I just spent a day reading over 2000 comments on LB, plus dozens of articles and hundreds of tweets from so-called professionals, all talking about the trade deadline. And I have thoughts to share.
1. George Hill is the new Robert Covington
Of course they are very different players; for starters, Hill is very good at dribbling and passing while these are not among Cov’s strengths. Maybe Danny Green is the new Robert Covington, and Hill is the new Danny Green? What all these players have in common is being ridiculously underrated.
First, let’s highlight how good these folks really are. I’ve written extensively about Covington’s excellence and by now every knowledgeable fan realizes I was right about him — he got traded for two first rounders! — so I won’t go back over that ground. But it’s my best article ever, so give it a read!
Today, let’s focus on new Sixer George Hill. I’m going to do everything in per-minute terms and obviously good players who play more are worth more. So please take that as given; if I say that George Hill was better than media darling X last year, I’m just saying better per minute, not necessarily that he added more value.
Last season Hill ranked 30th in the entire NBA on 538’s RAPTOR, my favorite all-in-one metric. There are only 30 teams in the league so being 30th means being the second-best player on the vast majority of teams, and the best player on a handful. Is George Hill really the 30th-best player in the Association?Almost certainly not, but it’s extremely possible that he was at that level last year. That’s because Hill, always a very good three-point shooter, last year had the highest 3P% in the entire league. When you finish first in 3P% and your name is not Curry it means you had a lucky year. But it’s not as though you weren’t legitimately that valuable, it just means that value can’t be expected to continue into next season, Hill’s real three-point ability is closer to 40% — he’s averaged over 40% over the past six seasons —than 46%. Still, just think about it: here you have someone who can play PG effectively, not turn it over too much, drive and finish reasonably well, and he LEADS THE FREAKING LEAGUE in 3P%, arguably the single most important traditional stat. That’s an extremely good offensive player; not James Harden good of course, but probably better than every non-Joel Sixer last year. And then add to that that he is absolutely a plus defender, with significantly positive defensive numbers year after year going back a decade, and not fading at all as he entered his 30s. Think about how much people liked JJ Redick. Then thing if JJ shot a little less frequently from 3, but could play PG, drive and pass; that guy would probably be just as good offensively as JJ. And now imagine he’s a plus defender too! That’s a star — hell, people thought JJ was a star, and he’s terrible at defense.
Was last year a fluke? As I say, it was a little, Hill is not really a 46% man, pretty much no one is. But it was not his best season, not even close; by RAPTOR that distinction goes to 2014-2015, when he was massively positive at both ends of the floor, for a total RAPTOR of +5.6, . This year +5.6 would slot a player just behind Anthony Davis and just ahead of Kevin Durant — +5.6 is special! Of course he only did that once so I’m not obsessing over it, just like I’m not obsessing over his worst season. In his mediocre seasons Hill is around +2, he was at +1.9 in 2018-19 and is at the same level this season, with modest minutes of course since he’s been out with a thumb injury. He had one crappy year, by his standards, coming off an injury if memory serves, in 2017-18. He was still positive at both ends for a total of +0.6, just below the level of an average starter. Over the past eight seasons he’s averaged +2.5. You may feel that means he was terrific in his prime, and you’d be right. Here is a complete list of players with 2020-21 RAPTOR of 2.5 as of this writing:
- Mikal Bridges
- Jaylen Brown
- Donovan Mitchell
GH is not as good a defender as Bridges, or as good a scorer as Mitchell. But he’s better than any of these guys as a passer, and in every other aspect — driving, defense, shooting — he’s not far behind this group of stars and nascent stars.
You may also think the eight-year average is ancient history with emphasis on the “ancient” as Hill is now 34. But if you just average the past three seasons you get +2.3, and if you just take his most recent full season it’s the +3.1, so it’s not crazy to think he’s still around +2.5. He’s coming off a thumb injury so you never know if that will have a big impact, but my sense is the doctors and trainers have this stuff figured out in non-Fultz scenarios and that he’ll be fine in a week or two.
