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Isaiah Joe’s success in OKC puts Josh Harris, Doc & Morey under pressure this NBA trade deadline

Some think the Sixers waived Isaiah Joe to duck the pending luxury tax, others to eventually spend even more money down the road. Whatever the case, they messed this one up.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

There are officially 16 days until the Feb. 9, 2023 NBA Trade Deadline, and things have been substantially quieter this season for the Philadelphia 76ers than they were during that 2021-2022 Ben Simmons ordeal.

The talk last season at this time was hyper focused on not “wasting” the years of Joel Embiid’s prime. What can they do to maximize a window of contention that Daryl Morey himself has ominously admitted may be briefer than some of us think?

As well as they’ve played lately, some think they’re still on the outside looking in.

And that’s why they may need to get especially creative trade-wise in the coming weeks.

In Houston, Morey became famous for not just making historic fleecings, like ripping the Thunder off for James Harden in the first place, but also for working the margins, finding guys like Pat Beverley, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, or Ben McLeMore utilizing late picks, and making deft free-agent signings.

One such player who could have but now will not fit the bill for wins along the margins....

Isaiah Joe was the ideal type of young player on a second-round pick-level salary the Sixers could’ve used to space the floor for their stars.

Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

With that in mind, it’s been especially regrettable to see Isaiah Joe’s mini-breakout come in Oklahoma City and not Philadelphia this year.

The 23-year-old’s white-hot shooting now puts added pressure on key decision makers in Philadelphia to significantly upgrade this roster at the Feb. 9 deadline.

The 76ers could have kept Joe on a super-cheap one year deal, talked extension, or just reassessed the situation next summer when he was set to be a restricted free agent, potentially utilizing his Bird Rights.

The Thunder, who were able to sign Joe without using any assets, had the ability to sign him to a three year $5.99M deal- which means for them it’s shaping up to be a ludicrous Sam Hinkie special-esque contract. The former Razorback sniper was the 49th pick in the 2020 Draft, selecting him was one of Morey’s first (and finer?) moves as Team President.

After a couple seasons of grinding for spot minutes, Joe is shooting 44.7 percent from distance this season on 4.4 attempts per game, a whopping 10.8 3PA per 36. His TS percentage is a ludicrous .667.

Like so many young players before him, he’s taken a leap in his third season. That may have surprised you, but something tells me it doesn’t surprise Sam Cassell.

“Every guy I work with takes huge leaps,” the Sixers Assistant and player development specialist told Noah Levick of NBCS-Philadelphia back in July.

Thunder on/off

Oklahoma City Thunder v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

This Thunder team on the whole has the 20th-ranked offensive rating, per, scoring 112.7 points per 100. But Mark Daigneault’s offense improves significantly with Joe on, dropping 124.6 points per 100 possessions, (98th percentile).

The guy the Sixers locker room apparently nicknamed “Flame Thrower” provides loads of gravity while raining triples in every way imaginable. He’s hitting off dribble pull-ups when defenses sag under screens. He’s re-stationing himself after defenders fly by with ultra smooth side steps. He’s bombing transition pull-ups at full speed. And he’s sprinting through a maze of screens shooting comfortably with movement, all while maintaining his follow through with more discipline than a cold-plunge swimmer.

All of this makes life much more enjoyable for slashers like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams.

The Thunder have an impressive ninth-best defensive rating, holding teams to 111.7 points per 100 possessions. And while Joe is hardly the linchpin for their success on that end, OKC does become even stingier when he’s out there, holding opponents to just 109.1 points/100, (92nd percentile). He measured 6-foot-3 without shoes at the NBA combine, and his plus 6-7.5 wingspan has helped him at times distract taller shooters, or pick off the occasional errant pass.

In the 1,116 possessions (536 minutes) the Fort Smith, Arkansas native has been on the floor this season, OKC has a 99th percentile +15.4 differential.

His on/off differential is a staggering 99th percentile +20.1, the best on his team (and many other teams as well).

Joe’s points per shot attempt percentile trails only two players, one named Steph Curry. Damian Lillard isn’t far behind. Per

Joe has hit seven triples in a game three times this season. He dropped 17 points in the second quarter against the Boston Celtics, helping OKC put up 150 points on the Sixers’ dreaded rival with the top-five rated defense.

This entire thing almost incites some menacing Colangelo déjà vu.

