Seven takeaways from the Sixers offseason so far

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The 76ers offseason is in full swing after being ousted from the playoffs by the Boston Celtics. With six picks in the upcoming draft, including two first round picks, money to spend on free agents and a number of high quality young players, the team seems to be set for a long and successful future. I started this a few days ago and have gone back to change it as we’re now dealing with a huge issue for the team in the terms of Bryan Colangelo and the appearance of multiple “burner” Twitter accounts that are seemingly linked to him. So, let’s get in to it.

 

Bryan Colangelo and his mysterious Twitter habits.
The Bryan Colangelo issue is the biggest problem for the Sixers right now as they head in to the offseason that was supposed to change the franchise for the next several years. While it came out recently, via a great piece of investigative journalism from The Ringer, Colangelo had to go on the defensive about his Twitter habits, multiple accounts and those accounts criticizing everyone from the team, coaches, media and others in the NBA.

His immediate denials of any knowledge were accompanied by the reports that as soon as he was notified about the piece, three of the accounts that were included but not mentioned to the team, went private and basically offline. Whatever comes from this, as the team has launched its own private investigation, the team is in a bad light now and there doesn’t seem to be a way for Colangelo to remain the GM of the team.

Take in to account that medical information was being leaked, start players like Embiid being criticized, Brett Browns coaching being questioned and the fact that these accounts all seemed to stick up for Colangelo and paint everyone else in a negative light. This isn’t a good look for the team, especially when they’re looking to add someone like LeBron James or Paul George as a free agent this off-season.

My opinion of Colangelo has never been high and I believe that he’s only here as a way to appease the owners who hated Sam Hinkie and his “process”, but what’s come out regarding him now is truly hurting this team. It wasn’t hard for him to draft Ben Simmons and with the pieces that Hinkie had accumulated, it was easy for him to move up and grab Fultz in last years draft.

Fultz is still a question mark, but the hope is that he’s going to be significantly better next year, and he was widely considered to be the best player in the draft last year. He blew the trade for Jahlil Okafor and that’s something that every Hinkie loyalist can see would have turned out differently if Sam had still been around. He’s just not provided the team with any sort of valuable leadership and the latest reports hurt him whether they’re found to be true or not. The perception of people in this league goes a long way and right now, his stock is at an all-time low. We can all wait to see how this plays out but it has to be finished quickly so the team can move on and prepare for Free Agency and the draft. If I were the owners of the Sixers I would cut ties with him immediately and get the ball moving in terms of finding a new GM and preparing for the summer.

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SGet rid of all the picks and move up in the Draft.
The 76ers have six picks in the upcoming draft. Two first round picks (10 and 26) as well as four second round picks (38,39, 56, & 60). There’s a lot to be said for a rebuilding team with that many picks but, the Sixers aren’t rebuilding anymore. They’ve arrived as their third place showing in the Eastern Conference showed this past season. In the past couple of years, the Sixers have drafted European players that they’ve stashed overseas in the hopes of finding a diamond in the rough, but that’s not the case.

There isn’t any one of them that will make a difference on the team in the immediate or foreseeable future. So, what do you do with the number of picks that they have this season? Trade them all. That’s the simplest way to say it. Looking at the roster, you only have limited amounts of space and they’re not bringing in dix rookies for this team. They really just have space for one. Obviously, there were spots being wasted on players like Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless, which need to be removed, but they also got value from Marco Belinelli, JJ Reddick, and Irsan Ilyasova.

If the Sixers are to move forward, they need shooting and defense. That has Mikal Bridges written all over it. The team can’t look to use both first-round picks on two people that may do well, they need to aim for someone that fits them now and can contribute immediately. Bridges brings quite a lot to the table for the team.

He shoots well from three-point range (43.5% last season) and he routinely defends other teams best players. He’s a 6’7” shooter with a 7’2” wingspan that helps on defense. Think of a vastly more talented version of Robert Covington. The team could be criticized for dumping a bunch of picks to move up, but it’s what they need. Unload both of the first-rounder picks and two second-rounder picks for a top five selection and take Bridges.

It may seem like a lot, but the Sixers have the ability to overpay in this years draft to make sure that they get the best player that fits the team. Like I said previously, you can’t use all of these picks and expect to get winners but, you could send them to a team like Dallas, Atlanta, Sacramento or Memphis to get where you need to be in the draft. All of those teams are in the initial stages of a rebuild and could use the number of picks they would receive to hit on a couple of players and gain some depth for the future. Anything other than moving up in to the top five is a wasted draft for the team as they already have in place a good number of young and talented players for their top ten players.

 

Markelle Fultz and his lost season
With Fultz having sat the majority of this past season, people have to wonder if he’s lost it either mentally or physically. As a young player, the pressure of being the first overall pick can be tough to overcome but as we saw at the end of the season, Fultz provided some glimpses in to what made him the #1 pick last year. With a full offseason and time to adjust to life in the NBA, Fultz should be a much better player this upcoming year and for the future.

It’s way too soon in his career to even look to move him as many people have suggested in their hopes of the team landing Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs. Talent and depth are two important pieces to success in the NBA, unless of course you have Lebron James on your team and then you’re seemingly guaranteed a spot in the Finals. The Sixers have plenty of talent and they need to use that to their advantage. Fultz would provide that, relatively stress free, on the second unit next season, if the Sixers make the right moves in the offseason.

