No matter what the Sixers do this offseason, they’ll need production from cheap players. Some of that could come from exceptions and veteran minimum deals, but trying to get more from the team’s recent draft picks feels like a sound strategy.
We all know Doc Rivers has a propensity to lean on veterans. His decision to use Paul Reed as Joel Embiid’s backup over DeAndre Jordan in the postseason was encouraging, but also felt long overdue.
But after the season ended, Daryl Morey acknowledged that the team will need variety to fill out the roster.
“Well, I think you need a mix of both,” Morey said at his end-of-season presser. “And I think one thing that coach has done a really good job is mixing — it’s not easy — mixing veterans with young players who have really taken big leaps forward like [Tyrese] Maxey and Paul Reed at the end. I think you need a mix and it’s really sort of opportunistic, obviously between what their potential is and what resources you have to go get [players] in free agency.”
Let’s take a look at six of the young players — with credit to Vince Rozman and his team for finding some intriguing talent — on the Sixers’ roster that have a chance at a larger role.
As mentioned, Reed (rightfully) earned the backup center minutes during the postseason. No matter what the Sixers do at the five spot in free agency, Reed should probably get another look in that role.
What I’m more interested in is seeing Reed used at the four. Rivers has mentioned several times that he believes Reed’s NBA position is ultimately the four. So, why not give him a look there? The Sixers got crushed on the glass in the postseason. Utilizing Reed alongside Joel Embiid or another big could help mitigate that. Reed also brings great athleticism, another area the Sixers lacked.
A player like the Timberwolves’ Jarred Vanderbilt is an interesting model for someone like Reed. They’re both long, athletic and super active. Reed is likely the more skilled player, but Vanderbilt has mastered his role playing alongside Karl-Anthony Towns by grabbing offensive rebounds and every loose ball imaginable while being a screener/roller/lob threat.
A version of that — with the ability to hit the occasional three and be a deflection machine defensively — could be exactly what the Sixers need.
“... the kid wants to get it right,” Rivers said. “This year, with him in particular, just getting him to understand who he is and, and how he could be a better player now. It took a while, and it grew, and we started really focusing on execution and being in the right spot. He did that.”
It certainly seemed like Bassey showed enough in limited NBA (and thoroughly dominant G League) run to warrant a longer look. A performance in Denver where he stood toe-to-toe with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic stands out. Why he didn’t earn more minutes down the stretch over Jordan and Millsap is puzzling.
Despite not giving him an opportunity to play alongside James Harden, Rivers indicated he’d like for Bassey to earn that opportunity in 2022-23.
“Charles, I love that kid,” Rivers said. “I don’t know if he’s ready yet. ... He needs to get stronger, gets pushed around pretty easy. Offensively, he’s raw, but not as raw as you think. I think of the guys, he’s got the chance to have a huge summer. As far as development we need him to, and we’re gonna push him. Gotta get him stronger. That’s the No. 1 thing.”
Out of the four imperfect options the Sixers had to backup Embiid, Bassey might’ve been the best one. The 21-year-old Nigerian seemed like an ideal rim-running big to pair with Harden. He’s also proven to be a strong rebounder and actually has intriguing skill and touch both at the rim and even beyond the three-point line.
Bassey was too good for the G League, averaging 18.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in 28.7 minutes a game. He shot 64.3 percent from the field and was even 4 of 10 from three over his last 10 games.
The choice between playing retreads like Jordan and Millsap or giving Bassey a shot shouldn’t be much of a choice at all. Let the kid get some burn and sign a veteran as an insurance policy.
In an era of basketball where 3-and-D players are coveted so heavily, Joe seems like he could fit that bill. While the shot looks beautiful leaving his hands, he hasn’t shot the three ball consistently at the NBA level (34.9 percent through two seasons). Despite still lacking physical strength, Joe has proven to be a strong on-ball defender.
So, why didn’t Joe get more run, even as Furkan Korkmaz — who shot 28.9 percent from three this season — didn’t lose his rotation spot until late in the season?
“Isaiah Joe, I look at him, and I look at that shot,” Rivers said, “and there’s so many other things that he has to work on and improve to get on the floor. But this summer is important for him.”
Frankly, I have a hard time determining what it is that Korkmaz does so much better than Joe. Korkmaz is more willing to put the ball on the floor, but is he that much better than Joe in that capacity? Wouldn’t giving Joe more time with the ball in his hands allow him to develop in that area?
I don’t know if Joe is ultimately a rotational player on a good NBA team, but I’d like to find out. He should find his shot with more consistent burn to find rhythm. As the roster stands, you could argue Joe is the team’s third-best perimeter defender. Now would seem like a good time to see what Joe has to offer when you need cheap contributors and he enters restricted free agency in 2023.
It’s hard to glean a ton from Springer’s rookie season. Unlike the Sixers’ last three first-round picks (Landry Shamet, Matisse Thybulle (trade), Tyrese Maxey), Springer was not an immediate contributor — nor was he expected to be. The 19-year-old spent most of his season in Delaware developing in the G League.
Springer showed flashes as to why Morey and company drafted him out of Tennessee. He already has an NBA body and is intriguing defensively. The offensive production is sporadic — and the three ball isn’t there yet (24.1 percent in the G League) — but there is upside.
“Jaden is young,” Rivers said. “He’s already got an NBA body. I think — and I’m probably outnumbered in this — I think he’s got a chance to be an elite defensive player. He has a lot of offensive things he has to work on.”
Put Springer into the “you never know” bucket as far earning a role next season. Maybe his defense is so good out of camp and he hits enough threes to make Rivers think. It seems more likely that it’ll be another year spent predominantly in the G League for Springer — which is far from the end of the world. Springer won’t even turn 20 until September. He has time.
Charlie Brown Jr.
Brown is the one player on this list that could be flying under the radar. The Philly native and St. Joe’s product got NBA time, including two starts, when the Sixers were ravaged by injuries and COVID. He earned himself a two-way contract.
What stood out is that Brown has tremendous length and can already defend at the NBA level. He also proved to be a good rebounder from the wing. Conversely, his offensive game did not translate from the G League. The 25-year-old averaged 15.9 points a game for the Blue Coats, shooting 37 percent from three on 5.4 attempts a game. That’s a good percentage at a decent volume. Brown made just 1 of 9 from distance with the Sixers and struggled to finish at the rim when Embiid and others created opportunities for him.
I like the postseason play of someone like Dorian Finney-Smith, another undrafted wing, with the Mavericks. Finney-Smith has the size and length to play the three and four and has improved as a shooter every season. He’s been a perfect complement to superstar Luka Doncic. It’s unlikely, but far from impossible that Brown could fill a similar role for the Sixers.
Powell was also given an opportunity with the Sixers as a two-way player, but his stint didn’t go particularly well with the big club. It came at a tough time for Powell who was still coming back from a torn meniscus suffered when he was at Seton Hall (the injury and the fallout were both unfortunate).
After struggling in his brief stint with the Sixers, Powell was outstanding as a microwave scorer off the Blue Coats’ bench. The 24-year-old guard averaged almost a point a minute (22.4 points in 25.7 minutes) on 65.9 true shooting. Over 33 G League games the last two seasons, Powell shot 42.1 percent on 6.7 threes a game.
The comparison is lofty, but Powell fits a similar profile to Seth Curry as an undersized guard that can really shoot it and finds other creative ways to score. As you’ll recall, Curry spent years in the G League before being given a regular NBA opportunity. It’s not out of the question that Powell could sneak his way onto the court for the Sixers again next season.