The Philadelphia 76ers are having a strong offseason, nailing their draft and wisely sitting out of the NBA’s free agency spending spree (I’d give a kidney to Jerami Grant, but 3 years, $60 million? Yikes), so far only handing out a veteran minimum contract to Dwight Howard. Despite my enthusiasm for what Daryl Morey and Elton Brand have accomplished thus far, mostly undoing the mistakes Brand made last offseason, I regret to inform you that the Sixers still have a glaring need. The team still does not have a true point guard on the roster.
In drafting Tyrese Maxey, the Sixers get tremendous value. By many accounts, Maxey was a lottery talent, slipping all the way to 21st overall. Maxey projects as a creator on offense, but he’s really better suited to be an off-ball, occasional secondary initiator than a point guard running the show. Self-creation is more his bag than playmaking for teammates. We haven’t even mentioned that Maxey is a rookie and asking any rookie to run point on a contender, even part-time, is a huge ask.
Seth Curry, who the Sixers acquired from the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Josh Richardson and the 34th overall pick, is a perfect fit with Philly’s roster. Curry’s excellence from behind the arc (career 44.3% 3PT) gives the Sixers desperately needed shooting and pairs well with the strengths of both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. But while Curry can handle and pass decently enough to initiate offense, like Maxey, Curry is more of a shooting guard than a point guard. Asking him to do too much on offense as a creator takes away from what he’s best at: working defenses as an off-ball shooter.
Shake Milton stepped up in a big way for the Sixers last season. Although he’s got experience running the Sixers offense at times, Shake Milton doesn’t look exactly comfortable as a lead guard. His slow motion, methodical prodding as a ball handler in the pick and roll acts as a relief valve for the Sixers offense, but his assists totals (4.7 per 36) are just not what you want to see out of a point guard. Also of note is that while Milton’s pull-up shooting is nothing to sneeze at, he’s more deadly on the catch-and-shoot. We’re seeing a theme here with Milton, Maxey and Curry.
Finally, no matter how much Ben Simmons insists on being point guard, his game will really unlock when he learns to be effective off-ball. That’s not to say Simmons shouldn’t run the point at all. But he’ll always limit Philly’s spacing to some degree as a point guard without shooting range. And of course, he needs breaks now and again. As I’ve listed above, there are no bench players on the team who are natural point guards who can consistently run a steady halfcourt offense.
The good news is that the Sixers still have the taxpayer mid-level exception, worth a value of $5.7 million. There’s a good chance a portion of that is used to sign 49th overall pick Isaiah Joe, but that still leaves funds to acquire a veteran point at slightly more than the minimum. Daryl Morey may still be active in the trade market, but if the Sixers want to address backup point guard through a free agency signing there are a few options still available that could be had at the MLE-minus-Joe price tag: D.J. Augustin, Jeff Teague, and Rajon Rondo.
Out of that group, Augustin and Teague make the most sense to me. Our Tom West has already put together a piece explaining Augustin’s fit. Tom summarized his argument as so:
Ultimately, like anyone the Sixers might be able to afford in free agency, Augustin has limitations. But to provide some much needed playmaking, pull-up shooting, and effective pick-and-roll play for Rivers’ new offense, Philly should do what they can to sign him. Out of all the backup point guards they could feasibly target for the taxpayer MLE, he’s their best option.
As for Teague, he was very ineffective during his Hawks run to end the 2019-20 regular season (pre-bubble). What veteran wouldn’t be? They were garbage and Teague had no interest. But during his time in Minnesota, he proved to be about all you could ask for out of a backup point as he transitioned out of the starting lineup. Teague doesn’t offer the same level of 3PT shooting that Augustin does, but he’s efficient enough to keep defenses honest. Both players are solid options as 2nd unit point guards given who is available and what is feasible.
There’s still plenty of free agents left to be signed. Are the Sixers in agreement that they need a point guard? Only time will tell. They may not go the free agency route either, it’s very possible an even better option at point guard is made available in trade discussions. But the Sixers have about $5.7 million available to them as things stand. Using it on a stretch big wouldn’t be the worst allocation of resources, but wooing a veteran point guard seems to me to be the better use of the funds.