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Sixers Mailbag: First Round Picks, Free Agency, and Markelle Fultz

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NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the most wonderful Sixers time of the year. A time when everything is possible, when miracles can come true: It’s January. And to honor that - and ease us into a stretch with only two games in the next 11 days, let me take and attempt to answer some of your questions. It’s mailbag time.

Gonna toss these two together to clarify one thing about the Sixers’ 2018 first rounder: The Stepien Rule does not apply. The rule means that a team cannot trade their first round picks in consecutive years. However, past drafts don’t count (such as the Sixers trading theirs last year), and it really means that a team can’t completely trade out of the first two years in a row. Sixers didn’t do that last year, and even if they lose the Lakers pick this year, they’re still guaranteed at least one pick in the first next year.

So, now that’s out of the way, let me hit you with a very solid answer of “I don’t know, but I probably wouldn’t.” I understand that you currently have three firsts in the next two drafts, so giving up one of those just puts you on par with a normal team - especially since it seems very likely that the Sixers’ pick this season won’t be as good as the Lakers’ pick (should they keep it) - but there are a couple of other factors at play. First, Bryan Colangelo just traded up in last year’s draft, and so far with Markelle Fultz not playing and Jayson Tatum playing very well, to some he’s got egg on his face. On the other side, you could probably argue that due to Ben Simmons missing a whole year and Fultz being whatever he is right now, the GM may want to avoid using the draft pick on a rookie and instead try to package it with - as said above - a Jerryd Bayless type for a more concrete commodity. That makes logical sense.

But the second point I have to make is this: I don’t know who that commodity is. It’s unlikely we’ll have any concrete confidence in who Fultz is by the trade deadline. The stated goal is the playoffs but there’s still a solid chance the Sixers don’t make it. And, as we learn every year, the lottery is a total crapshoot.

The Markelle situation is the only reason Bayless is playing as much as he is. If you believe it’s way too early to cut bait on Fultz - which I guarantee you the front office does - than this year’s first rounder shouldn’t be sacrificed just to dump Bayless.

Dangling is always possible because you never know who will bite. But the Sixers have pretty much telegraphed their desire to save money for next year’s free agency in an effort to land a big fish (or a couple of pretty decent sized ones). Unless someone jumps on the hook at the prospect of that pick, I think they’ll hang onto it past the deadline. Draft night is a whole different story.

Max and I discussed this recently on the pod. I think bringing JJ Redick back for a couple more years at a lower salary is a definite possibility. Avery Bradley would be strongly on my radar if I ran the team. I see a lot of people talking about Lou Williams but my thoughts are a little different.

Lou Will is honestly playing like an All-Star this year, but what he brings at his age is what you really hope Markelle Fultz will be bringing you in 2-3 years, right? So a shorter term deal could work out for Lou, or having him be your honest-to-goodness sixth man, but with the year he’s putting together, I see him filling a starting role somewhere that really needs him and would use him in that way. If this team didn’t have Fultz in the wings, I’d be all-in on Lou. But they do, so I’m not.

Outside of those guys, the list gets smaller. Derrick Favors is an interesting one to bring up, and I think he’d be a nice addition at the right price. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could be worth a look at a lower price after one year in LA. If you’re looking for people to fill out your bench minutes on the cheap, Marco Belinelli and our old friend Ersan Ilyasova will likely be very, very affordable. Tyreke Evans could be worth a look. The NBA’s best 13th man, Omri Casspi, could be on the move, though he took the vet minimum to play in Golden State and I’m guessing that may not have been a one-year plan. Few other UFAs jump out.

Justin Anderson was seemingly on track to being “available” the other night, though last night he was listed as out. I am no doctor, but from what I have heard, shin splints can be finicky things and actually linger after you feel close to 100%, making re-injury a big risk. I’d say we could see him as early as London, but it also wouldn’t shock me if he wasn’t back until the 2nd or 3rd game after that. Any longer, and I’d start to get a little concerned.

My expectations when he’s able to return aren’t incredibly high. He can hit that corner three every once in a while when he’s open, and he plays high-energy defense in the minutes he gets, but they aren’t that abundant. He played in ten games this season before his injury with four DNP-CDs sprinked in. In three of the games he did play, he was on the floor for fewer than 10 minutes. He put up a couple of decent performances in those games (and I somehow blacked out the fact that he attempted 7 threes in the first loss against Toronto), but injury aside I don’t think there’s any reason to expect much more than we have seen from him before.

Two more semi-related ones I’ll cram into one. First, I’m going to assume - perhaps incorrectly - that Markelle is going to be draped in a minute restriction for a good chunk of his time when he returns, if not the whole season. If that’s the case, it really won’t matter if he starts or not, but if he’s on the floor at tip-off I wouldn’t be shocked to see Robert Covington as the team’s first man off the bench. Ben Simmons has done a great job of guarding the point guard position so far, but I think if they want Fultz out there with the starting crew, Markelle can play a combo off-ball/on-ball role (not unlike when T.J. McConnell and Simmons share the floor, though with a likely higher usage rate that TJ) as Ben shifts to guard 3s on the other side.

When it comes to Fultz’s athleticism, I don’t think it’s a “major” concern in the slightest. Let’s not forget that this is someone - no matter what Boston fans constantly yell at you - who was a near if not full-consensus #1 overall pick with the athleticism he has. Most people know that players can get better over time and often do, but you can’t really count too many who all-of-a-sudden became more athletic than people thought. For the most part, no one starts jumping out of the gym in the pros if they didn’t show that in college.

But additionally, I don’t think it’s fair to say Fultz’s athleticism is below average. It’s surely not elite, and you’ll often see the word “unique” used as a descriptor — which can often be a code word for “not.” But I defy you to tell me this dude is below average athletic:

And just for fun, let’s fly way back:

He’s not Russell Westbrook, but that’s okay. You want your #1 overall pick to do a lot of things at an above average level. Ben Simmons is crazy athletic, and that’s part of what made him another consensus #1 overall. But Fultz’s calling card is his ball-handling, shooting, and scoring. Those things - especially the second - are the ones that would worry me, not his athleticism.