We asked our twitter friends and real friends for some questions, hot takes, or ideas. Five of our writers banded together to discuss. This was part 1. Here is part 2 of a Liberty Ballers mailbag.
[signed Daniel in Astoria, NY]
Steve Lipman: I’m sure that the smart money for this question would be on Shake Milton (although his likely matriculation to starterdom might disqualify him) but I’m going to go with Furkan Korkmaz. Korkmaz shot extremely well for this Sixers this year, and competed enough defensively to remain in line for solid minutes for the rest of the season. He can be a flamethrower from 3 on a team that desperately needs that type of gravity, and his scorching hot weekend in February wherein the wingman scored a combined 65 points on 25-34 shooting showed us he certainly has it in him.
Dave Early: Per Cleaning the Glass Shake Milton leads the entire team in total points scored per 100 shot attempts at 129.8. That’s higher than both Ben Simmons (ranked 2nd) and Joel Embiid (ranked 5th). Shake is due for some regression on the blistering hot shooting but could still provide some big problems most teams just didn’t have to worry about during prior bouts.
Tyler Monahan: I really think that Matisse Thybulle is going to have a major hand in any success the Sixers have in the restart. He is still a work in progress offensively but his play on the defensive side of the ball is already reaching elite level. Once the pace of play slows down Thybulle is the defensive stalwart you want out there guarding the opponents best player. If he can go out there and bring the same energy and enthusiasm he did before the season was suspended while still being a threat from behind the arc he should have a role when the rotation shrinks. Half court basketball is incredibly important in the playoffs, Matisse Thybulle will prove that he deserves to be out there when it matters most starting in the eight games leading up to them.
Tyler Monahan: Victor Oladipo is now a question mark for the remainder of the season but assuming he’s out I’m going to say the Indiana Pacers would be the Sixers best option as a first round opponent. Without the star guard they are still a talented team but I think they’ll miss having a go-to scorer. Even with all of the solid pieces Indiana has none of them really strike fear into me. If I were the Sixers I would want to avoid the Boston Celtics at all costs. Philadelphia does match up significantly better with them now but the Celtics do all of the little things right that win games. Boston has been the Sixers’ boogeyman the last few years and I know they will eventually have to exorcise those demons but I’d rather not have to do it in the playoffs, especially in this environment when all of the detractors would question if it “really counted” anyway.
Dave Early: I have to agree with Tyler here. I think the Celtics would be the worst matchup of likely opponents in round one. I know they have no answer for Joel Embiid down low. But they’re so talented out on the perimeter, they can almost all shoot, they have a true superstar in Jayson Tatum, and they love to run, 6th in fast break points per game. Our bullies prefer to pummel not chase so I’d prefer Indiana (assuming no Oladipo) followed by Miami. Also the possibility that Sam Hinkie robbed the Kings blind and left Bryan Colangelo the third pick in the 2017 draft and the 14th pick in 2019 and now both of those picks were somehow wearing green and knocking the Sixers out of the first round wouldn’t bother me at all. (Twitches maniacally).
Dave Early: The painfully boring but true answer here is “you can never say never because they do have a shot and it also depends on stuff beyond Tobi blahblahblah....” But I fell asleep typing that and I didn’t miss your point because:
Sixers traded Landry Shamet and two first round picks for Tobias Harris so they could pay him $180 million https://t.co/wNp4jxkBtM— adam aaronson #BLM (@SixersAdam) July 13, 2020
Harris’ contract looks extra worse too since they then traded Jimmy Butler because rather than spilling way over the cap using their various bird rights to “run it back” with Tobi as an elite 4th fiddle, they opted to save money and become a salary-cap team limiting overall spend. This meant Harris’ deal became a slightly larger percentage of total payroll and also leads to him often playing out of position. But making things harder on yourselves doesn’t mean you have no chance! And technically a key opponent testing positive for the virus or Ben Simmons taking a step forward could be sufficient for them win the east. And of course, Harris, the team’s unquestioned emotional leader, could just break out himself.
