Despite coming up empty on the star hunt, many people considered Philadelphia’s offseason a moderate success thanks to a forward-thinking draft night trade and a series of reasonably priced moves to deepen the rotation. Now, with yesterday’s news that Nemanja Bjelica is going back on his agreement to sign with the Sixers and will instead stay in Europe, that depth is already called into question.
Given how late in the free agency game this curveball came at the Sixers, there are limited options still available on the open market. 29-year-old Michael Beasley is probably the best option out there. Like Bjelica, B-Easy can play both forward spots, and in 74 games with the Knicks last season, averaged 13.2 points while shooting 50.7% from the field and 39.5% from three (albeit on just 1.2 attempts per game). Beasley is more self-creator than off-the-ball spot-up shooter, but he could provide an interesting dynamic off the bench.
More likely, the Sixers will opt to roll with what they have and retain the room exception previously slotted for Bjelica for candidates who become available on the buyout market. Until then, Brett Brown will have to get creative with how to fill the 18-20 minutes per game behind Dario Saric. There is no other stretch big type off the bench (remember, Bjelica was slotting in to the departed Ersan Ilyasova’s role in that regard). So Brown will have to play the matchups and either bulk up or trim down the lineup.
With Philadelphia wanting as much shooting as possible around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, playing two bigs is probably not a path Brett Brown will travel very often, but is still something we might see. Richaun Holmes was a consideration to be released from his non-guaranteed contract, but now seems locked in to make the team. Jonah Bolden is another guy who may have earned a second life despite an underwhelming Summer League performance.
During the 2017-18 regular season, Holmes played 93 minutes alongside Joel Embiid and 21 minutes alongside Amir Johnson. The Holmes-Johnson production was poor over such a small sample size, but the Holmes-Embiid pairing scored 1.174 points per possession, while allowing 0.929 ppp (per NBAWowy!). We may see those two take the floor together more often this year.
The more likely scenario involves the Sixers playing smaller. Wilson Chandler and Robert Covington are both fully capable of playing the four-spot (and are arguably more effective there than at small forward). Brett Brown can bump them up a position and open more minutes on the wing for rookies Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet, or Summer League supernova Furkan Korkmaz.
The final avenue for the Sixers is to maximize the time together between the three point guards on the roster, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, and T.J. McConnell. At nearly seven feet, some people have called for the Sixers to experiment with Simmons as a small-ball center, so he’s certainly equipped to guard opposing power forwards. Both Fultz and McConnell offer varying degrees of spacing concerns next to the outside shooting-averse Simmons, but it’s intriguing to have multiple ball-handlers on the court. If Fultz’s shot has been fixed to the degree Drew Hanlen has led us to believe, we’re going to see plenty of Simmons and Fultz together anyway.
Nemanja Bjelica’s decision to stay east of the Atlantic is by no means a disaster, but it does chip away at the valuable depth the Sixers had built. It’s a long NBA season and injuries are bound to occur. It’s always nice to have valuable bench players who can step up and take on a longer role as needed, or step up on a given night when a starter is having an off game. With Bjelica no longer in the fold, it becomes more imperative that some of Philadelphia’s younger, more unproven options take a step forward this season.