entirely, which would allow him to test his foot against the rigors of a more regular playing basis. If that works, then they could continue to decrease the restriction as they work their way up to Brown’s goal of 36 minutes per game. The final step will likely be allowing him to appear in back-to-back games before eventually removing the minutes restriction in its entirely.

Philadelphia still isn’t in a position to win a serious amount of games, so there’s still no real reason to worry about giving him consistent playing time. The focus should be to gradually increase his workload over the next few months with the goal of him being a full go by the start of the 2017-18 season.

@bflynn_12: Has T.J. McConnell been much worse this year?

In the shooting department, McConnell is certainly struggling. The shot chart has a lot of red on it.

TJ

McConnell shot 47 percent from the field last year on 464 total attempts, and not only is his field goal percentage down, but he’s not even on pace for half as many shooting attempts as last year. He may just be one of those guys who needs to establish some sort of rhythm to find confidence and his shooting stroke, and that just hasn’t been there for him. In his rookie season, he averaged nearly 28 minutes a game and shot almost 52 percent from the field. Even though his minutes per game dipped as the season went along, McConnell still displayed confidence in his ability to shoot the ball. That same swagger just hasn’t been there yet, and with Sergio Rodriguez and Jerryd Bayless (although his status seems to be up in the air again) commanding time at the point, he may not get enough reps to feel comfortable again. On the bright side, McConnell is still averaging 8.2 assists per 36 minutes — the same as last year — and is averaging 1.4 steals per game. Considering his outlook on this team past this season is likely as the third point guard, the only thing the team really needs from him is good passing and solid on-ball defense, and he’s still providing that. Any quality shooting would be an added bonus.

Thanks for reading. As always, you can send me your questions on Twitter @JakePavorsky, or via email at jake.pavorsky@gmail.com