What if the Sixers Never Traded Jrue Holiday?

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June 27th, 2013, that was the day the Sixers took their first big step right into the Process. After the infamous Andrew Bynum trade that decimated the franchise’s future, the organization knew that something must change. That change came at the expense of the team’s young All-Star guard Jrue Holiday.

The mindset behind the process was to send off the established talent on the team for younger players or better yet, draft picks. In theory it made sense, while the team would have to go through some dark years at the bottom of the standings, if all went well they would rise up like a phoenix all the way to multiple NBA Finals. That was the idea anyway.

June 27th, 2013 was the night of the 2013 NBA draft. The Sixers traded their budding young star to the New Orleans Pelicans for the sixth pick (Nerlens Noel) and the Pelicans’ first 2014 first round pick. The Sixers later drafted Michael Carter-Williams who went on to win the NBA’s rookie of the year award.

Jrue Holiday has gone on to average 17.7 points, 6.9 Assists, and 1.5 steals while both Noel and Carter-Williams are no longer in Philadelphia. The Sixers did also receive the Pelicans 2014 first round pick (Elfrid Payton) which they flipped to the Orlando Magic for their 2014 first rounder and Sixers’ 2015 first round pick they had lost in the Andrew Bynum trade. The pick was already protected and with the Sixers tanking, it almost certainly would not have conveyed.

What if?

But what if the Sixers decided to make Jrue Holiday the face of the Process? Holiday was only 23 and had plenty of potential ahead of him, the Sixers could still have not only followed “The Process,” but even expedited it.

Let’s take a deep dive into what the Sixers would look like if they never traded Jrue Holiday. We’ll be figuring all of this out using one of my favorite metrics, Win-Shares. By taking the combined Win-Shares Holiday and other players added during the Process and subtracting the WS of players who never became Sixers (Nerlens Noel), we can estimate (extremely roughly) where the Sixers would have finished that year in the standings.

2013-2014

First and foremost let’s address the obvious difference. If the Sixers did not trade Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans, then they would never have acquired Nerlens Noel. Not only that, but if they kept their young point guard then they’d likely not draft Michael Carter-Williams either. If that were the case who WOULD they have drafted?

With the Sixers still having a void at the center position, Steven Adams would have been the likely addition. a bruising, defensive minded center similar to Noel just in a less athletic/more durable body.

The Math

Noel missed his entire rookie year recovering from a torn ACL while Carter-Williams had a wonderful year from a statistical standpoint. Even so, Carter-Williams only managed a meager 1.3 WS.

Holiday meanwhile suffered from a stress fracture tibia during this season, an injury that allegedly was suffered and covered up while with the Sixers. In spite of this, Holiday still managed to outpace MCW with 1.5 WS. Steve Adams had himself a wonderful rookie season much like MCW but from an analytical standpoint. While only averaging 3.3 points and 4.1 rebounds Adams finished the year with a respectable 2.9 WS.

Net wins added = 1.6 (rounded to 2)

Even in this case the Sixers would only go from 19 wins to 21 so their draft position would be unaffected (assuming the lottery falls the same). Unsurprisingly the Sixers would still miss the playoffs.

2014-2015

With the Sixers still in the midst of the Process, their draft position does not change. This means the Sixers still are able to draft Joel Embiid with the third pick. What does change in this scenario is that the Sixers do not have the Pelicans’ first round pick, meaning that they don’t trade down with the Magic, meaning that they never draft Dario Saric. Though they would still likely draft K.J. McDaniels and Jerami Grant.

The Math

Before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, MCW shockingly earned -0.5 WS, which in this exercise, actually improves the Sixers’ record. Nerlens Noel however popped on the scene with an impressive 4.0 WS.

In year two, Jrue Holiday still struggled with his health missing a total of 42 games but still earning 3.4 WS. Steven Adams meanwhile added a tattoo, the beginnings of a mustache, and an extra 1.2 WS for a total of 4.1 for the young center.

*Joel Embiid missed the season due to a broken navicular bone.

*Dario Saric did not join the Sixers until 2016 so there’s no need to adjust for him.

Net wins added = 4

With the added four wins, the Sixers would have the one more win than the LA Lakers meaning the Sixers would end up with the fourth pick. Once again the Sixers would miss the playoffs.

2015-2016

Originally the Sixers drafted Jahlil Okafor in the 2015 NBA draft and funny enough, with the fourth pick that would likely still be the case. The Knicks and Kristaps Porziņģis were destined to be together (for a little bit anyway), but if you want to read more on that, here’s a shameless plug for an article I wrote about it:

Much like Porziņģis and the Knicks, the Sixers and Okafor were also “meant to be”. If Embiid and Nerlens Noel didn’t stop the Sixers from drafting Okafor neither would Adams.

The Math

Nerlens Noel followed up a successful rookie season with a solid sophomore season finishing with 3.0 WS.

Holiday continued to recover from injury and provided another solid 3.4 WS. Meanwhile, as Steven Adams continued to look more and more like Aquaman, he also made a leap of sorts with an impressive 6.5 WS.

*Joel Embiid missed the season due to a broken navicular bone.