Daniel Olinger: First off, thank you for the nice words and also for the great question — though it’s an incredibly difficult question given the nature of Malone’s game and the vastly different role of centers in 21st century basketball.
As I detailed in my video essay last week, Moses was never much of a post up scorer. Sure, he was capable of mauling weaker power forwards like Kurt Rambis with his massive posterior, but he was never known for having a treasure chest of moves like Kevin McHale or Hakeem the Dream.
While this seems like a negative, it actually scales well to his translation to a modern game, as his lack of dependency on isolation scoring is something most teams want in their non-shooting centers, and it would allow Malone to hone in on all the things that did make him to be great.
However, whereas modern centers who don’t try to create for themselves are rim running and shot blocking specialists, Malone struggled in both of those areas. His lack of pure vertical leaping ability, combined with his infamously tiny hands and lack of length would have made him a so-so rim protector, not to mention that it would have been physically impossible for him to catch and finish lobs mid-air. You wouldn’t be seeing Anthony Davis flying through the air dunks with him.
So what does that make him? Would he just be a backup along the lines of Ed Davis if we put his 18 year-old self in a hot tub time machine?
Perhaps that’s what happens if Malone gets stuck in a terrible situation with a team like the Knicks or T-Wolves, who might mismanage him and force him to do things to fit their system, rather then adapting themselves to try and accentuate what Moses does. You put four floor spacers around Malone, and he could kill opposing centers off the dribble with his quick twitch first step. He’d be able to rip through and drive to the bucket without running into a plethora of defenders like he did in the ‘80s. And while offensive rebounding has fallen by the wayside in favor of transition defense, that would only make it easier for Malone to punish teams on the boards, as it’s far easier to grab offensive boards when the lane is spread out like this:
Then back in ‘81 when it often looked like this:
Bottom line — projecting players is already very difficult. Malone only makes it more challenging, as he’s the only player in NBA history to use offensive rebounding as his primary method of attack. But I tend to trust that greatness finds a way, and while Malone might not win three MVP’s in the modern era, he’d still be remembered as an all-time great.
[-Daniel in Astoria, NY]
Steve Lipman: I’m going to choose to interpret this question as ‘in my personal favorite outcome, which non-Sixers team with a realistic shot would win it all?’ For the ‘realistic’ aspect of this exercise, I’ll go ahead an eliminate the Nets, Magic, Mavericks and Grizzlies — the 7 and 8 seeds in their respective conferences.
I’m also going to eliminate the Boston Celtics, because absolutely not.
The pain of Jimmy Butler winning a ring the second he leaves Philly would be too much to bear. So the Heat are out, too. The Raptors just had their time in the sun and the Bucks are too consistent an adversary for me to wish well on them. The Pacers winning an Oladipo-less would be good for comedy’s sake, so I’ll keep them in the running.
In the West, I’ll eliminate both LA teams right away, because I’m from Philadelphia. The Nuggets are fine and all, but the Jokic-Embiid discourse prevents me from giving them a ring. The Jazz — the current hotbed of All-Star infighting — serve me better off losing. If they lose and Donovan Mitchell says ‘it’s him or me’ to Jazz ownership, the team could move on from Rudy Gobert and become a potential suitor for Al Horford right away.
I’m now left with the Pacers, Thunder and Rockets. I really like the Thunder and think Chris Paul is fantastic. I’d very much like to see him get his ring, finally, on this underdog squad.
I’ve never been a Russell Westbrook guy, [editor’s update: who has reportedly tested positive for coronavirus although, thankfully, he’s feeling well and planning to return eventually]. But the Rockets do have Robert Covington, a man who I love with all my heart.
In the end, I’m going with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Out of the Sixers conference, we would be able to enjoy both the basketball history appeal of a top-5 all time point guard getting his ring, as well as the Process nostalgia of seeing Nerlens Noel receive the same.
Dave Early: I’m sold on what Steve said and I’ll add in if the Thunder take it down then we’d get their 1st round draft pick. Maybe we could give it right back to them in a trade for Finals MVP Chris Paul. Doesn’t Sam Presti hate keeping MVPs anyway?