If you’ve ever taken part in a salary cap fantasy draft you may have considered competing theories like “Studs and duds” vs. “drafting for depth” or value.
Applying this to the NBA, would you rather have a team comprised of two All-Stars but then the rest of your roster allocated to tertiary (or lower) caliber players or a well-rounded unit with real depth? Let’s say the James Harden and Chris Paul 2018 Rockets vs. the “we form like Voltron” 2004 Pistons.
Because several key role players have absolutely smashed expectations so far, the Sixers’ leadership of Daryl Morey, Elton Brand and their front office may be wrestling with these types of theoretical questions already.
“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” -Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The 2021 Sixers have fit the definition of “antifragile” to a degree.
This roster is deeper than many (guilty) imagined. The swirling chaos of life delivered some real challenges from Ben Simmons’ lack of readiness to play (plus his desire for a trade), to injuries, to the latest occurrence of COVID breakthrough infections.
Stunningly, the Sixers (8-3) are in first place in the East through eleven games, and boast the second best record in the entire NBA trailing only the Warriors in the standings. But how are the skeleton crew Sixers doing it?
Doc Rivers and his staff deserve a ton of credit. Remember in 2019 when Doc’s Clippers traded away Tobias Harris to Philly and everyone thought they might tank? Instead Rivers’ upstart Clips fought hard and even stole two games from the Warriors super team...before devastating injuries claimed Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant.
So what might Daryl Morey be thinking? Does he value antifragility and depth here? Or would he look to pounce by quietly shopping some of his new “trade capital?”
Might he remind himself that injuries (and possibly breakthrough COVID cases) are inevitable and that this team lost Danny Green during that 2021 Hawks series, whose availability might alone have been enough for them to advance another round?
As of now the team has about an 11 (or even 12 when Paul Reed gets into the act) man rotation. But teams usually whittle down to nine come the playoffs. So who might be out by April and May?
If Ben Simmons comes back (which admittedly seems unlikely) who comes out of the rotation? Everyone is playing well. If you trade him, the guy(s) you’re getting needs to be a clear upgrade over the players you have.— Paul Hudrick (@PaulHudrick) November 7, 2021
Well if anything happened to Tyrese Maxey, (knock wood, burn sage, build a shrine of Process jerseys) then maybe Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle would get more minutes without a huge drop in team efficiency. If Shake Milton were banged up by the playoffs, it would be a luxury many teams don’t possess to be able to slide Georges Niang down a position and keep it rolling. How valuable is that to this leadership group?
If every team reasonably predicted they’d be down a rotation player for one reason or another by the playoffs, then maybe the Sixers would be a lot less worse for wear than some other teams more top heavy.
Everything needs to be considered with Ben Simmons in mind here. This is as our Paul Hudrick has written the Australian elephant in the room, or the thousand pound wallaby in the room if you need more animal puns today.
Daryl Morey is probably not one to value depth over top-end talent. Based on listening to podcasts he’s been on, it seems more likely he’d see the team’s surprising start to the year as ideal for two reasons 1) they’re winning games few thought they would which might improve their playoff seeding and accompanying title odds 2) some of their role players may have already enhanced their trade value significantly from the preseason.
Furkan Korkmaz’s growth as a playmaker has been so enjoyable to watch pic.twitter.com/lwUqfQoCYN— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) November 9, 2021
It was pretty exciting to watch a 24 year old Furkan Korkmaz (signed for three years $15M this offseason) score 19 points on 5 of 12 from Bainbridge Street versus the Knicks. In that same game, Evan Fournier (signed by New York for $78M last summer) had 11 points going one of four from Spring Street.
Former Sixer Alec Burks recently signed a $30M dollar contract and was thoroughly outplayed yesterday by Georges Niang (who signed a two-year $6.7M contract). It’s not delusional to say the Sixers got more value out of about $7M this offseason than the Knicks got with $30M with regard to those four names.
Clyde Frazier on Niang “I don’t know how this guys keeps beating people. He doesn’t look elusive. But abusing the Knicks now.” pic.twitter.com/Qzq83jFJcu— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) November 9, 2021
So as mentioned, Morey and company have a lot to think about now.
If Ben Simmons returns to the lineup, would they look to consolidate a couple reserve players in a deal for a reliable veteran role player? Can three of these guys be attached to Simmons in order to land a superstar? If Simmons is traded, would Morey prefer to include someone like Furkan Korkmaz (who has always had terrific on-court chemistry with Simmons) than offer a future pick? Might that be an option that didn’t even exist a few weeks ago? Do the Sixers believe Tyrese Maxey can one-day be a starter on a championship team? If so, it makes sense to keep him; if they don’t think he has that bright of a future, it might make more sense to “sell high.”
Basically, no matter what the team decides to do with Simmons, the surprisingly hot start by their role players gives them (your favorite term) optionality. It gives Morey and Brand the luxury to wrestle with theoretical questions like “would we rather 11 or 12 playoff viable dudes in case we deal with injuries?” Or “would we prefer to consolidate three of those guys and improve our ultimate 9-man rotation?”
Knowing Daryl Morey, he’s most likely asking himself “how does my newfound bounty help us land someone like Damian Lillard?” We know he’d employ the “studs and duds” model for fantasy drafts, and just make sure his “duds” all possess some massive upside.