After about a week of free agency, the Philadelphia 76ers have shaken things up quite a bit on their roster. The team lost JJ Redick within the first 30 seconds of the free agency period, and then had a little bit of a problem getting Jimmy Butler to his preferred destination (the Miami Heat), before a third (and fourth) team swooped in to seal the deal. Big-ups to the Los Angeles Clippers (and the Blazers) helping everyone get this thing done.
The Sixers’ roster is mostly shaped out unless there are some notable minimum signings between now and the start of training camp. T.J. McConnell has been claimed by the Indiana Pacers. Farewell, sweet prince. The Phoenix Suns made a trade for Kyle Korver who will likely get bought out; the Sixers are reportedly a suitor along with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Things could continue to shake up between now and training camp, but this is where we currently stand.
Ben Simmons (16.9 ppg, 8.8 apg, 7.7 rpg)
Josh Richardson (16.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.1 apg)
Raul Neto (5.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 2.5 apg)
Zhaire Smith (6.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.7 apg)
Shake Milton (4.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.9 apg)
Matisse Thybulle (9.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.1 apg - averages at UW)
Last year, Simmons had a slight improvement in points per game as well as FT% per game. Granted, 60 percent from the foul line is not GREAT by any measurement, but the sense of utter dread doesn’t sweep over Sixers fans as unilaterally as it had before. The area that Simmons took arguably the biggest leap is his defense. I argued that Simmons should’ve been considered for at least All-NBA Second Team defense. He didn’t get that nod, but that’s okay because Simmons was better defensively from year one to year two.
It would be nice if Simmons improved a little in two areas. The first would be finishing at the rim. A lot of times last year, Simmons tried to finesse little lay-ups or floaters into the basket – which is fine, but there’s a better option. Ben, be your emoji. Thunder dunk the hell out of any basketball and vaporize anyone that challenges you to dust. You’re 6-foot-10 and about 230 pounds. There’s no need for you to try and finish like you’re Allen Iverson trying to finish among the trees.
Of course, the yearly tradition in relation to Ben Simmons is going to be this: Has his jump shot improved? We’re going to continue to ask this question every year until there is visible reasoning not to ask it. He still hasn’t made a 3-point attempt in his NBA career, and Simmons has attempted 17 total in two years. The soon-to-be third-year point guard just received an offer for a new contract extension, so if there was any reason to validate that contract, now would be a pretty damn good time.
Maybe Simmons doesn’t have to be as willing a shooter based on the acquisition of Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson in the sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler. Richardson is a different kind of backcourt mate than Butler. He’s similar to JJ Redick in the sense that he is a good shooter from 3. (He’s not as proven as Redick, but you can’t leave Richardson open for 3, either.)
Richardson is more of the spot-up, “I don’t need the ball to be effective” kind of shooter. Last season for Miami, Richardson was in the 69th percentile for spot-up shooting (1.054 PPP – points per possession – according to Synergy Sports). He shot 35.7 percent overall and 38.5 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s after hitting 37.8 percent the year before. Butler was 33.7 percent with the Sixers, but got better as the season progressed. Richardson was also a capable player on the hand-off (another staple of the Sixers offense) – 1.006 and in the 71st percentile.
Here’s where Richardson is an improvement over JJ Redick: the defensive end. Richardson is younger, quicker, and stronger than Redick. He won’t get beaten often off the dribble, and he can’t be taken advantage of in the post. Check this out. In these possessions, Richardson was able to block shots against Kevin Durant, Andrew Wiggins, AND Nikola Jokic:
Richardson blocking Durant, Wiggins and Jokic. He’s smaller than all of them. pic.twitter.com/C68mZ8bdgw— sixers in 6 (@dmay706) July 2, 2019
(Tom McGinnis voice): “Are you kidding me!?!”
Raul Neto was added to the roster on Wednesday. Neto adds his looks to an already pretty damn handsome Sixers bench. (Seriously, look at this guy. I can stare into his eyes and see the meaning of life.) Neto is a veteran point guard that takes over the primary backup point guard role after T.J. McConnell was scooped up by the Pacers.
What do you need to know about him? Well, Neto is just solid. He’s solid as a pick-and-roll ball handler (0.868 PPP/60th percentile). He’s careful with the ball. Last year for the Utah Jazz, Neto averaged 2.7 assists per turnover in the half-court and 5.3 (!) assists per turnover in transition. That’s good, right (considering the Sixers love to get out and run)?
