The Sixers aren’t losers anymore. The bandwagon is overflowing. Multiple potential superstars line the roster. The team sold out its initial allotment of season tickets. The new world-class practice facility draws rave reviews from every player on the roster as camp kicks off. Legitimate NBA players are competing for minutes throughout the entire roster.
Gone are the days of fringe NBA players trying not to give away their shots. Gone are the brick-layers of yesteryear. Some vestiges of that era remain - here’s to Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell for kicking down their proverbial doors into the NBA - but most of the roster are well-established athletes or are high draft picks with the pedigree to be great someday. Also, Jahil Okafor is still around, but even he’s turned a new leaf.
It’s a new day, yes it is. And we’re going to celebrate it in our player previews, which will focus on the change in the air, the new faces, and the old faces in new era of Sixers basketball. We’ll compare and contrast the old and the new, though the writers here might change the format up day-by-day. Today's discussion centers around Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Justin Anderson, and what the Sixers’ playoff hunt means for them.
Sixers’ wings have had it pretty easy in terms of playing time these last few years. While point guard has received most of the press as being the Sixers’ most problematic position, the team’s wing depth was especially anemic the last few years. The presence of a pulse was the only real requirement to garnering playing time. James Nunnally? Sure, why not! Medium Dog Robinson? Here, have 15 minutes a game!
Even the Process-era stalwarts like Hollis Thompson and JaKarr Sampson were not of real NBA quality. JaKarr washed out of the league after signing with Nuggets in the aftermath of the Joel Anthony debacle (DEBACLE, I TELL YOU), and now plies his trade with the Reno Bighorns.
I just made that team up.
Or did I?
You have no idea, which shows exactly how relevant the Sixers’ frequent starting SF has become (The Reno Bighorns are the Kings’ G-League affiliate). Hollis, meanwhile, bounced around some SL squads for teams desperate to inject shooting, but now plays for Olympiacos in Greece.
All I’m saying is: Our wings were a goddamn tire fire the last three years.
Which was a convenient situation for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Justin Anderson, two young players who (a) had pulses, and (b) were wing-sized. This meant that they each played decent-sized roles on the squad last year, each contributing at least 15 minutes per game.
TLC began the season in Delaware, as he looked clearly overmatched in Summer League, but showed enough that he forced his way into the rotation by season’s end. While his 3-point stroke was somewhat less advanced than scouts (myself included) had hoped for after his time at Mega Leks, he showed quickness and tenacity as a defender on the wings, and his smart cutting and willingness to get out in transition provided much needed components previous players had lacked.
According to Ben Falk’s Cleaning the Glass, the Sixers performed 3.1 points per 100 possessions better with Luwawu on the floor, a result that can largely be attributed to defense. Opponents turned the ball over more frequently and shot less efficiently, dropping their efficiency to by 3.3 pts/100. While attributing team results to a single player is problematic, his disruption at the point of attack is the type of play one would expect to lead to these results (see: Seth Curry & Yogi Ferrell’s struggles against TLC/TJ in the Dallas game).
Anderson, meanwhile, became a regular contributor too. At a built 6’6 and with long arms, he’s the perfect physical specimen to fill the SF role, and Brown gave him the opportunity to grow there last year.
With the signing of JJ Redick and Robert Covington having long ago cemented a place in the starting lineup, the competition for wing minutes has risen sharply this year. Neither Luwawu nor Anderson can count on a consistent 20 minutes per game, and they’ll need to show improvement to lock down backup minutes on the wing.
While Luwawu’s team numbers were encouraging (and representative of my eye test) last year, his individual numbers were decidedly not. His Box Plus/Minus of -4.0 was among the worst in the entire league. He scored inefficiently, in the 31st percentile among wing players (again courtesy of Cleaning the Glass’s site). He struggled horribly with turnovers, and committed far too many fouls.
Anderson, meanwhile, has the makings of a 3-and-D player in theory who provides neither in practice. A career 28.9% 3-point shooter, Anderson has only ever demonstrated the capacity to shoot during his senior year at UVA, and even then he shot 23% over his last two months. While he has the tools to be a great defender, he lacks the awareness and IQ to impart value yet.
The two players will be in a scrum to back up Covington at the 3, and they both have clear avenues to proving their worth. If TLC can improve his above the break 3-point shooting (22 of 95 shooting last year) and cut down his turnovers while maintaining his defensive intensity and his corner 3-point shooting (41% last year), he could grow into the perfect running mate alongside Ben Simmons.
Anderson, who spent the summer working on his already formidable physique, and whose shoulders have morphed into actual slabs of granite, needs to improve his shoot to passable. Contributing at a high level is not impossible for him, but opponents will need to respect his shot. Plenty of great wings broke through later in their careers than he is. But with the limitations his ball skills provide, both as a passer and a ball handler, shooting is a paramount development for him.
As it stands, Luwawu probably has the upper hand in securing the backup 3 role. But with Redick in tow, plus the shooting capability of Furkan Korkmaz and Nik Stauskas added into the mix, both players will need to step up their game to show that they are deserving of featured roles on a team with serious playoff aspirations.