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Sixers Free Agency So Far: Some Thoughts On Wilson Chandler, JJ Redick, Kawhi Leonard, Amir Johnson and Others

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NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: Randy submitted a lengthy piece offering his thoughts on the Sixers’ endeavors during the Free Agency period thus far. We’ve chosen to split it into two parts. The following is part 1.

Herewith, some thoughts on what the team has done so far, and what might happen next. I wrote this piece, then Amir got signed and I had to rewrite. Now we have Bjelica, and I thought that rather than rewrite again I’d just leave it as it was, so readers could see my thinking as it evolved in response to developments. I’ve just added a short coda at the end [of part 2].. Enjoy!

No Love for Luc?

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute felt like the obvious addition before the Chandler deal, and even now he still seems like a great fit. Can play PF or SF, defends extremely well, can hit the three. Played here before and seemed to enjoy it, and is close to Joel Embiid. Frankly it’s a puzzle to me why we would trade for Chandler when we could (presumably) have signed LRMAM instead. Of course we don’t know what Luc will get, or what it would take to lure him to Philly. But last year he played for the veteran minimum, and while he’s likely to get more than that, I doubt he’ll get more than $4.5M. So suppose we’d signed him instead of adding Chandler, who plays the same positions. What are the tradeoffs?

Pro Chandler:

  • We wouldn’t have the second-round pick or the second-round pick swap we got in the trade
  • Chandler drives and finishes better than Luc, according to my sources

Pro Luc:

  • Saves about $8M in cap space which we could use now or at the trade deadline.
  • Luc is a vastly better defensive player and, as best I can tell, a lot better overall

Maybe you don’t like Luc; in that case you might consider Nemanja Bjelica, about whom a similar story can be told, though he may be less versatile, less effective at SF, than Chandler or LRMAM (not sure about that, though!). But to me this seems like an easy win for the Luc plan. Now, maybe they’re going to sign Luc (or Bjelica) as well as adding Chandler, in which case the comparison is irrelevant. Or maybe there’s a plan to include Chandler in a trade. But as of now, I have to admit I don’t get it. Second rounders have value, but we have so many of them over the next few drafts, and we’ve shown sufficiently little ability to turn them into more compact assets, that I feel the $8M would be worth a lot more than the picks. And we’d have a +1 player for the year instead of a -1. Which brings us to...

Wilson Chandler’s Defense

Can someone please explain to me why it’s become de rigeur to refer to Wilson Chandler as a “two-way player” even though his defensive statistics range from bad to terrible? I mean, is the point just that he plays on both ends of the court? Because in that case, everyone is a two-way player except maybe Jahlil Okafor. But if two-way player means what I thought it meant, which is that you are average or better at both ends, well, I desperately hope that’s the case for Chandler, but I could use some help being persuaded. Let’s do the usual three categories. I’ll average the past two years for ease of reading; Chandler is a very consistent player, but for what it’s worth his defensive on-off numbers last year were better than the year before, which was good to see!

On-off stats:

2016-18 defensive RAPM: -1.1

2016-18 defensive RPM: -.9

Combo stats:

Defensive BPM: -0.9

Drtg 113

Traditional, per 36:

Steals 0.6

Blocks 0.7

Defensive rebounds 4.5

None of these numbers are good. Some are a little below average, and some a bunch below average. Chandler is 31; he is older than Old Man Amir Johnson, so we should expect him to be meaningfully, though not hugely, worse next year than last.

Are the defensive numbers hiding a secret defensive skill? Maybe, but what could it be? He’s not anything much at steals or blocks or rebounds. Other traditional numbers are combined into DBPM and Drtg, but if they’re helping, they sure aren’t helping much. And then the things that aren’t counted at all but that still matter a ton, the Amir Johnson stuff, things like being in the right spot and giving help... those things should show up in the on-off stats if they exist, but Chandler’s on-off defensive stats are also poor. So, as I say, if someone can show me why Chandler is a better defender than his numbers suggest, please do. I’m eager to feel better about this trade, but so far I’m struggling.

Chandler’s Offense

What about Chandler’s offense, and overall game. Meh. He’s an OK three-point shooter, good for a PF, not so great for an SF. My understanding is he’s really a PF at this point in his career, which means he’s a fill-in for Ersan. It was too much to hope that we could get a guy as good as Ersan for the vet minimum again, that was a huge break last season. But by the on-off stats I trust Chandler is a -1 player, closer to -2 than to zero. Whereas Ersan was a +1. And did I mention we’re paying him almost $13 million? Basically, as best I can tell Chandler is about as good as Trevor Booker, who was paid $9M/season, i.e. Booker was also a highly-paid, below-average-but-solid vet. Booker was better on D, worse on O, didn’t spread the floor so Chandler is a better fit with our team. But in the end Chandler isn’t likely to give us a lot more on net than Booker did — he’ll be an adequate backup PF at a high price. He’s meaningfully less effective at both ends than Ersan.

Did the Sixers actually address weaknesses?

