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Daryl Morey has the Sixers moving in the right direction after a brilliant draft

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2020 NBA Draft Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

This was always going to be a critical offseason for the Philadelphia 76ers. With no cap space, the overpriced contracts of Tobias Harris and Al Horford that would require assets to move, and a roster that didn’t fit together, plenty of changes needed to be made. As weeks went by after the Sixers’ season ended, with no improvements made to the team’s front office, the offseason got off to an uncertain start.

Eventually they made some good hires, such as new Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Peter Dinwiddie. Then the potential to turn things around really increased when the Sixers hired Daryl Morey to be their new President of Basketball Operations at the end of October. And in his first main day of action for the Sixers, Morey delivered.

And then some.

The trades

2020 NBA Draft Day started on a high note for the Sixers, as the deal that fans had been discussing for months finally happened — Al Horford was traded. The Sixers sent him to the Oklahoma City Thunder along with the 34th pick in this year’s draft, a 2025 first-rounder (protected 1-6), and the draft rights to Vasilije Micic in exchange for Danny Green and Terrance Ferguson.

The return for Horford and the ugly three years, $81 million ($69 million guaranteed) left on his deal was never going to be exciting. But even with the inclusion of Micic’s draft rights which may not be ideal, Philly did well to use only one first-round pick to get off Horford’s contract. And beyond that, they did even better to bring back a good player in Green who can provide help on the wing at both ends of the floor.

Even at 33 years old, Green is still a quality perimeter defender, with effort and intelligence that particularly stands out off the ball when he’s making crisp rotations or snuffing out potential scores in transition. He’s also a 40 percent three-point shooter for his career on good volume (4.7 attempts per game and 6.6 per 36 minutes). Green has a pretty quick trigger and moves well off the ball, which is just what the Sixers need on the wing.

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

The Sixers’ second trade came during the draft, as they dealt Josh Richardson and the 36th pick to the Dallas Mavericks for Seth Curry. At first, this may look like a bit of an overpay with the inclusion of a high second-rounder alongside Richardson. But this move is absolutely worth it for Philly for several reasons.

For one, Curry is a seamless fit offensively. He can’t be described as anything other than an elite shooter. For his NBA career, he’s shot 44.3 percent from three-point range on 1,007 attempts (6.3 per 36 minutes). He’s excellent relocating off the ball and can shoot at a high level off movement, with some pull-up skill as well. Along with some complementary ball handling, Curry will be a key part of how Morey has reshaped the roster to complement Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

Curry is also an absolute bargain on his current contract. He has three years left on his deal, starting at just $7.81 million next season and rising slightly annually to $8.55 million in 2022-23. Seeing as Richardson is on an expiring deal and would have surely been out of the Sixers’ price range in free agency next summer, exchanging him for three years of Curry at such a cheap price is a big win.

“Having a truly elite shooter changes the dynamic for Ben and Joel,” Morey said after the draft when discussing the acquisition of Curry. “... Those who watch the Sixers up close and personal know that when Joel and Ben have had that, it’s actually insane how good those teams played when everyone was healthy. That was really the theme for the night.”

The salary cap benefits

There are significant financial perks to the Horford deal, too. For a start, the two players the Sixers got in return for Horford — Green (owed $15.36 next season) and Ferguson (owed $3.94 million next season) — are both on expiring deals. There’s far less money set in stone for 2021-2022 now after Horford was set to make $27 million that year.

The Sixers also acquired a traded player exception (TPE) worth around $8 million from the Horford trade and another TPE worth around $3 million from the Richardson deal, which can be used for the Sixers to take on a certain amount of salary via trade — they just have to trade draft picks rather than sending out any salary.

The Sixers are now only a little over $1 million over the $138,928,000 tax apron, largely thanks to the Horford deal. Teams under the apron have more flexibility. For instance, teams can only complete sign-and-trades if they won’t exceed the apron after the deal, otherwise they’ll be hard capped. Teams can also use the full mid-level exception (MLE) if they can fit the full amount of the MLE under the apron. If the Sixers can shed enough salary, they’ll have these transactions at their disposal. While that may not be possible this year, getting under the apron and opening up the full MLE should be fairly easy to do for the 2021 offseason.

