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Sixers Mailbag Volume 14 - Defensive Improvement, Keeping the Young Kids, and the 2015 NBA Draft

In the 14th edition of the LibertyBallers Sixers mailbag, we talk about which of the Sixers young players will be sticking around, the Sixers defensive improvement, and the 2015 NBA draft.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the 14th edition of the LibertyBallers Sixers Mailbag. You can check out our previous installments at our story stream.

Some improved play of late, with the Sixers winning 3 in a row at home while playing competitive basketball against the Hawks and the Cavs on the road, two of the hottest teams in the NBA. We'll talk about that, and also mix in some draft talk.


You can only keep 2 of 3 out of Covington, McDaniels, and Grant. Who don't you keep?

Keeping Covington, to me, is a no-brainer.

I do like both McDaniels and Grant. While Grant is intriguing as heck defensively, I think it's easier to slot McDaniels into a lineup, as I think he can legitimately defend both shooting guard and small forward positions. McDaniels is only 6'6", but he has a wingspan that's above average for a small forward, and I think as he continues to physically mature and get stronger I don't have much concern putting him on the court at either position. Grant, on the other hand, I think you can still only use at the 4 in certain situations and in certain matchups. I like that versatility that KJ offers.

That being said, if I could only pick one, I ultimately pick whichever one I have the most confidence in with regards to his outside shot. They're both fantastic (and fantastically unique) team defenders, but I have more confidence in Grant's outside shot at the moment, which is a statement I never thought I'd make. The progress he's made is nothing short of astounding.


The trade deadline is a month away, what moves do you see the 76ers making? Additionally, what teams are looking to shed big contracts that the 76ers could seemingly take back for draft picks?

I see them trading with whichever team will give them the best draft picks to get them under the luxury tax. Who is that? I'm not entirely sure, to be honest. I'd have to spend some more time really looking at each team's financial standing. But I don't see them really making any move of significance, at least in terms of bringing in a current NBA player.


What do you think has been the biggest driver of our defensive improvement: a better understanding of the system by the players OR the players just being the athletic pogo sticks and playing better 1x1 defense.

The biggest source of our defensive improvement? The pogo sticks, definitely, although that's a factor in team defense as well, not just 1x1 defense. You remove guys like Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, and even James Anderson and replace them with Nerlens Noel, Jerami Grant, and K.J. McDaniels and you're bound to see (considerable) improvement just from the athletic upgrade, assuming they're willing to dedicate themselves to playing defense, which this group is.

That's not to say that there hasn't been (considerable) improvement in the quality of their rotations, as I think you can definitely notice less hesitation as they become more certain in where they're supposed to be, but the biggest driving factor in their improvement over last season is in personnel. They're letting guys like Grant, McDaniels, and Noel play to their strengths (defense) while the rest of their game catches up, a luxury most NBA coaches don't necessarily have.


How many players on the 76ers roster do you see being on the team at the start of 2015-2016?

These are the players I think have a pretty good chance:
MCW, Noel, Embiid, McDaniels, Mbah a Moute, Covington, Hollis, Wroten, Grant, Sampson, Aldemir.

(Estimated) Probability for each:
Embiid: 99.9%
Noel: 85%
MCW: 60%
McDaniels: 55%
Mbah a Moute: 65%
Covington: 95%
Hollis: 70%
Wroten: 80%
Grant: 90%
Sampson: 85%
Aldemir: 80%

(Note: these percentages are made up on the spot. Don't put any real value in them. )

Embiid, I think, is self-explanatory, and I don't think they move Noel before he plays alongside Embiid. The only reason he's not at 100% is in case they draft Okafor or Towns AND they get offered an incredible young prospect for Noel. So I don't think it's impossible they move Noel, I just wouldn't expect it.

I think there's a chance they shop MCW at draft time again, especially if they end up going with either Russell or Mudiay with their first pick (although I think Russell can play alongside MCW relatively easily). The reason this isn't higher is I just don't think Hinkie is going to get what he wants for MCW, so I think they give him the offseason to see if he can commit himself to improving that jumper of his.

For the young guys, I don't see any reason to move Covington, not on the contract he's on. Ditto with Grant. They obviously love Sampson, and he's been showing signs of improvement, so no reason to think he won't be back next year. Aldemir is on a contract that I'm not sure is all that tradeable, I don't see Sam giving up assets to move him, and I think they still have enough interest in him to give him a chance to get into 'career best fitness' and give it a shot next year, so I don't even think they would want to move him. Wroten's would be relatively low because of the combination of fit and because they could get a point guard in the draft, but he has a guaranteed contract for next season, and his injury might make it more likely he's here, as he won't be traded. Hollis is on a cheap enough deal and still shows enough signs of life to warrant a roster spot. The interesting one is obviously KJ. I think they'll want to keep him here, and I think his struggles help increase the odds he's here, but all it takes for one person to offer a crazy offer sheet.