Usually when I claim a player is far better than fans think it’s because he’s a defensive standout and the media tend to undercover and underrate defense. For example, the #1 Sixer in RAPTOR is Joel Embiid and #2 right now is Matisse Thybulle, with Tobias Harris next and Ben Simmons a bit behind. Matisse — defense matters! And as I say Hill is very good defensively. But what’s remarkable is that Hill is so underrated despite being a terrific offensive player; his offensive RAPTOR averages significantly higher than his defensive over the sample period. I’ll leave it to my betters to do a proper statistical breakdown of his game — Tom West already has a nice piece up with some useful analysis. But a number of stats are already floating out there about GH’s terrific numbers in the pick and roll, off the catch, and in other important special situations. Basically I’d say it this way: there are two offensive skills in the NBA that are absolutely devastating, which are the ability, Jimmy-Butler-style, to just go get a bucket on your own (or with a pick), and the ability to consistently nail threes. George is a B+ at the former and an A- at the latter. And then he is rock-solid at all the other offensive stuff too. And then he defends! Honestly, go make the following list:
- Hits near 40% on 3s in volume consistently over the years
- Drives the lane at least reasonably effectively
- Good enough passer to play point guard for meaningful minutes
- Better than average defender
Now cross off anyone going to the Hall of Fame. How many names are on the list beside George Hill? Not too damn many! And by the way it’ll be a team of underrated guys and guys who were underrated until they landed on a glamor team or something. Borderline HOF guys like Lowry and Kemba. Maybe Patrick Beverley. Anyone else? I have seen literally hundreds of comments calling him a solid veteran, or a consummate professional, or a good leader of the second unit. I’ve seen dozens saying how great it will be to have him because it will help make Shake Milton better. With all due respect to Shake, whom I love, that is laughable. If we got Jaylen or Donovan, who as I say have helped their teams this year about as much per minute as typical GH, would people be saying how great it is that Mitchell can take the ballhandling burden off Shake Freaking Milton! Again, this is somewhat unfair as Donovan plays full-time while Hill in recent years has not. Still, what I’m saying is, in George Hill the Sixers have a truly fine player, not a competent minutes-filler or locker-room presence.
2. Danny Hill and George Green
Hey, you know who else is really good at basketball? Danny Green! I noted in an article here when we traded for Green that last year he’d have been the second-highest Sixer in RAPTOR, he wasn’t quite as high ranked as Hill but close. At the time I’m sure many thought I was being silly, I mean, he’s a consummate professional, a locker-room presence, a playoff veteran, yadda yadda. Yes, all that, and also just a terrific player. This year he’s a little lower, +1.5, I’d say he’s a +2 player fundamentally, with random variation around that. +2 is really good, an average starter is +1 so a team with a superstar (~+8) and 4 +2 starters is a serious title contender as they’d have a lineup 7+1+1+1+1 = 11 better than normal that plays perhaps 2/3 of the minutes; together with an average bench such a team would net a +7 point differential which is top-notch. At +1.5 Danny currently ranks 82nd in the league in RAPTOR so the third-best player on a typical team. And he’s better than that, because he’s this good every year, whereas many, perhaps most, of the players ranked above him are having above-their-average RAPTOR numbers this year, i.e. they’ve been a bit lucky, while Danny is this good or better every year. In other words, if you take players who have averaged +2 or better the past three seasons, you’ll probably find only about 50 of them; in my opinion Danny, like George, is a top-50 per-minute player.
Similar to the Covington comp, George can play PG well and Danny has a tendency to dribble off his foot but nevertheless they have a great deal in common. Let’s try to identify some characteristics that may be factors in people seeing these guys as solid professionals instead of as the top players they are.
- They don’t score a ton
- Their talents are spread across several dimensions so they aren’t associated with one standout skill
- A lot, though perhaps not the majority, of their value is at the defensive end
- They provide value beyond their statistics by being intelligent players and good teammates and by keeping their composure under pressure, in the playoffs and in crucial moments of the game
- They are over 30
- They have boring names
I’m serious about the boring names thing! I think Luka Green and Kyrie Hill would be thought of by fans as far more incendiary than Danny and George with the same skills. Non-Philly members of the underrated-due-to-boring-names club include Paul Milsap (who?). Eddie Murray in baseball, how great a hitter could he really have been with boring names like “Eddie” and “Murray”? Nicknames can solve the problem of course; I think the “Dougie McBuckets” nickname has fattened the coffers of Doug McDermott, and moreover I think the boring-named Paul Reed is going to make an additional $10M in his career as a result of choosing, perhaps all the way back at age 13 when he logged on to Twitter, the handle Bball Paul.
In one way it’s strange that Danny and George are so underrated; Danny has those three rings for three teams and George is well-established as an excellent playoff performer. You’d think success on the biggest stage would make them more appreciated, not than superstars like Giannis and Kawhi, but compared to win-nothing players with similar all-around advanced metrics, players like Donovan Mitchell. That won’t happen because of pointzzz. And of course young players, upon whom we can project our hopes and dreams, also get extra buzz compared to those whose best days are now or in the recent past. Still, if you are trying to win games in 2021, it really is the case that players like Danny and George have an enormous positive impact. Guys who are legit offensive weapons but who can’t be hunted at the other end... well, they are actually a pretty rare commodity. It was all fun and games having JJ and Marco until they were brutalized when it mattered. Which brings us to...