I’m not arguing Joe is a star. But he’s already proven the Sixers made a sizable miscalculation back in October, misdiagnosing their in-house bomber.

If given the chance here, Joe could have potentially competed in trade value with a few of Shake Milton (UFA), Matisse Thybulle (RFA), Furkan Korkmaz, ($5.3M for ‘24) Danuel House Jr. (player-option), Paul Reed (RFA) or Jaden Springer (Delaware regular).

The Sixers have shopped him in the past without finding desperate suitors. But maybe that could have changed with playing time. The Sixers could certainly have used Joe’s floor spacing and gravity when Tyrese Maxey was trying to beat the Knicks sans Harden and Embiid in a two-point home loss back in November.

Joe is slight of frame and still has plenty to prove. But the opportunity cost had they’d kept him wouldn’t be keeping me up at night.

So wait, why IS Joe gone?

Back when we learned the team was waiving both Joe and big man Charles Bassey, the catch phrase explanation was “wiggle room” under the Apron.

Here was how Liberty Ballers’ Paul Hudrick reported it at the time:

“A source tells Liberty Ballers that the moves are about prioritizing roster flexibility for potential trades down the line and keeping spots open. With the team adding so much depth this offseason, there just weren’t going to be opportunities for Joe and Bassey. So, moving on from them now will give the team more maneuverability at the trade deadline or if an opportunity presents itself sooner.”

On the same subject, PhillyVoice’s Kyle Neubeck would write: “If they are to make another win-now move for a run at a title, odds are that they’ll be shopping in a class of players making more money than the outgoing pieces in said trade.”

Derek Bodner of The Daily Six Newsletter: “Having flexibility at the trade deadline could prove to be important, as it gives them the freedom to pursue a deal where they would receive more salary back than they send out.”

Bryan Toporek, writing for Forbes in December: “They also have an open roster spot, which they can use to sign players to a 10-day contract beginning on Jan. 5 or pull off an imbalanced deal ahead of the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline.”

The mostly sourced reporting linked above led us to hypothesize the team was eyeing a win-now deal down the road; likely one where they’d spend more money on incoming veteran talent later in the year.

But most of the tealeaves now point towards the Sixers not spending more but spending less money soon — leaving die-hards wondering if this wasn’t a hasty cost-cutting gambit all along.

Parting with Joe and Bassey did bring more optionality, sure. And if they use it, great. But it also inched them even closer towards a potential ulterior motive of resetting the punishing tax penalty. They’re now just $1,172,998 away from saving potentially tens of millions down the road.

Extra pressure

Philadelphia 76ers v Miami Heat - Game Five Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

There’s now extra pressure on folks like Sixers principal owner Josh Harris. His name keeps popping up in rumored bids to purchase new sports teams like the Washington Commanders or rumored bids for stakes in Manchester United.

Are those non-NBA pursuits, where one may need to drum up major sources of liquidity in a snap, why we’ve now heard smart folks like Toporek, Bodner, Yahoo’s Jake Fischer, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, Bobby Marks and Marc Stein all speculate the team may look to dip under the luxury tax threshold this deadline?

Has Harris issued some type of cost-cutting mandate smack dab in the year Morey has labeled the most important season of Embiid’s title window? The same season James Harden took a $13M+ pay cut and believes is his best shot ever at a chip? That wouldn’t be too convenient, now would it?

If waiving a sniper like Joe back in October was just an initial step towards something that improves the team, fine. But if they fail to even try, if they just felt it was a more palatable way to incrementally mete out dollops of bad news in stages over six months rather than all at once, fans will look even more suspiciously at ownership’s motives; even the fans who can accept the benefits of resetting tax fees before pending Harden, Maxey and new television deals.

And those reasonable fans will be more than justified in feeling frustrated with the Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll rolling like a snowball, expanding and gaining momentum with each terrifying revolution:

Then there’s Doc Rivers

Philadelphia 76ers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Was it Doc’s notorious reluctance to develop (any non-Tyrese Maxey) prospects that led us here? Did he inform Morey he simply wouldn’t be playing Joe, so you may as well move on? Doc hasn’t exactly appeared comfortable playing Paul Reed, Charles Bassey, Isaiah Joe, Jaden Springer or most of Morey’s draft picks; even when a couple of those names have been exceedingly better than Doc’s veteran preferences (coughs: DeAndre).

Does Doc have enough of a voice within the organization to make the call entirely himself?