*Dario Saric did not join the Sixers until 2016 so there’s no need to adjust for him.

Net Wins Added = 6.9 (rounded to 7)

The Sixers were so bad during the 2015-16 season that even with seven more wins the Sixers would end up with 17 wins tying the Lakers for the worst in the league. Shockingly, they again would miss the playoffs.

2016-2017

While the Sixers may have added seven wins, it still wouldn’t cause the Sixers to lose out on the Ben Simmons contest as the tie goes to the home team. Simmons was always, without question, the number one pick in this draft, the Sixers certainly wouldn’t pass him up even with Holiday on the roster.

The Math

The 2016-17 season saw Nerlens Noel leave midway through the season. In his half season Noel still managed to put 2.2 WS, while Justin Anderson (the return for Noel) added 0.9 WS. “The Homie” Dario Saric struggled offensively but still managed to put together a positive 1.0 WS.

Holiday continued to grow after his injury and increased his WS total up to 3.8 for the season. Adams meanwhile had a very consistent year again putting 6.5 WS.

Net Wins Added = 6.2 (rounded to 6)

With the six wins added, the Sixers would go from the fourth worst record all the way to being tied for ninth with the New Orleans Pelicans. Once again, the tie goes to the home team so the Sixers would end up with the ninth pick far away from Markelle Fultz. EXCEPT.

2017-2018

The Sixers had the right to swap picks with the Sacramento Kings who ended up with the third overall pick meaning that history would be doomed to repeat itself.

The one positive is that the Sixers would not be desperate for the number one pick as they would be just as happy with Tatum as they were with Fultz. The Celtics also would have taken Tatum number one overall so the top three would like fall:

  1. Tatum
  2. Ball
  3. Fultz

The Sixers would still end up with Fultz though there would be a small chance they draft Josh Jackson instead but Bryan Colangelo (who would likely still take over for Hinkie) was infatuated with Fultz.

The Math

Justin Anderson provided a mere 1.2 WS albeit in minimal minutes. Dario Saric provided a mighty 6.6 WS that would be sorely missed if not for the performance of Holiday and Adams.

Jrue Holiday took off during the 2017-18 season and returned to form with a commanding 7.1 WS. Steven Adams hit a whole new level launching his WS total all the way to 9.7, now what’s tricky about this is the impact Joel Embiid would have on Adams. Embiid is the star and would receive the bulk of the minutes though Adams would have his fair share of opportunity due to Embiid’s injury concerns. Adams would go from 33 minutes to say 22 and if his time was cut by one third you could argue his impact would also be cut by one third leading to a total of 6.4 WS.

Net Wins Added = 5.7 (rounded to 6)

There is no reason to believe the Sixers wouldn’t still pursue J.J. Redick, Ersan Ilyasova, and Marco Belinelli. With the additional six wins, the Sixers would end the season with 58 wins leaping over the Boston Celtics for the second seed.

If the Sixers held the second seed they would have home court advantage over the Celtics who won three of their four victories in the TD Garden. The Sixers’ odds of winning the series would skyrocket, but, even if they still lost, they would still be in a better position.

The End of the “Process”

The Sixers would only be seemingly one piece away from the NBA Finals and would spend the offseason “star-hunting”. Jimmy Butler likely wouldn’t be a target because the Sixers likely wouldn’t have an offer the Timberwolves would be interested in. Here’s a breakdown of the Sixers’ available assets:

Assets: Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington, Landry Shamet, Steven Adams

A couple names missing you may notice are Wilson Chandler and Zhaire Smith. Chandler would most likely not have been signed in the first place because the Sixers would have too much money invested in Jrue Holiday and Steven Adams. Smith meanwhile would never be drafted by the Sixers as they wouldn’t have the Lakers first round pick they traded for Smith and the Miami Heat first round pick in 2021.

While Jimmy Butler would probably not become a Sixer, Tobias Harris could still have been a prime target. Offering Adams, Shamet and a first round pick would likely be able to net the Sixers Tobias Harris and Mike Scott.

With a starting lineup of Simmons, Holiday, Redick, Harris, and Embiid and Robert Covington coming off the bench the Sixers would have themselves a force similar to what they had with Jimmy Butler but perhaps even more efficient. The problem with Butler was how ball-dominant he is (and usually needs to be).

The End Result

The Sixers would have their core starting lineup going forward without the risk of losing Butler in free agency. They would be able to build consistency without having to worry about as many parts. Simmons may have even performed better in the 2019 playoffs without being sent to the corner during every half-court set.

The Sixers had an opportunity to jump start their Process and keep both their young star point guard and Robert Covington while still being able to acquire Tobias Harris. There were so many mistakes that delayed the Process. Mistakes in the draft (Noel, MCW, Okafor, and Fultz), mistakes in the front office (replaceing Sam Hinkie with the Colangelos). Now it wouldn’t be all sunshine and roses of course, the team would still draft Jahlil Okafor and Markelle Fultz but they would overcome that, potentially to the NBA finals.

The Process could absolutely have survived with Jrue Holiday. In-fact it would have thrived. The Sixers would have been much better off keeping their young all-star and building around him.

Mandatory Credit – © Michael Ivins-USA TODAY Sports

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