3. Lining ‘em up
Let’s do some playoff lineups. I’m going to assume we add a stretch 5 in the buyout market as Daryl really sounded the other day like a man with something up his sleeve. I am a huge Bball Paul guy but I understand that he has not yet had the opportunity to learn our schemes at the 5, , and given that all NBA coaches kinda hate playing rookies and Doc more than most, I’m going to assume he doesn’t get playoff minutes if I’m right that we’re going to sign somebody — fingers crossed! If I’m wrong, just pencil Paul into the slot I have as Stretch time.
As in the past, I’m going to imagine 4 groups that play 12 minutes each, Red, White, Blue and Gray.
36 minutes each to Joel, Tobi, Ben
30 each for Danny and George
24 each for Matisse and Seth
12 each for Stretch and Shake
Situational minutes for Dwight, Furkan, etc.
Obviously doing just 4 12-minute rotations is oversimplified but I want to be able to keep it all in my head. Still, I cheated and split one shift between George and Danny so that they play 30 minutes each rather than one playing 24 and the other 36. Of course maybe they should really play 28 each which can easily be accomplished by giving 4 more minutes to Shake, who gets only 12 in the setup above, or for that matter with a couple extra minutes in close games from the superhuman Ben Simmons.
The Red and White teams are pretty obvious; Red is our current starting lineup since if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! And White is a likely closing lineup, especially for games where we are slightly ahead as it puts a strong defensive lineup on the floor with no weak-link defenders (e.g. no Seth Curry).
The Blue lineup is Ben’s time off; since he’s out we can afford to play Matisse without worrying that we’re losing shooting on net by resting Green; Joel, Tony, Seth and George mean a coherent lineup with plenty of offense. Defensively we should be fine even with Seth on the floor since Matisse and Joel are exceptional and Tobi and George are quite good at that end.
Finally we have the Gray lineup — how do we not get blasted when Joel is off the floor? My plan is to put our two best wing defenders, Ben and Matisse, out together with another very good defensive player in George/Danny, our stretch 5, and Shake. Shake’s defensive numbers this year suggest he is up to average, and let’s hope so as we can’t afford for him to be someone who can be hunted. Offensively Ben handles the ball when Danny is in and perhaps when George is as well. In either configuration we have four shooters out there with Ben; indeed for all of Ben’s 36 minutes we have four shooters on the floor with him, granting I am here counting Matisse as a shooter despite his not-so-great percentages.
I’m sure these can be improved and I am eager to hear suggestions, as well as to see what Doc comes up with. My conclusion from playing around with possibilities is: wow, what a difference George Hill makes! And, wow, what a difference this hypothetical stretch 5 makes! Without such a person it’s awfully hard to put a strong two-way group out there while Joel sits, whereas with Stretch the pieces fit together nicely. If it turns out Stretch is not to be found and Doc will not consider Bball Paul for the role, then I guess the best plan may be to rejigger things and play approximately all of Joel and ben’s minutes together. Then the Gray team would be something like:
which is a pretty good two-way unit, accomplished by stealing 12 minutes of Tobi from the Blue team as well as 6 minutes each of the Borings since I’m assuming they are only good for 30 a night not 36. But now we are only playing 12 minutes of Matisse, and if we don’t want to mess up the very nice Red and White units we have nowhere to add more without creating an offensively weak Gray team. Without Stretch it gets messy...
This is your occasional reminder that Furkan Korkmaz is about as good as Shake Milton, per RAPTOR he’s actually a little better, and he is almost a full year younger than Shake. He is also younger than Matisse Thybulle. I can’t see, but those who can tell me that this is hard for fans to remember, partly because Furk was drafted very young, but partly because Shake has a real baby face, and that Matisse also looks young, while Furk has a five o’clock shadow by noon. Obviously we don’t know if the Sixers will keep Furk, and if so at what cost, he is a free agent this offseason. But I am enthusiastic about his future; the man is four years away from his prime. Think where Julius Randle was as a player 4 years ago. Of course not everyone keeps improving, let alone to All-Star status. But Furk can really shoot,, and he seems — again, to my sighted friends — to be big and getting bigger, which is normal for someone his age. As a shooting guard, Furk will never be more than an average defender I fear. But what if Age 26 Korky is a stretch 4?! As a PF he’ll be plenty quick enough to guard his opposite numbers, and he’ll be a better shooter and ballhandler than almost all of them. Right now he’s a solid backup but someone I hope we won’t need much of in the playoffs (though if we have an injury to a wing Furk definitely is good enough to let us still have a chance to win games). But I predict he’ll be a starter or starter-quality backup in his prime.