What we’ve seen from Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid would lead me to believe that Fultz will be much improved next year having virtually sat out his entire rookie year. Fultz needs to continue to improve his game, but before he can do that, he needs to get back to just being comfortable on the court and playing the game. Letting the game come to him and not trying to do too much. That’s the mental part of it and hopefully with being a year removed from the draft and its initial pressure, he can return to form and be a vital piece for the team going forward.

 

 

Ben Simmons and his missing jump shot.
Ben Simmons took zero regular three points shots in his rookie season. Short of end of the quarter/half heaves, he didn’t take one. So, how does this affect Simmons going forward? One part of is that he wasn’t really affected that much this past season. He used his strengths to do what he wants on the court, but teams backed off him and dared him to shoot, which he didn’t. Defenses will continue to sag and allow him some space if he’s outside of the arc and they know that he won’t shoot.

While it seems that he can shoot, as witnessed in practice, his reluctance is going to hurt him in the future. What he seems to lack is the confidence to take over games or use his skill to impose his will on opposing teams. It’s something that a player like Donovan Mitchell has and his aggressiveness is obvious from the moment he steps on the court. Simmons needs that. He needs to be more aggressive in his play. With his size and talent, there aren’t very many people that can stop him, but if they put him in the situation where he has to shoot a jump shot, he has to take that shot.

Hell, the Sixers throw up plenty of poor shots, so having Simmons miss on some wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary. What could happen is that he can see that he has the ability to make those shots and that would really present a problem for opposing teams. As his size with his elite skill level, the only thing holding him back is himself. It sort of falls under the same situation as Fultz where it may just be a mental issue in which case the Sixers should have the people to work with those guys to instill that confidence in them. If he doesn’t develop that outside shot, then the team would have to look at moving him from the point and having him play at small forward where he could exploit virtually any defender that was put on him. Hopefully, he gains that level of confidence this offseason and comes in to next season as an even more dominant player.

 

Joel Embiid as a guard
The one big issue this past season that I had with Embiid was his constant movement and placement on the perimeter during games. Too many times we saw Joel get the ball at the top of the key or just inside the arc and try to take his man off the dribble as a guard would. He’s not a guard. Having Brett Brown state that he wanted Embiid to take more three-pointers during the season didn’t help either. While it’s a good thing to know that he could shoot threes periodically, the best situation is for Joel to be parked down low and take advantage of the centers that are trying to defend him.

It was mentioned more than enough times that there isn’t really a center in the league that can contain Embiid in the low post, so why not keep him there and allow him to take over games in that position. One thing he will have to work on is his choices with the ball. He needs to become a better passer from the post. He’s not bad, but if he continues to develop a passing game, it would open the teams shooters for higher percentage shots from the outside. He’s still young and I’m sure gets caught up in the way the game is played today, with everyone and their mother taking threes, but in order to be truly dominant, he needs to remain in the post for the most part and earn his money by destroying anyone that’s unlucky enough to draw his assignment. I can’t really say bad things about him because he’s made the Second Team All-NBA squad this year, but if he’d like to be even better, that’s my real knock on Embiid.

 

 

Dario Saric is more valuable than you think
Saric improved is three-point percentage from 31% his rookie year to just under 40% this past season. He ran some hot streaks where he was shooting well and in the playoffs he was going at around 44% until the end of the Boston series where the whole team seemed to forget how to shoot from long range. He’s become a good defender and has very good court vision. He also brings tenacity to the team. When he starts making shots or he hits a big one, his emotion is on full display and the team feeds off that. He’s become a vital part of the Sixers team and the past two season, as the season gets in to the later stages, Saric seems to step up and hit another level of play. He’s way too valuable for the team to be included in any trades at this point of his career.

 

Speaking of trades
Everyone is high on the Sixers trading Fultz, Saric and some picks to the San Antonio Spurs for forward Kawhi Leonard. I’m not on board with any of this. Leonard is a very good player, but he’s not the superstar that he’s being made out to be. Everyone loves to refer back to his two Defensive Player of the Year awards, but even those should be looked at more closely.

In 2016, you could argue that Paul Millsap was the better player as all of his defensive stats were better than Leonard’s. In 2015, Anthony Davis was less than a steal per game behind Leonard but had two more blocks per game. Leonard, while very talented is also the guy that got his name from the Spurs 2014 Championship and being touted as the next guy after Tim Duncan was leaving. I get it. The Spurs were a dynasty and a model team for years with Duncan there. The league would love to see them continue that.

Leonard, for me, is just a very good player that seems to garner praise for his skill as if he’s LeBron or Durant. I don’t see it. I see a very good, quality player that will contribute to a team, but not the leader that everyone is making him out to be. Giving up players like Fultz and Saric in addition to draft picks for Leonard is a mistake on the Sixers part and pulls then away from The Process. (This all seems to fit what Bryan Colangelo ultimately wants to do anyway.) Let another team give up a lot fo Leonard and see how that plays out, but the Sixers should keep who they have and let the process of developing their team continue as it has the past few years. Setting themselves up for a big score in free agency while retaining their quality young players and draft picks will allow the team to be successful for years to come. Sacrificing that now would be a huge mistake on a player who’s name is great but who’s game isn’t as good as his name.

 

Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

 

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