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Sixers Mailbag Volume 7 - Joel Embiid's Recovery, K.J. McDaniels Upside, And Jahlil Okafor

In the 7th edition of the LibertyBallers Sixers Mailbag, we take a look at Joel Embiid's recovery, K.J. McDaniels' upside, the fit of Jahlil Okafor and Karl Towns, and the jump shooting of Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Another week, another Thursday, another Sixers Mailbag. And another win!

You can check out our previous installments of the Sixers Mailbags at our Story Stream.

The Sixers now sit at 2-19 after a win (on the second night of a back-to-back) at Detroit, who themselves are now 3-19 on the season and riding a 13 game losing streak. The team has also made a trade, and Joel Embiid is back to practicing (kind of). Busy week.


Q: Why has McDaniels been struggling lately?  Is it the heavier minute load? Teams paying more attention to him? A nagging injury?

I don't think there's any kind of injury going on, nor do I think teams are really defending him any differently. I think it's largely just the ebb and flow of the season, especially for a rookie, who we expect to be more inconsistent than a veteran.

McDaniels shot 40.4% from three point range over his first 16 games. I pointed out after his 16th game that he was among the best in the NBA on contested spot-up jump shots, but that it was largely unsustainable and there was probably a regression coming. I think you're seeing that regression, which has hit KJ hard of late. K.J. McDaniels shot, while improved, isn't ready to be among the best in the NBA, nor should our expectations be that it is.

Now, he's probably not as bad as he's been the last 5 games (5-29 from three, 17.2%), but he's a rookie who's going to go through these growing pains. I think my only real complaint is that some of his attempts during this cold streak have been forced. He could probably show a little bit better discretion, especially when he's in a rough patch, but he should bounce back soon.

The rest of his game, though, has largely remained the same, as he's averaging 6.6 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 2.2 assists, and 1.8 steals per night over his last 5.


Q: Simmons said on his podcast that if there were a redraft, he'd pick KJ in the top 5.  Would you?

Hm. I'm not sure I'd go that high.

Rich and I talked about this on SixersBeat last week, and I said he'd definitely be a lottery pick, and probably top 10. Top 5 is a little bit high. Not that he hasn't been among the 5 best rookies so far this year, he has. But you just need more than 21 games to override the evaluations you made coming into the draft. There are guys like Wiggins who have enough upside that you need to see more, in some cases years more, from both players before you stop believing in the potential you saw in Wiggins. Parker's offensive skill level makes him go ahead of KJ. in a draft Joel Embiid definitely goes ahead of KJ. But there are also guys like Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh, etc who have enough intrigue that I don't see 21 games of KJ's play vaulting him ahead of them.

Remember 2 things: 1) Many of these guys haven't played all that much, either due to injury (Embiid, Randle, Smart) or youth (Exum, Vonleh). 2) It doesn't take a consensus to believe in the upside of a player, just one team. If the Lakers are convinced of Julius Randle's long term potential, that's all it takes.

Also, long term potential is key. K.J. McDaniels was likely a player who was going to find a way to contribute this season. He was a 3 year player at Clemson who is about to turn 22 in February, and has an ability to contribute defensively that makes him likely to earn time while the rest of his game catches up. Him contributing more than, say, Dante Exum, or Noah Vonleh, who are both extremely young, was expected. It just looks more glaring because he fell to the second round rather than the late-teens/early 20's he was projected.

If they re-drafted, would he be in the lottery? Definitely. Top 10? Possibly. But I wouldn't go top 5. Those other guys still have plenty of time to prove their potential, and right now potential is all they need to go ahead of KJ. Whether, in 10 years, KJ will have been one of the 5 guys who contributed most from this draft class is probably a tougher question to answer, and more in KJ's favor.

Julian, Eric, and @BMoonan:

Q: What to do with the top pick (Would you draft Okafor if he's top on the Sixers board? Okafor and Towns fit with Embiid?

To start this off, I go best player available. More specifically, I go player with the best chance of being great.

As much as I like guys like Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson, I'm not vaulting them over Karl Towns and Jahlil Okafor just because they're not a big. If they want to be at the top of my big board, they have to prove they're the best prospect.

The situation I absolutely want to avoid, at all costs, is to be sitting here in 3 years without a dominant player. If Joel Embiid just isn't that good (not too likely, in my opinion), or hasn't been able to remain consistently healthy (slightly more likely), I don't want to be watching Jahlil Okafor be the best post player in the league and instead have a "good" wing who can't be built around.

Furthermore, I think both can fit (somewhat). I think Towns is a better natural fit, with his more diversified perimeter game and greater defensive versatility. Even so, I think Okafor can fit, at least on the offensive end. I think all of Embiid, Okafor, and Towns can develop 15-18' range on their jump shots, and they're all great passers. I think any combination of those three can help an offense.

So if you're stuck in a situation where, in 3 years, both Okafor and Embiid are dominant, but maybe have holes defensively with Okafor guarding the perimeter? That's a problem I'm more than willing to have. At that point, you know that you have a dominant player, and you can always move a dominant big man on a rookie contract for value. I'd welcome having that "problem" with open arms.

And I can't stress enough how great of a passer both Okafor and Towns are, and how vital that is to building an offense centered around big men. This was mentioned in the comments the other day, but Okafor has passed out of the post 33 times. This has led to 13 assists and 0 turnovers for Duke. That's incredible. He's been like a point guard from the post, reading the defense and seeing plays develop before they happen. Towns has shown some passing from the low block but has excelled passing from the high post, elbow, and on outlet passes. They also both have great hands. I think Embiid/Okafor/Towns can all play off of each other.

The quickest way I think the Sixers can get themselves into trouble is assuming there's a log jam before it happens. Having 2, or 3, impact big men isn't a problem. Assuming that Embiid, or even Noel, can be dominant, and passing on supreme talent, can quickly become a problem. Let the chickens hatch before we count them.


Q: Say we take Towns, what of Noel then? What could we get for him? Would we move him? How many wins next year?

Whether we would move him probably depends on what we'd get back.

Would the Sixers make him available to the highest bidder? No, I think that's unnecessary. There are 96 minutes at the power forward/center positions, which is more than enough for Towns, Embiid, and Noel, especially when you factor in the inevitability of injuries. And you're already committed to Noel having to learn power forward in order to fit with Embiid.

But, if a team is willing to trade a very good wing prospect for a very good center prospect, that's when the possibility arises. But it has to be a trade which brings in good, young value for the Sixers to consider it, in my opinion.


Q: What do you think the potential ceiling is for KJ and Robert Covington?

That's tough. I hate making judgements like that based on 21, or 12, games.

I'm not big on player comparisons. I generally think they're lazy evaluation tools, and people get too caught up on comparisons being *exact*. I can say "Jahlil Okafor's passing out of the post reminds me of Tim Duncan", and the first response I'll get is "Come on man! Jahlil Okafor ain't no Tim Duncan! He's not near the defender! Stupid talking head."

K.J. McDaniels is the perfect example. He's so unique that it's hard to find a direct comparison. Dwyane Wade is one of the few perimeter players who blocks shots like McDaniels, but McDaniels is obviously not near the player, or coordinated athlete, that Wade is. Locally, you hear an Andre Iguodala comparison for McDaniels a lot, but McDaniels doesn't have Iguodala's ball handling, passing, or shot creation abilities, and while he has tremendous physical tools, Iguodala was a student of the game defensively and knew player tendencies in a way that I only hope McDaniels can one day grasp. Then there's Bruce Bowen, who Brett Brown likes to compare McDaniels to. McDaniels, again, has more defensive tools than Bowen, but Bowen's career path is so unique that it's impossible to project somebody like that. Bowen went to Europe an offensive player who couldn't shoot and turned into a player with the Spurs who was a defensive stopper and automatic from the corner.

I think K.J. can be a long time starter in this league, who can become an incredibly unique defender who, when paired with Noel, Embiid, and possibly Towns, could form one of the toughest front courts to score against. I'm not sure I ever see him scoring 17+ points per game, but that's okay, as long as he can defend, hit the open shot, and run in transition. For Covington, I think his defensive issues probably prevent him from being a starter on a good team, but he looks like a good option to pair with Noel/Embiid, and definitely looks like a rotation player in this league. Bigs who can shoot are incredibly valuable. He may be limited to 20-25 minutes/night, even at his peak, but I think that's a role that can have a ton of value.


Q: Can you compare Wiggons to K J McDaniels.  Who is the better player today?  Who has the most upside?

I don't think it's a far cry to say McDaniels is a more valuable player today. His defense is further along, if for no other reason than his ability to block shots and force turnovers. They both make mistakes with their defensive decision making and rotations, which is natural for players so young and inexperienced, but McDaniels more consistently covers up those mistakes. McDaniels is also playing a role that he has a better chance of succeeding in.

I do still think Wiggins has more offensive potential than KJ, though. For as much as Wiggins is killed, KJ shares many of the same shortcomings: a handle that doesn't allow him to maximize his athleticism offensively, an inconsistent outside shot, and more polishing on defensive rotations. I do think that if Wiggins figures out his ball handling, he has more offensive potential. I think his first step is better, he elevates much better on his jump shot and is able to get a quality look more regularly when well defended, and I just overall trust Wiggins jump shot more than i trust McDaniels, especially off the dribble.


Q: Have you heard anything at all about Embiid's recovery?

Yes! He has been cleared to begin shooting standstill shots at practice. I took a video the other day.

It's a small step, and he's still quite a bit away from practicing actual basketball moves, but it's just nice to see the big guy involved in practices.


Q: Who is the better 3pt shooter- Justise Winslow or Stanley Johnson?

Great question. I'll give you a half-answer.

Both are on extremely small sample sizes so far, only shooting 26 attempts each from three point range. But both have been better than expected, with each making 10. The symmetry is a little frightening.

Stanley Johnson has been virtually automatic off the catch so far this year, with Winslow showing a little bit more comfort shooting off the dribble. I probably have a little more faith in Winslow's shooting going forward, as I've seen less deviation and more consistency in his form, but it's still very early. So far the signs are positive, but they're both guys we'll have to keep an eye on all year.

That will wrap it up. Thanks to everybody who submitted questions, and my apologies if I didn't answer yours. If you want to submit a question for next week, either hit me up on twitter (include #sixersmailbag in the tweet) or send me an email.

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