Speaking of 23-year-old restricted free agents, I was totally right about Tony Bradley!
I wrote when we acquired him for Zhaire Smith about how he was very impressive — over +2 RAPTOR in over 600 minutes last season, had a strong HS and college and draft pedigree, and showed every indication of being someone who would have a long and productive career. In his modest minutes this season he did nothing but support that case, his current RAPTOR is over +3. He’s probably not that good, but he is good. I’m bummed about losing him, but remember:
- Look at the rotations above; there’s no room for him on the floor in the playoffs; if we don’t get Stretch then I personally would play him over Dwight, but Doc disagrees, so he would bring little value this season;
- He is a restricted free agent so to keep him we’d have to pay up; his RFA rights are far from valueless but for the same money we can probably sign someone who is only a little less good in the abstract and who is better when accounting for fit with our non-shooting PG;
- We got George Hill and didn’t have to give up a first!
This last is important, we kept the gun loaded for a potential superstar acquisition in the offseason. There’s always someone available, Jimmy Butler, James Harden, Lowry, we’ll see who’s next. And now we can be in the running, with-first-round picks to trade (2023, 2027) together with Maxey and other young players and some second-rounders still in the stash. Hill is signed for $10M at our option; say we re-sign Danny for something similar or a little higher. Now we have our whole rotation intact, plus Bball Paul coming into his own, Shake and Matisse and maybe Furkan improving, young guys like Maxey and Joe. We’ll have both the assets and the salaries to put a package together for... I don’t know, I hope it’s not Bradley Beal, who consistently puts up adjusted plus/minus right around the George Hill level. But since everyone but me thinks he’s a superstar and he’s likely to be available at some point, let’s say it’s Beal. If we package a good player like Hill with Maxey and some firsts, shouldn’t that get us in the ballpark? I say yes!
6. The Kyle Lowry non-deal
I suppose before I close I should address the story of the month, the non-deal for Kyle Lowry. I wrote before the deadline that Danny Green to Toronto as cap filler was insane, that the only way a Lowry deal could plausibly work is if we found a third team that actually wanted Danny Green, appreciated him and would pay value for him. Danny is not cap crap!
Consequently I thought almost everything being written about the deal was nonsense; of course we weren’t going to give the valuable Danny Green to Toronto and then also give one or two fine young players and then also give one or two first-round picks. Lowry is just not that much better than Danny Green!
It looks to me as though I was right, and Daryl knew it, and that Golden State was the Danny-desirous third party. Of course we don’t know what they were willing to give for him, obviously not a GS first-rounder as that would be too valuable. Anyway there could in theory have been a deal, if Toronto had been willing to trade Lowry for two assets, two late-firsts or equivalent, then we could have given one asset (Maxey or a first, never Matisse who is insanely good!) and GS could have provided the second asset. The PR spin out of Toronto is that they wanted five assets for Lowry, Danny, two good young players and two first-rounders. This is so far off-market that I don’t know what to say except if that was really Toronto’s position I’d be surprised if Daryl would waste time with the subject, as my bond trader friends say when someone offers to sell them securities at a ridiculous price: “reasonable offer gets a counter.” My guess is Toronto demanded 3 assets, we offered two, and at the end one of two things happened. The first possibility is that Toronto concluded that for two assets, they’d be happier having Kyle for this year’s playoff run plus a shot to sign-and-trade him in the offseason. The second is this: sometimes when you play chicken, the cars do crash! But If you’re not prepared to walk away and not do a deal, you’ll never win a negotiation. The calculation with 1 minute left before the deadline might be this, for Toronto:
- Accept 2 assets means get 2 for sure
- Refuse 2 assets means, let’s say, 50% chance of no deal, 50% chance get 3 assets because either Philly or Miami caves at the last second
- No deal = get help this season plus potential sign and trade, expected total value of these combined = let’s say 1.3 assets
- Philly or Miami caves = get 3 assets
.5*1.3 + .5 *3 = 2.15
2.15 > 2 so best strategy is to wait and hope someone caves.
And that’s my best guess as to why we didn’t end up with Kyle Lowry. If we’d gotten him for Danny and Maxey in a three-team deal I’d have been happy, but if we’d given that plus one or more first-rounders, or if we’d added Matisse, I’d have been miserable. As it is I’m very pleased with the outcome and excited to see us at full strength in a couple weeks!