There are questions after those two. Shake Milton hasn’t gotten a whole lot of minutes in NBA action, but he was offered a new four-year deal, so the Sixers definitely have faith in the former SMU Mustang. If nothing else, Milton was a flamethrower in college (career 43 percent shooter from 3) and averaged 1.339 PPP (98th percentile) in his senior year at SMU.
Zhaire Smith had a … very Sixersy rookie year. It started with him breaking his foot last August, then suffering an allergic reaction after ingesting sesame which slowed his recovery. When he was ready to go, he started in the G League before being brought up to the Sixers during the last month of the regular season, averaging about 19 minutes per game. He started the final regular season game and scored 17 points with four rebounds and five assists.
Thybulle was probably the best defender in the NBA draft, and the Sixers clearly targeted him – a proven thought after the team traded up to get him. Thybulle averaged 3.5 steals per game at Washington, so the Sixers may have lost Butler, but equaled him with two players in Richardson and Thybulle that can emulate his defensive importance while possibly giving Milton more minutes to supplement the loss of JJ Redick to New Orleans.
Milton, Smith, and Thybulle are all on the Vegas Summer League roster and participated in the team’s summer league mini-camp; I dare you to not watch this video of Zhaire and Thybulle cashing out on corner 3s without getting incredibly hype:
Zhaire Smith and Matisse Thybulle are getting up shots at the Sixers first summer league practice. pic.twitter.com/GEDz774JFa— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) July 1, 2019
(Barry Dillon voice from “Archer”): “Is this how you get hype, Barry? Yes, it is, Other Barry.”
Tobias Harris (18.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.9 apg - numbers with the Sixers)
Mike Scott (7.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.8 apg - numbers with the Sixers)
James Ennis III (5.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.8 apg - numbers with the Sixers)
(For the purposes of the idea of position-less basketball, I do recognize that all of the above players can play out on the wings, too, but Harris and Scott butter their bread primarily on the wing.)
Before free agency began, Tobias Harris had played for five different teams in his NBA career: the Milwaukee Bucks, the Orlando Magic, the Detroit Pistons, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Philadelphia 76ers. Now that his free agency has been decided, Tobias will (theoretically) play his next five years in the league with one team: The Philadelphia 76ers.
Harris received a five-year, $180 million contract on the opening night of free agency, despite only shooting 32.6 percent from 3 in a Sixers uniform after shooting 40 percent from three for both the Pistons and Clippers. Worry if you like, but this author won’t be joining you.
There’s something to be said about consistency. Harris will play his first full offseason with the Sixers after being shoehorned into a team that already had Jimmy Butler, Simmons, and Embiid. Harris is the clear third star and arguably the best perimeter threat in the starting lineup (38 percent from 3 on catch-and-shoot).
Stand up, Mike Scott Hive! He’s back, and he still ain’t no bitch.
Is there any doubt that Mike Scott is the new cult hero of Philadelphia 76ers fans? He joins a LONG list of players that include Tony Wroten, T.J. McConnell, and Robert Covington to name a few. Fellow Liberty Ballers writer Matthew del Rio has a “Mike Scott Hive” tattoo over his rib cage for goodness sake. The “Threegional Manager” has reached cult icon status. There’s no debate.
Scott hit 40 percent of his 3s last year, including a game-winner in game four against the Brooklyn Nets. He also led the Sixers in fans’ drinks per game:
James Ennis III returns as another switchable wing defender who played better down the stretch and in the playoffs than he did when he first arrived. Ennis was definitely the winner of the “quiet tournament” that also included Jonathon Simmons — who was traded to the Washington Wizards. An extra six fouls from a wing defender is valuable.
Joel Embiid (27.5 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 3.7 apg)
Al Horford (13.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.2 apg - with the Boston Celtics)
Kyle O’Quinn (3.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.2 apg - with the Indiana Pacers)
Jonah Bolden (4.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.9 apg)
Joel Embiid. What do we even need to say about this guy’s season last year? He led the team in points, rebounds, blocks, made his second consecutive All-Star game, his second consecutive All-NBA Defensive Team nod, and his second All-NBA team nod. His 27.5 ppg were a career-high, as were the 13.6 rebounds. Jojo makes this team go. We don’t have to bring up his on/off numbers because they cause PTSD.
(*Sigh*. Fine. I’ll bring it up.)
