The ‘other’ Rockets trade target that the Sixers should pursue

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 21: Houston Rockets Forward PJ Tucker (17) looks on after a stop on defense during a NBA game between the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers on October 21, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

If a notification pops up on my phone that “The Rockets and Sixers have agreed to trade…” my heart will jump just like everyone else. While I have mixed feelings on a potential James Harden trade, it would undoubtedly be a deal that changed the timeline of competing for a championship.

The Sixers are certainly in “win-now” mode, but with Simmons (24) and Embiid (26) still on long-term deals and entering the primes of their career they are not exactly “all-in” for just this season. Finding complementary players to bring out the best in the duo has been the theme of this offseason and one great fitting role player may be able to be pried from Houston for a much cheaper price.

Since it’s Christmas, why don’t we take a closer look at a deal we could all have realistically woken up to this morning!

The Trade

76ers Get: PJ Tucker (6’5-Power Forward-35 years old)

Rockets Get: Matisse Thybulle, Terrance Ferguson, 2023 2nd round pick

What Tucker Brings to the Sixers

Despite not coming to the Rockets until the age of 32, Tucker quickly became a foundational piece of the small-ball style of play that the team became known for. The 6’5 frame did not prevent Tucker from spending time guarding Centers and using his quick footwork to overcome the size disadvantage. Tucker finished 3rd in the NBA in charges drawn last season and, at 35 years old, registered his highest minutes per game of his career with 34.3 mins.

The biggest appeal in bringing Tucker to the Sixers is the emphasis in his game on the corner three. One of the reasons he fit and was such a key part of the Rockets was due to his focus on shooting nothing but 3-pointers and high-percentage shots. Since 2017, when Tucker joined the Rockets, he has launched 719 corner 3’s which is significantly more than any other player in the league from this spot. To put this in perspective, Steph Curry has attempted 213 and Klay Thompson has attempted 230 threes from the corner during this same time-frame.

While the 37% three-point percentage he has shot with the Rockets doesn’t jump off the page, this is still a slightly higher percentage than the career averages of Mike Scott and Tobias Harris who are the Sixers’ top options to play power forward. Scott also is a likely candidate to be shipped off instead of Ferguson if this deal is to be discussed due to the contract and him being more established than Ferguson. It would be preferable to keep both Scott and Tucker in order to have more depth, but Tucker is an upgrade on both sides of the ball so he is by no means a deal-breaker if that is what it takes. By all accounts, Tucker is a great locker room guy and is the type of player who could be the answer for a team looking for that extra push, which would make him a great addition to the team.

Why the Rockets Do It:

With the face of the franchise doing everything he can to get traded and no superstar to hand the ropes down to, the Rockets should be shifting their focus to rebuilding. They have little use of the 35-year-old floor-spacing forward who is in the twilight of his career. Tucker will be best served on a contender and Philly could provide him with this opportunity.

Matisse Thybulle is the most appealing piece here as his defensive effort impressed many around the league last season. Matisse is an easy guy to fall in love with, and he has quickly become a fan-favorite in his short time with the team. While he helped the team a ton last year and certainly has a future in the NBA, I would argue his personality is more appealing than his play of late and this needs to be differentiated. Given the addition of several quality shooters and the emergence of Furkan Korkmaz, it is unlikely Matisse is going to get a lot of minutes this season and it seems extremely unlikely his value will get any higher than it is right now.

Terrance Ferguson is also a name that will likely be squeezed out of the rotation for this season. After coming over in the trade with Danny Green, Ferguson is not a great match for the style of play that the Sixers are shifting toward. The 22-year-old, and former 1st-round pick, flashes impressive athletic ability and good instincts to get out on the fast-break but lacks shooting and offensive polish. His contract is also key to making the money match up and allowing the trade to be a success. It is also relevant to note that the Sixers have 2 second-round picks in 2023 so this would not be a major loss to toss this pick in the deal.

Overall Thoughts on a potential Sixers trade

The basic principle of this trade is sending off young developmental pieces for a “win-now” player. The Sixers have a strong nucleus of young talent behind its current stars led by Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey, so the loss of Matisse would in no way be crippling. Daryl Morey has preached waiting to look at what team needs still need to be addressed once the season starts instead of using all assets prior to the season’s start and I believe the lack of consistent play at power forward will be one that shows face quickly. There are still high hopes for Tobias Harris due to his success under Doc Rivers in the past, but he has done little to show improvement in his pace of play and decision making in the preseason.

Overall Daryl Morey should be working the phones with Houston, but not for the 3-point shooting specialist that is getting the most talk. Depth at key positions is never a bad thing and Tucker would provide the roster with a better fitting floor spacer to surround Simmons and Embiid with. It also could open the door for a small-ball lineup which Rivers has already experimented with by playing Ben Simmons at center. It may not be the blockbuster deal that many desire, but it is the type of deal that Morey has done to help the success of his teams in years past.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire