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Sixers Mailbag Volume 16 - Offense with Embiid, Draft, Free Agency, and Super Mario

In the 16th edition of the LibertyBallers Sixers Mailbag we talk about Glenn Robinson, Mario Hezonja, Dario Saric, the 2015 NBA draft, and more.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the 16th edition of the LibertyBallers Sixers Mailbag. You can check out the previous installments at our story stream.


Q: Do you think the Sixers should go after Khris Middleton or Brandon Knight This summer in Free agency?  Both guys are only 23 and can really shoot and would seem to be good fits on any team because of that.

I like Brandon Knight's game, and certainly like the progress he's made over the last year or two, I'm just not sure I'm ready to commit major money to the point guard position yet. Also, I don't think Phoenix gave away the Lakers pick just to let him walk, so I have to think they made the move having already made the decision that they'd be willing to match any offer, especially since our entire mindset on what is and is not a good contract will be changing drastically now that the cap increase won't be smoothed out.

Middleton would be a great, great get. He's really polished out the rough edges in his game over the last two years, and is now the kind of corner-three shooting, switchable, versatile defender that seems like exactly the type of guy Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown would be looking for on the perimeter.

Check out these defensive numbers:

Area defended FG% diff (from season average)
Overall -5.4%
3 pointers -3.6%
2 pointers -5.0%
less than 6 ft -4.4%
less than 10 ft -1.5%
greater than 15 ft

On/Off Def Rtg
On Court 98.3
Off Court 106.3

The Bucks are in a pretty good salary cap position, so I'm not sure we can find a way to structure an offer that they wouldn't match, but I'd absolutely make a (sizable) offer for Middleton.



Q: My question is basically whether you think in today’s NBA you can build your team around 2 big men.

Sure. Height alone doesn't preclude a pairing.

The question is really about fit, both in terms of how Noel and Embiid fit, and how you approach the draft. With big men, I think there are 2 real keys:
- Can they stretch the floor enough for an offense to execute efficiently?
- Are they versatile enough where they can move their feet and slow down pick and rolls?

If the answers to those two questions are yes, then I absolutely think you can build around two big men.

Noel obviously fits one of those criteria to a T, in that he can absolutely guard stretch-4's and defend pick and rolls. The much tougher question is whether Joel Embiid can be an effective post player with Noel's man consistently leaving to double, and whether Noel's lack of range could clog up the lane for a slashing wing.

And I think it's a very valid concern. Much has been made of Noel's improved play since the all-star break, and deservedly so (Related: I think part of that is an example of how spacing helps a big man), but he's still only shooting 3-14 from 15-19' since the All-Star break. His free throw shooting has looked legitimately better, but translating that standstill shot to a jump shot is not always easy, especially with Noel's release and how extremely inconsistent it is, particularly the timing of the release. Signs may be positive, but it's far from a guarantee.

Sure, Embiid's range, just judging by practice, has been improving, but you really don't want Embiid floating out on the perimeter for much of the game -- doing so is wasting an incredible post talent.

The good news is that the rotations may shake out where Noel and Embiid don't play more than 15 minutes or so per night together, as keeping an elite shot blocker on the court at all times is a huge benefit for Brown when building a defensive scheme. And some of the guys towards the top of the draft -- Towns and Porzingis, especially -- either look to already be good perimeter shooters (Porzingis) or look to have that potential down the line (Towns).

If your question is do the Sixers have to trade Noel, no, they don't. There may be legitimate concerns with the offensive pairing of Noel and Embiid down the line, but I think you can get creative enough with your rotations to minimize that and not have to give up an elite defender.

Also, Embiid insurance.



Q: When looking at prospects, do you look at how individual skills may translate or how the total package will translate?

Both? You really look at each individual skill and see how each one of them will translate. Guys who dominate in college, but don't necessarily have a 100% certain translatable skill that I can bank on, do concern me, though. Evan Turner is a good example of this.

