The Sixers didn’t acquire a big name free agent this offseason. While there is still time, it feels more and more likely that they will stand pat and ride with what they have for this upcoming year. Just because a big name wasn’t brought in doesn’t mean the Sixers failed to fix some questionable spots on the roster. Re-signing JJ Redick and Amir Johnson weren’t the only moves the team made, as they also traded for a much needed bench wing in Wilson Chandler and signed backup power forward Nemanja Bjelica to a one-year deal.
Many were upset with the idea of “running it back” with the same roster as last year, but the Sixers made the correct move. Not mortgaging their future, the team is banking on improvements from their young core in order to make another playoff run and hopefully sign a big name next offseason. Bringing together a more well-rounded team was needed after a tough playoff loss to the Boston Celtics, and through much smaller deals the team has been successful. Chandler and Bjelica won’t light the world on fire, but they may give the Sixers a better chance at success come playoff time.
One of the things everyone noticed the Sixers needed in the offseason was a better group of wing players. The team made sure that they will have plenty of options this season, drafting a hard-nosed wing in Zhaire Smith and bringing in experienced veteran Wilson Chandler. The team should be excited to give Smith solid minutes out of the gate. He immediately solves the problem of weak defense on the second unit and gives them extra bounce.
In a perfect world, the Sixers should be able to play Smith and Chandler together, even if they may be battling for the same minutes. If the Sixers decide to make the second unit backcourt a combination of T.J. McConnell and Markelle Fultz, then Zhaire Smith may have to move down and play a little less natural of a position at small forward. Because Smith is such a good defender it may give the Sixers the chance to move Chandler over to power forward at points. Chandler has the length to defend the position and would give the team an extra shooter from outside that other power forwards may have trouble defending.
Small ball lineups might not be something that is solely utilized, but switching things up to get more defense and energy could work. Chandler brings a little bit of everything in his game: reliable defense, ability to drive, and threat of an outside shot. Getting him into the lineup in a variety of ways should be important. At the end of the day, Chandler should settle nicely into his role as backup small forward/power forward.
The other acquisition this offseason is one that didn’t make many waves. Nemanja Bjelica is a depth signing that can become a big piece off the bench as the season progresses. Seemingly taking the Ersan Ilyasova role of last year, Bjelica has a solid shot both inside and out and can defend his position well. The problem is, if Wilson Chandler is used as a stretch power forward, then Bjelica may find himself struggling for consistent minutes. His main position is power forward but he has also shown the ability to play some small forward when needed, but not much center. Bjelica plays his best when next to a more traditional big man, so pairing him with someone like Joel Embiid, Amir Johnson or Jonah Bolden could help him get more open looks on offense and defend a player closer to his size.
By adding yet another threat to shoot from the perimeter, the Sixers could have a full second unit that makes defenses have to constantly keep their guard up. It’s not a necessity to have a lineup like that, but it’s just another way to break down a defense. Brett Brown will have to do a lot of mixing and matching in order to get all of these bench players minutes, so Bjelica will need to show off his versatility in order to crack the lineup consistently. Whether or not Bjelica becomes a major factor for the second unit remains to be seen, but what this signing has done is give the Sixers another option at several positions, something they didn’t have much of last year.
The Sixers needed more depth and athleticism in order to fight against other playoff caliber teams and they got it. Through drafting, trading, and signing, the Sixers were able to build up a stronger roster that can highlight the strengths of their young and improving core. Neither are the big name that most fans wanted, but both Wilson Chandler and Nemanja Bjelica should produce in roles that will leave fans happy.