The full MLE is worth $9.25 million in the first year and can be used for contracts up to four years in length, which is significantly better than the Sixers’ current option of the taxpayer MLE. This starts at $5.71 million and can only be used for contracts of up to three years. If the Sixers are able to have the full MLE for 2021, it will be a really valuable tool to add notable talent in free agency.

Finally, there’s the matter of how well the draft played out for Morey and the Sixers.

Auburn v Kentucky Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The rookies

Tyrese Maxey was a dream pick for some Sixers fans, but seemed far too talented to be a realistic option with the 21st pick. Plenty of mock drafts had projected the 6’3” guard from Kentucky to go in the lottery or at least a pick or two after. Liberty Ballers’ Jackson Frank (who’s also an expert on the draft) had Maxey 6th on his final big board.

Landing Maxey as late as 21 was a brilliant pick for the Sixers. He’s a highly dynamic creator and driver with his burst, strength, crafty finishes, soft floaters, and touch near the rim. He can provide some creation in pick-and-rolls too, even though he needs to continue sharpening his passing and decision-making. How much he can up his three-point percentage is something else to watch (29.2 percent at Kentucky), but his range, touch, pull-up ability, 83.3 free throw percentage, and stronger shooting record before college are all good indicators that his shooting is better than the small Kentucky sample suggests. On defense, Maxey is terrific on the ball with good physicality, effort and lateral quickness, along with the instincts to be a positive off the ball, too. Ultimately, Maxey has the skillset to help the Sixers immediately, with the kind of upside as a creator that could help raise their offensive potential moving forward.

Isaiah Joe, a 6’5” guard from Arkansas, had been connected to the Sixers for some time. Reports that the team had even made a promise to take him (possibly with the 34th pick) started increasing as the draft approached. So, for the Sixers to get their man (one of the best shooters in this year’s class) so late in the draft with the 49th pick was a fantastic result. Joe is a strong team defender with the length and instincts to break up passing lanes and make sharp rotations, and has shown some improvements as a passer. His shooting is the obvious attraction, though. After burying 41.4 percent of his 8 threes per game as a freshman, his volume jumped insanely high last season to 10.6 attempts. Despite slipping to a 34.2 three-point percentage, Joe’s talent is evident when considering his volume and shot difficulty. He’s excellent off the catch with his range and confidence, and can be a threat with some pull-up threes as well with his footwork and step-backs/side-steps.

The Sixers even found an intriguing prospect with the 58th pick. They selected Paul Reed, a 6’9” power forward from DePaul. Reed isn’t a prospect I was too familiar with before the draft, but he placed in the 40s in some mock drafts and Philly received some praise from experts for picking him up so late in the draft. Reed’s main appeal comes from his finishing and highly disruptive defense, thanks to his rim protection, solid rebounding, and impressive lateral quickness and switchability. At the very least, Reed is worth a shot.

“Paul Reed is super underrated in our minds,” Daryl Morey said after the draft. “Especially with the Al Horford move, there’s a path there. He can guard multiple positions. With Joel, for the 13 to 15 minutes when he’s off the floor, Paul Reed’s a guy who can guard multiple positions and we can play a dynamic, uptempo shooting (style). Good fit with Ben.

“Obviously, they’re all rookies, so the reality is that most rookies take more than a year to even contribute,” Morey added. “But obviously, Ben and Joel are going to be here a long time, and we feel like all the guys we took are very good fits with those guys.”

Put everything together, and the Sixers can run a starting unit with more shooting and a far smoother fit in Simmons, Curry, Green, Harris (where he belongs at the 4), and Embiid. To help address their need for more creation, shooting, and affordable talent, the Sixers’ two top draft picks, Maxey and Joe, are terrific. An improved financial situation will only help their team building moving forward, too.

Of course there’s more work to do. The Sixers could still use more perimeter creation and playmaking, they need to address their backup center situation in free agency, time will tell how much their rookies can play early on, and new head coach Doc Rivers will be introducing a different system to adjust to. But the Sixers made a lot of important steps in the right direction on draft day.

The start of Daryl Morey’s tenure in Philly couldn’t have gone much better.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.