One thing that I think people, and models, do a poor job of doing is translating role. A lot of times, we'll look at a guy who is under-performing in relation to our expectations, and we don't see past that. Guys who, due to their being the most talented player on a college squad, are asked to be a primary focal point, but who don't have the game or mindset to necessarily succeed in that type of a role, and guys who are never going to be asked to be perform that role in the pro's. Yet their failure to fulfill that role that really has no bearing on their success in the league leaves an almost unshakable, unconscious negative impression in our heads.

I think Glenn Robinson III is a pretty good example of that. He's a guy with plus athletic tools who has the basis for a good jump shot and off-the-ball game if he's able to become more consistent in translating that shot that to games. But, entering his sophomore season at Michigan, the expectation was that he'd develop into an all-around offensive player. But he's never going to be that in the NBA, so playing a role that actually fits his skill set on a very deep Michigan team may have actually hurt his draft stock.

That's not to say that Robinson doesn't have holes in his game that caused his stock to drop. He desperately needs to improve the consistency in his shot, which looks, and gets results, infinitely better in practice and shootaround than the game, and he's going to have to work on getting that up cleanly with less time and space. He really doesn't have much of a role in this league until that happens. But our expectation of the role he would play at Michigan was probably a little bit unrealistic, and, more importantly, not really relevant to his success in the NBA.



Q: It might be too soon to determine, but, if you were given the choice for it to convey as 6 or later this year or not convey until next year, would you rather the Lakers pick convey in 2015 or 2016?

This year, pretty easily.

First, I do think there's a chance it would be top-7 next year, as, despite the Lakers cap space, I just don't trust them to go out and make the right decisions, nor do I really trust Byron Scott to get the most out of whatever talent they do assemble. So I don't think it's doom and gloom if it doesn't convey this year.

That being said, I really like that section of the draft this year. If the Sixers had the 6th pick in this draft, they'd have a guarantee of landing two of Okafor, Towns, Russell, Mudiay, Johnson, Porzingis, and Hezonja. I'll ride with that. That would be a great return for MCW, in my opinion. I'm not sure I'm that confident in next year's 6-8 being as strong.



Q: How do you expect the Sixers to build their backcourt and what do you predict our starting backcourt is next season?

Predict the starting backcourt? Oh, I have no idea. Too much can happen between now and next fall to make a prediction with any meaning.

Clearly, drafting somebody is in play, with Russell, Mudiay, and Hezonja all being possibilities, not to mention guys like Winslow, Oubre, Booker, Grant, etc available with later picks.

In terms of skill sets, I think they target pick and roll play, and are going to really look to build a two-man tandem with Embiid. Russell is an obvious fit in that regard, and Mudiay, while not nearly a consistent shooter (and I have considerable uncertainty on whether he will become one), is a very good passer and decision maker off the pick and roll, and can get into the paint with ease when coming off a pick, so he has some intrigue there as well.

I also think that general decision making is something they're going to be targeting at ALL positions. Frequently, we look at passing as a "wasted" skill set if the player isn't playing on the ball, but it's only really wasted if that player isn't effective enough in other facets of the game. You can't play an up-tempo offense effectively without good decision makers across the board. It sounds simple, but teams that can more frequently make smart decisions, quickly, tend to execute the best offensively. So decision making, passing instincts, and vision are traits I think they'll look for at all positions.

Traits that could be a deal breaker? Ball stoppers.



Q: There's been a lot of talk around the league about the offensive revolution of 4-out and 5-out basketball thanks to the success of the Warriors (really, the D'Antoni Suns) and the Hawks. Do you know if the Sixers have an ideological stance on how to structure their offense, and if they do, how that might impact their draft board?

This kind of ties into my answer above, so this will be a little bit more brief, but Sam talked about shooting when he spoke after the deadline, and Brett constantly talks about the need for floor spacing. With Embiid's potential dominance as a post scorer, I think it would be a fair assumption they'll be looking at a similar scheme. You almost have to.



Q: Do you think Embiid has the chance of developing into a bigger version of what Horford is for the Hawks?