Overall, I guess what’s so disappointing in the JJ and Chandler additions is this: after the playoffs there were two camps among Sixer fans. One said we eeded to add wings who could shoot and also create (here by “wing” I mean primarily SG and SF). The other camp felt we needed wings who could both shoot and defend. All agreed the ideal addition would shoot, create, and defend. Those are rare and costly, so failing that if we could add one shoot-and-create wing and one shoot-and-defend wing, that would have been solid. We had $25M to spend, extendable to $35M if we paid the cost in draft picks necessary to clear Bayless. We tried for a superstar who could shoot-create-defend and fell short; that’s life, you pays your money and you takes your chances. But then we spent all the money and added not only zero triple threat wings, but zero double-threat wings! I mean, I guess if we squint hard enough we can count Chandler as a self-creator, but really, it’s a stretch. As noted above he’s really a PF not a wing; from what I read he’s too slow to guard wings. And his shooting is OK but not that great in either percentage or volume. And he’s not really a creator, he gets very few assists and had less than two dozen dunks all season so it’s not like he’s bringing violence at the rim or anything. He scored 11 points per 36 last year, which is not impressive. For every 36 minutes he played, he took 6 two-point shots and hit 3 of them; that doesn’t scream “creator” to me. And as mentioned above, his defense appears well below average. And since his three-point shooting is just OK (36% on 3.8 attempts last year), he’s really not a plus on any of the three categories.

So, that’s frustrating; you can do a lot with $25M to solve problems, and we didn’t solve them. We still have the room exception, so there’s that. And, perhaps we are fine because Markelle and Zhaire will be the double- or triple-threat wings we desire. I have some more to say on that subject. But I’m just saying, what we learned from Boston was that single-threat players like JJ are problematic in the playoffs, and then we used our assets to get at least one and arguably two such players, and it seems like a shame.

Are the Sixers done?

Could Chandler play a role in a Kawhi Leonard deal? The other day I wrote that if we could trade Dario, the Miami pick, and our own 2019 first-rounder, modestly protected, for Kawhi that we should do it. I argued that this deal might interest San Antonio because it also provides them with $19M of cap relief. Of course that deal is impossible now; we don’t have the cap space. But I believe that with minor tweaking — i.e. we might need to include some combination of Richaun, TLC and Justin — a deal of Dario + Chandler + the two picks could work under the cap. Now, if I were San Antonio I’d rather have the same deal without Chandler; I think he’s a negative asset, and the fact we got picks to take him suggests I’m right! But things are not that simple; sometimes an expiring contract is a crucial space-filler. That’s because if you’re $15M over the cap, and you do a deal that reduces your total salaries by $12M, you don’t get any cap space! Whereas if you get back a $12M expiring contract instead, you can maintain that additional spending, and probably stay at that higher level in future years.

Anyway, back to my Kawhi idea. I was hoping to get it down to two first-rounders, Miami’s and one of ours. Maybe we’d have to add that third first-rounder the Spurs wanted; I’m OK with that as our pick will be late and we have some high seconds that will be almost as valuable in that 2021 draft. In other words, San Antonio supposedly wanted Dario, Cov and three picks and I’m ready to offer Dario, Chandler and three picks and hope they don’t think it’s as big a difference as I do! I’ve seen some fans here suggest that Chandler could replace Dario in the deal; that seems unlikely to me as I’d guess SA wants the young player, Dario. But, sure, if the Spurs want to do Cov/Chandler/picks, I’m up for that too. All this is contingent on a medical check and conversations with Kawhi that (regardless of what words he says) leave us believing we have a 50-50 or better shot to get him to stay with us. I know some of you think that chance is 0%, and to that I’ll just admit i really don’t know and I’m willing to trust Brett’s judgment on whether we have a shot worth taking. I’ll just remind everyone that if we did a deal of this type, our starters would be:

Joel

Cov

Kawhi

JJ

Ben

with sixth man Markelle or Zhaire, whichever one is a better player come April. That is a really serious squad, as good as any in the East if all teams are healthy, in my humble opinion. Boston of course will have a terrific team, but I’m just saying, go look up the RPM in their last full season for all players on both teams, you’ll see that the #1 person is Kawhi Leonard, at around +8, and numbers 2 and 3 are Covington and Embiid, at around +5, and only then do we get to +4 Horford, and the next three are Simmons, Hayward and Tatum, right around +3. Irving and Brown are lower still. I know Tatum outplayed Cov and Simmons both last time, so if you want to write Cov and Ben off, fine, that’s your prerogative. In my opinion my hypothetical Sixers squad should, and would, be favored against the current, very fine, Celtic team.

Oh, and if we can get Jimmy Butler for a similar, perhaps a bit smaller package, sign me up for that as well. Butler is not as good as Kawhi when both are at their best — Kawhi is on that tiny list of guys who have a realistic chance to be MVP next year, and Butler isn’t — but Jimmy is easily top 10, and I’d love to have him. Give me Jimmy for Dario, Chandler and a pick or two, and I’ll see you at the Finals!