I think you could definitely find a good team who would give up a 2nd round pick for Mbah a Moute, or who would pursue him in the offseason (Mbah a Moute is a free agent), but I think with how much Brett loves him, combined with his relationship with Embiid, means they'll hold onto him. The wild card with him is how much he would prefer playing on a contender vs the playing time and freedom he's given here, and I'm not sure I really have a gauge for that.

So, of those 11, I'll say 8 end up being here next year.


Statistically speaking, how have the Sixers progressed defensively and offensively month to month? Do you see any particular players that have been responsible for the team's recent success on the defensive side of the ball? Or do you think they are just becoming better at team defense as a whole as they have more time to play together?

Month Games Off Rtg Def Rtg
October 2 86.1 97.7
November 14 91.6 106.6
December 14 90.4 99.9
January 18 92.6 102.0
February 2 95.6 97.5

(using formula).

They're actually defending the three point line worse in the month of January, giving up 36.2%, their worst month of the season. It's really the last 5 games where the improvement over earlier in the year becomes noticeable, as they have a 93.9 defensive rating over the last 5 games.

Biggest reason for defensive improvement? Probably taking care of the basketball. Their 18.1% turnover percentage in January was easily their best month of the season, as they've been pushing 20% the rest of the year. They gave up 24.6 and 24.0 points off of turnovers per game in November and December, but only 17.8 per night in January. That's a big improvement. and something that really shows up in the box score. MCW has also been playing better defensively (which is the subject of an upcoming post), I think Noel's rotations have gotten slightly better, and playing Grant is a help on the defensive side of the court as well. Grant's playing time in January (395 minutes) was almost double his November/December playing time (214 minutes).


As a firm believer in analytics, Michael Carter-Williams has regressed this year. However, I believe that we just don’t have enough information to evaluate him: (1) he didn’t get to work on his shot this summer (or play in any capacity); (2) he has very little spacing when he’s on the floor; (3) he’s the only ball handler when he plays; (4) and he has very little offensive wherewithal when he runs pick and rolls—especially when you consider his lack of floor spacing. Having said that, explain to me why MCW gets such harsh criticism this early in his career?

Well, he was able to do some shooting in the offseason. Both Michael Carter-Williams and Brett Brown talked about how he had been able to shoot, to some degree, for a few months leading up to training camp. Not as much as he otherwise would have, but it's not like he came into training camp completely cold.

I do certainly think some of that is true. I talked quite a bit heading into the season about how I worried about the ability to properly evaluate Michael Carter-Williams, particularly his decision making and turnovers when playing with a team so void of offensive talent and with such an inability to make shots from the perimeter. I do think floor spacing his improved of late, with Grant's improvement, defenses continuing to show Robert Covington more respect, and with Carter-Williams spending less time playing alongside Tony Wroten. It's still far from ideal, but it's improving.

That being said, Michael Carter-Williams gets so much criticism because, at this point, he's just not that effective, especially in the half-court. It's nigh impossible to build an effective offense around a point guard who can't shoot beyond 5 feet, and all of his numbers in that regard have gone down this year, to the point where he's shooting 27% when outside of 5' and 25% beyond 8'. That's incredibly, incredibly bad. Worse than his numbers this year is the fact that it's been a career trend, something a little unsettling for a 23 year old point guard.

People love to point out edge cases to compare him to, but they're edge cases for a reason. He passes well, but I don't see the half-court creativity or shot creation off the pick and roll that a guy like Rubio brings. He's improving defensively and runs break well, but I don't see Jason Kidd when I look at him. He can't be good at these things, he has to be great at those things. I think it's natural to question whether his shooting is a fatal flaw, especially when we start building a team around Embiid. At this point, having an excuse for a lack of improvement isn't enough to quell concerns. They're concerns we'll have until he actually proves he can (drastically) improve.


Can Kristaps Porzingis play SF in the NBA?  That would be my preference if the Sixers draft him.  But Is he athletic enough to guard that position?  Where would you prefer to see him play?

I don't believe so, no.

Don't get me wrong, he's athletic for a power forward, although I think that shows up more vertically than laterally. I wouldn't want him trying to keep NBA wings in front of him or trying to chase them through screens. Besides, I think his ability to stretch the floor has more value as a power forward pulling a rebounder and shot blocker out of the lane than as I small forward. He's a great fit next to either Noel and Embiid, and there's enough minutes for all 3, so I don't see a reason to put him on the wing.


What if this team continues to rack up wins decreasing our odds of landing a top 3 pick? Based on their remaining schedule, they can easily win 20+ games. If that happens, do you foresee Hinkie making changes to decrease the win pace?

No, absolutely not.

This team is winning because of good talent evaluation and successful player development. They're not going to shed young pieces in order to increase our odds at the #1 pick by 4-9%. This isn't the same situation as having Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner on the team at the trade deadline.


Do you think Brett Brown will get any votes for Coach of the Year? He's doing a hell of a job, considering the circumstances. (I'm assuming they vote like they do the MVP voting where you rank the candidates 1-5.)

They give 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place votes.

He might get a vote or two from somebody looking to make a statement, but I think you would be hard pressed to find a coach on a team that doesn't win 20 games receive any real votes, even if there's an argument that he's doing an incredible job.

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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