Did he overvalue (wildly) guys (he doesn’t even seem to trust anyway) like Danuel House Jr., Matisse Thybulle or Furkan Korkmaz? Because if he’s going to leave that trio riding so much pine it seems he could have made room for a knock-down shooter.

Between Korkmaz, House, and Thybulle, those players have logged a total of 1,295 minutes this season, none garnering Doc’s true favor. Joe has totaled 567 minutes in Oklahoma. There was 1,000 percent room for him to compete for some burn here. The Golden State Warriors never stop developing and giving legit chances to young players, even while they vie for titles.

The Sixers have mostly abandoned the practice since Maxey exploded, as if that phase simply ceases to matter; perhaps forgetting the Spurs used to trot out raw, teenage late-round projects in crunch time right alongside proven older vets:

And Steve Kerr obviously brought that lesson with him to Golden State. (Not to say Joe is Tony Parker, just that the best teams are willing to deploy late-round unproven picks right alongside their stars sometimes.)

As Toporek has noted, Doc himself “often mentions the team’s improper spacing” after losses.

Doc recently explained back in December that as a shot clock winds down, teams are forced to turn to isolation offense. And in those moments, late in games, he explained, spacing is especially vital.

Joel Embiid has talked about this stuff plenty as well.

Morey has also noted how vital spacing is to both assist Harden and Embiid. So shouldn’t Rivers of all people have been advocating for a guy who could offer his superstar duo the thing everyone feels they need so desperately? Did Cassell warn his mentor Joe was set to take the same type of leap he claims all his projects take?

Then there’s Morey

Philadelphia 76ers Introduce New Players - Press Conference Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Is he cooking up the type of deal he’s become known for over the years, and simply needed every ounce of wiggle-room under the hard cap, and an extra roster spot to send out two guys, bring in three, (maybe a buyout dude) all while ducking the tax? Is he going to make everyone happy?

Because so far Joe has been exponentially better than...the... Sixers’ empty roster spot.

Did Daryl just overlook Joe’s obviously flawless shooting form and focus too much on some statistics and percentages that came in sporadic, rhythmless samples replete with garbage time appearances? Did he overvalue the unlikely chance a difference maker is available on the upcoming buyout market? We can only hope he didn’t dump a dude like Joe only to hold a spot for the next DeAndre Jordan.

Detroit Pistons v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Embiid has historically thrived with a dribble-hand-off threat like JJ Redick or Seth Curry. Harden has thrived when opposing wing defenders must remain glued to his teammates platooned in corners.

By now they could have kept a terrific asset under contract for at least this season. Had they actually played him (he’s only averaging 14.5 mpg in OKC, they probably wouldn’t have had to promise him the moon), they could have theoretically talked with him about an extension at basically any point this season.

For example, had they not waived him the 76ers could have chosen to offer Joe a three-year deal for even more than the Thunder wound up offering him. They could have explored a deal that delivered him significantly more than he settled upon with OKC, and still less than a player like Furkan Korkmaz is making (say three years, $8M maybe).

But in that scenario, they couldn’t have traded him until summer of 2023.

I’m guessing Philadelphia wasn’t prepared to make that type of long-term commitment to him with Harden’s situation still uncertain. And one has to believe Joe is quite content the way this all played out too.

If Morey felt squeezed by the imperative to duck tax from above, and the hint that Doc would’t play Joe much anyway from below, if he’d already explored Joe’s trade value last February, last July, and this September and heard crickets, then maybe he compromised.

Morey probably figured they were better off waiving Bassey-Joe than keeping them pinned to the bench and being that much further above the tax line and closer to the hard cap. Who knows, maybe he can still upgrade this team, all while ducking the tax. No doubt he’s working tirelessly towards that goal now.

Spoiler, I’ve long been biased here.

But I believe Morey should regret not pushing harder to give his draftee a real shot. And anything cool they do in the next few weeks could probably have been done with Joe in tow.

In order to justify this mistake, the Sixers need to make it rain at this upcoming trade deadline... because ever since he departed South Philly, Joe has been making it absolutely rain with the Thunder. He could have helped a rotation whose only unconscious bomber right now is Georges Niang. And who knows, maybe then they’d have two candidates for this year’s three-point contest.

This post was edited to ensure accuracy, regarding the length of Joe’s contract had he stayed in Philadelphia (one year) vs. the new one he signed in Oklahoma (three years).

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