Offensively, the Sixers had an ORtg of 115.0 with Embiid on the floor versus 110.1 off. In the playoffs, those numbers were 116.5/101.2. Defensively, opponents had an ORtg of 107.6 with Embiid on the floor and a 112.6 with Embiid off. Playoff numbers are a bit rough: 96.1 ORtg for opponents with Embiid on the floor and 122.1 with Embiid off.
Embiid means so much to the Sixers both offensively and defensively, so you do want to have him out there as much as you can. He’s also had health concerns since he was drafted, so maybe it’s not a good idea to play him close to 34 minutes per game. That makes sense, right? Going into the offseason, the Sixers had to address the backup center position because it was a glaring weakness and the most likely reason the Sixers got bounced by Toronto.
… that and the alleged magnetic rims in Toronto. (I’m not flat out saying that was a thing. I’m just throwing the conspiracy theorists a bone.)
Enter Al Horford.
Horford has been torturing Sixers fans for years that feel like generations. I think my dad told me a story of how Horford was instrumental in slowing down Moses Malone in the ‘85 playoffs. I told my dad that it hasn’t been THAT long, but it certainly feels that way, doesn’t it?
The former Celtic is so many cliches wrapped up in one. He’s a lunch pail guy. He doesn’t do things that show up in the counting stats. He’s not flashy, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That’s fine. One of my favorite players of all time is Tim Duncan. He’s not flashy. He’s boring. He’s fundamental. He fits. That’s Al Horford.
He fits as a big man who isn’t quite the dominant defender that Embiid is, but can step in on those nights when Embiid needs a rest. Giannis Antetokounmpo is someone that the Sixers will have to deal with for the next five years or more. Having that extra large body that can bang with him is an asset. Embiid can’t do it alone in a seven-game series.
He fits as a big man who isn’t a stretch-4 in the way the NBA is moving towards, but he’s not useless from 3, either, as Sixers fans have seen. (I’m pretty sure Horford shoots 300 percent from 3 inside Wells Fargo, somehow, or against the Sixers as a whole.) He shot 37 percent from 3 last year for the Celtics, so he can hit 3s if he’s open, but he rarely forces them.
He fits as a big man who can start the offense from the 3-point line better than Embiid. Horford is a better passer right now. With Horford helping to initiate the offense and not Embiid, that allows JoJo to start his offense in the post as opposed to behind the arc. That’s huge. Let’s say a dribble handoff with Tobias or Josh Richardson doesn’t work right away. Then you can put Simmons in a PnR or just throw it in to Embiid on the block. Two points.
Horford is going to make the Sixers’ offense go in ways we may not have seen, yet, or at least not particularly effectively.
The last two bigs are extra minutes and fan favorites.
Kyle O’Quinn has been a player on Sixers fans’ radars for a while, now. He’s another one of those “kinda stretch-4’s” where he can’t really step out from 3, but like LaMarcus Aldridge, for example, he’s very effective from 12-18 feet. Any spacing is good spacing. I’ll take it.
Our own Kevin Rice will once again be the conductor on the Jonah Bolden express. You can find him pushing those train cars by himself on the northbound side of the Broad Street Subway. I love Bolden, too, but he lacked a bit of a necessary feel on the defensive end. Too many times, he got caught out of position which led to fouling which led to Brett Brown going with a hodgepodge of backup bigs that included Boban and (disgusted face) Greg Monroe.
The biggest takeaway from this free agency period, in my opinion, is this. The Sixers maybe didn’t want there to be any kind of power struggle on the court by bringing Jimmy Butler back. Butler is a great player, and he was clutch in the playoffs. Giving him a five-year max would have been completely warranted if that was the direction the Sixers wanted to go that way (and allegedly did).
It seems like the Sixers wanted to make it very clear going into the season that this is Ben and Joel’s team (or Joel and Ben’s, whatever order you choose). Joel is one star. Ben is another. Tobias is the third. That’s what we’re rolling with. Let’s build around this.
Let’s get Josh Richardson — a better off-ball guard/wing that doesn’t need the ball. Let’s get Al Horford — a guy that can give our All-Star big man a breather when we need that big man the most in the playoffs. Let’s draft Matisse Thybulle -- a guy that was the best defender in the draft. Let’s believe in some of the young guys we have (Zhaire Smith and Shake Milton). Let’s keep James Ennis III and Mike Scott, two veterans who buy in.
This is who the Sixers are after the first week of free agency. They didn’t run it all the way back, but that’s fine … because they’re better.