Note: The stats and figures below are as of January 31, prior to the team’s win over Golden State.
In the Denver Nuggets game on January 26, three Philadelphia 76ers starters of varying importance (Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, and Wilson Chandler) were sidelined due to injury, thrusting role players into larger roles. Each responded valiantly; 10-day player Corey Brewer started and scrapped his way to 20 points and six rebounds, Ben Simmons embraced the power forward role by grabbing 12 boards, and Shake Milton flashed potential as a rotation player, scoring 11 points.
Landry Shamet, however, provided the most impressive outing. Moonlighting as the 76ers’ backup point guard, the Wichita State product produced seven assists (a career-high) with only one turnover.
While point guard undoubtedly has the steepest learning curve of any position, Shamet has the experience to defy it. Throughout high school and his first year in college, Shamet was exclusively a shooting guard, but the graduation of Fred VanVleet gave him full-time point guard reins. Shamet answered the call, improving his assists per 40 minutes from his sophomore season (4.9) to his junior season (6.5).
Despite being one of four players in NCAA history to submit 14 points on 65% true shooting, 2.5 3-point makes, and 5 assists per game, scouts were skeptical of his lateral foot speed and ability to separate from quicker defenders. Thus, they shoehorned Shamet as a shooting guard.
Ultimately, Shamet dropped to the 26th pick. Now, teams regret skipping out on the Wichita State product, and will even more if he proves the ability to shift between two positions is sustainable.
With 70% of his field goals coming from outside the arc, Shamet has veered away from his archetype recently, creating off-the-dribble when defenders run him off the line. He also has exhibited nifty finishing ability when he gets to the cup.
Often, T.J. McConnell exerts too much energy trying to create, zooming in donuts around the rim only to burn substantial time from the shot clock. Shamet, on the other hand, seems to have an understanding of his limitations as a creator.
Rarely does the rookie over-dribble, swinging the ball around the perimeter if Ben Simmons has a size advantage in the post.
When Shamet swings the ball, the defense shifts its focus to his jump shot and Simmons’ post-up, carving out space for shooters.
Swinging the ball also allows Simmons to slink to the dunker’s spot. From there, he has the opportunity to tip-in the ball if the shot clanks off the iron.
On other teams, Shamet’s cautiousness — his inability to dissect a defense by dribbling or passing — would be perceived as a weakness. But when you have Simmons — who tends to slowly back down smaller defenders in the post, then zing passes to shooters — pairing him with an elite off-the-catch shooter in the backcourt solves spacing issues.
The above examples — creating and getting to the rim or mid-range — are two of McConnell’s best strengths. The best path for Shamet to earn additional minutes at point guard is proving he’s an upgrade over McConnell.
3-point shooting is another area where the Wichita State product — who is tenth in 3-point percentage (40.4%) for players who have taken as many attempts (230) — provides an upgrade.
What hampers the Sixers’ attack is not McConnell’s missing three-pointers, but rather, his unwillingness to launch the open ones — attempting a career-low 0.6 3PA per game despite receiving career-high minutes. This issue is exacerbated in lineups with Ben Simmons, who is allergic to 3-pointers.
Simmons in the dunker’s spot poses its fair share of upsides — he mops up messes at the rim for example — but McConnell in that spot only yields negatives. While defenses have to prepare for a Simmons alley-oop or tip-in when he stands in the short corner, they can wall off — or even double-team — the second-year guard’s post-ups when McConnell is stranded in the short corner. Lineups that feature Simmons and McConnell sans Embiid, have been outscored by 9.6 points per 100 possessions in 561 possessions thus far this season.
Aside from boasting a smoother 3-point stroke and an improved slate of creating, the other side of the floor could ultimately move the needle in Shamet’s favor.
Against the Nuggets, McConnell looked overmatched defensively — allowing Gary Harris and Monte Morris to repeatedly drive past him — which is a worrying trend when he defends athletic or bulkier players.
While Shamet is by no means a 3-and-D-worthy defender — exposed in the post and blown by on drives — he’s making progress in that area.
As our own Jackson Frank noted, since the New Year, the Sixers are posting a 100.8 defensive rating with Shamet on the floor and a 107.8 mark when he’s on the pine. Prior to that, Philly was bleeding 109.9 points per 100 possessions with Shamet and surrendering just 101.0 without him.
He has improved at is sweeping ground laterally, especially when sneaking through ball-screens.
Even if Shamet absorbs McConnell’s minutes, problems exist within the 76ers rotation. Most games, Brett Brown goes nine deep, electing to utilize McConnell as the backup point guard alongside Shamet. Eschewing McConnell from the rotation would mean the team would be left with eight current rotation players.
Given the volatility of Brown’s rotation up to this point — remember Furkan Korkmaz and Amir Johnson were once in the rotation — it’s possible Shake Milton garners valuable minutes. Another possibility is that one of (or both) Zhaire Smith and Markelle Fultz return in time to settle in before the playoffs. Without revving up the trade machine, the Sixers can scour the trade block or buyout market for a 3-and-D guard, such as Iman Shumpert or Wes Matthews.
If nothing else, Landry Shamet’s recent progress — both as a creator and defender — should convince the Philadelphia 76ers to experiment with him as the backup point guard.