Honestly, and I mean absolutely no disrespect to Horford, who is one of my favorite players in the league (and those who say the Hawks don't have any stars, shame on you). Embiid certainly has the potential to impact the game in many facets in the way that Horford does. Post scorers who can dominate the glass, block shots, pass, and step out on the perimeter (as Horford is slowly, but surely, improving upon) are a tremendous asset.

That being said, if Joel Embiid's healthy, I think it's a pretty safe bet that he's a better version of Horford, in pretty much every regard. That's insanely high praise.



Q: Is it ridiculous that I’m still holding out hope that we can acquire Andrew Wiggins before the start of the 2015-2016 season?

Yeah, kind of. Teams just don't trade reigning Rookie of the Year players like Wiggins is about to become.

In all seriousness, I don't get any sense that the Wolves are looking to move Wiggins. None at all. It's probably best to move on at this point, unless Embiid becomes dominant and can somehow recruit Wiggins down the line. But Wiggins is a Minnesotan now, and it's probably best to come to grips with that.



Q: Given how much the team has improved throughout the year, realistically, how many wins should we expect in 2015-2016?

Honestly, if Embiid is able to play 70+ games, I can see them winning 25-30 games. If the team does something (relatively) unexpected in free agency (say, Middleton / Draymond Green'esque), I don't think 35+ wins and challenging for the 8th spot* is out of the question. I really don't. I think Embiid will have a decent impact next year (if healthy), especially in the 2nd half. He's going to take time to adjust, but I can see pretty substantial strides as the season goes on. And, when Embiid is playing, I think the roles of guys like Canaan, Thompson, and Covington come into much clearer focus, and the attention Embiid can draw can make all of them more effective (especially Covington).

* (Related: the East stinks.)



Q: I really like Mario Hezonja especially for the Sixers who are sorely lacking in shooters.  But why is he so highly rated in mock drafts.  Anyone watching clips of Hezonja and Dario Saric playing together for Croatia knows that Hezonja is not remotely in Saric's league.

"Watching clips" of "a handful of games", obviously the best way to gauge a prospect's long term potential.

What did Hezonja play during the 2014 FIBA cup, about 15 minutes in total? We're going to use that as a base rather than Hezonja's play in the incredibly tough ACB? We're going to ignore the progress he's made this season? That seems silly.

I disagree with both your methodology and your results. Dario was clearly further along last summer, but Mario's shooting from deep, size, athleticism, and first step all show a guy whose ceiling is still far from being reached, and the progress he's made over the last 5 months or so has been impressive.

They're very different players, with very different physical profiles, at very different stages of their development, playing very different roles and against very different levels of competition. Luckily, it's not an either/or situation, so I'm not entirely sure the point of the question, other than to profess a love of Dario.



Q: Is it too early too star worrying about the Sixers winning to many games, thus lowering their chances at the N.1 pick? Or do you think we should not worry altogether, even if MIN, LAL and NYK will get a worse record than the Sixers, 'cause  that would mean the players have developed nicely?

I mean, I'm not sure how much I can really worry. If Noel comes out and dominates, and Covington turns it on down the stretch, and Grant plays well, and they win games?

I would prefer to remain in the 2nd slot (I've conceded the worst record to the Knicks), but I'm not quite as concerned this year as I was last year. The depth of this draft helps in that regard as well.



Q: In your last podcast, you asked Rich to estimate how many wins the Sixers would have next year with Jimmy Butler. Is there a real chance that the Bulls would let Butler get away?

I don't think it's particularly likely, no, although with how the Bulls will treat their (relatively limited) cap flexibility, you can't know for sure. But, I think the Bulls have to stop looking at how they can compete this year, but instead make sure they keep their nucleus, and I think, if push came to shove, they'll keep Butler over guys like Pau and or Gibson, both of whom they could probably move pretty easily if they needed to shed salary. It's never a sure thing which direction the Bulls will go, but I just can't see it happening myself.

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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