One of the Sixers’ most pressing needs this offseason was finding a formidable bench that could go up against other top teams in the league. They did just that through both free agency and the draft, and yet, going into Summer League, the team still had a glaring hole at the backup point guard spot. After the departure of Philadelphia’s adopted son T.J. McConnell, the team needed to find a new player to soak up the available minutes when Ben Simmons isn’t leading the offense. General manager Elton Brand must have had the same concerns as you and I, because he went out and found two formidable options in a market that had quickly dried up once most of the top free agents were off the board.
Raul Neto was a name many were hoping the Sixers would grab after the Brazilian was waived by the Utah Jazz, and luckily, he felt the same way. Signing a one-year deal in Philadelphia, it seemed as if the Sixers had found their backup, but Brand later decided to pull the trigger on signing another veteran guard in Trey Burke. The Sixers lacked any sort of depth last year and it hurt them badly. This year, the team is learning from their mistakes and bringing in several talented players to compete with each other for minutes. Both Neto and Burke bring something to the table that the Sixers have been missing, and that should allow them both to find their way onto the court.
For as much as Sixers fans love T.J. McConnell, it became very obvious that his ceiling on this team was capped because of his offensive limitations and seemingly bad fit alongside several other key players on the team. We’ll miss the fiery guard, but the play of the two new guys could help ease the pain of losing an original Processor. McConnell’s lack of an outside side held back the offense from running at full strength, and while he did grow that part of his game, it still felt clunky during his tenure here. Yes, Ben Simmons doesn’t have an outside shot either, but when all of the minutes coming from the point guard spot come without one, the offense becomes much easier to defend.
Now, with McConnell out and two new guards in, this will no longer be a problem. Both Neto and Burke are more than willing shooters who give the team their first real threat from the outside as a lead ball handler since the days of Isaiah Canaan.
Raul Neto doesn’t rely heavily on his outside range to score, but by being a career 37 percent 3-point shooter, defenses must account for that portion of his game. Sneakily fast, Neto uses that to his advantage and can often be seen driving past his defender to the paint where he can then decide if he wants to pass out for a better look or take the shot. More of a true point guard than Burke, Neto picks and chooses when to take his shots, opting to set up his teammates more often than setting himself up. A pass-first point guard who isn’t afraid to let it fly from deep is what the Sixers have needed, and he could fill that role rather easily.
Trey Burke has had more of an opportunity to show what he brings offensively, because he has had the chance to start games more frequently than Neto and received a minutes bump from playing on weaker teams. An instant offense role player, Burke has no fear of shooting from deep, a welcome addition to the Sixers backcourt. This past year he shot 35 percent from 3 between stops with the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks, launching it from deep 2.7 times per game. Besides having the range to pull defenses to the perimeter, Burke is athletic enough to challenge on the inside and fight for tough baskets other players his size might be wary of trying. He might not be on every night, but when Trey Burke is feeling it, his offense can shoulder the load for any bench unit.
When trying to figure out who is going to take the reins as the backup point guard to start the season, both players’ weaknesses also need to be addressed. Neto’s biggest problem has been his ability to stay on the court, most recently only playing in 37 games due to injuries to his hamstring, groin, knee, and head. Even prior to last season, Neto had only played in 81 of a possible 164 regular season games for the Jazz, a very concerning statistic. If he can stay healthy, he should be a calming force to a group of frenetic bench players, but that is a big if when looking at his injury history.
Trey Burke is probably the more exciting of the two point guard signings this offseason, but he also comes in with some question marks. To this point in his career, it seems as if Burke has settled into the role of being the instant offense guard that can be called on as a spark plug. His offensive skill is certainly enticing, but the Sixers don’t necessarily need that type of player taking up most of the backup minutes. In short spurts this may work, but in the past having a backup that can pick and choose when to speed things up and also slow things down has worked. Burke being such a high motor player is more of a good thing than bad thing, but him constantly in attack mode might not fit the traditional backup point guard role.
The Sixers have some tough decisions to make when it comes to their bench unit for the first time in a while, as there seem to be too many playable guys and not enough minutes to go around. As of now, the safer option at backup point guard seems to be going with Raul Neto, at least to start out the year. Trey Burke shouldn’t be phased out of the rotation, but keeping him in that spark plug role while you see if the calm demeanor of Neto works could be a nice option. Obviously things change over a long season, but if Neto can stay healthy and continue to show his great combination of poise and skill. then the Sixers may have found a backup that fills in the spaces that their point guard depth chart has been missing for a while. Both Raul Neto and Trey Burke are likely going to have a positive effect on the Sixers, it’s just a matter of who gets the first crack. If I were to guess, that opportunity should be going to Neto.