The Sixers’ top trade target shouldn’t be a ball handler nor a big

CHICAGO, IL – FEBRUARY 14: San Antonio Spurs forward Doug McDermott (17) shoots a three point basket in action during a NBA game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Chicago Bulls on February 14, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia 76ers are reportedly in the trade market for a new backup big man — and for good reason. Even throughout their recent hot streak, it’s clear that the Sixers bench needs some upgrades, and Joel Embiid’s understudy in Montrezl Harrell, and sometimes Paul Reed, might just be the most egregious sore spot on the roster.

Watching Philadelphia’s usually vaunted defense bleed points whenever Harrell checks into the game for Embiid makes it painfully clear why the Sixers have been linked to players such as the Utah Jazz’s Jarred Vanderbilt, the Minnesota Timberwolves’s Naz Reid, and the Detroit Pistons’s Nerlens Noel. Each of these players would be a significant upgrade over what Trezz is currently bringing to the table, particularly on the defensive end of the court.

While bringing a more reliable backup big man or an additional playmaker behind James Harden — Philly’s other glaring roster hole would be a significant boon for the Sixers, it’s arguable that there’s another archetype out there that they need more: a movement shooter/off-ball weapon.

What is a Movement Shooter/Off-Ball Weapon?

Lost in the Sixers’ recent blowout victory over the San Antonio Spurs was the quietly solid play of Doug McDermott. Due in part to the lopsided nature of the game and also Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich‘s preference to stick with the lineup that’s working when the Spurs did make a mini comeback late in the contest, McDermott saw the floor for a little less than his season average.

But in his 18 minutes, he made his presence felt, even with the ball seldom in his hands. He chipped seven points, doing so without a single 3-pointer made and what felt like less than a dozen dribbles. All three of his field goals made were the direct result of his ability to move off of the ball and present himself as a constant threat to score with or without the rock.

First, he attacked a rushed closeout in transition for a running layup off the glass. This wouldn’t have been possible with McDermott’s penchant for consistently relocating himself behind the arc to try to find open opportunities from deep.

Later in the game, he curls off a screen for a handoff, finishing with a nice runner off of the window. These kinds of actions allow him to create easy scoring chances at the cup, even with his subpar athleticism and limited ball handling ability.

His last bucket came off of a timely cut that resulted in an “And-1” layup. Against a famously unyielding Sixers defense and with a Spurs roster that’s uncharacteristically devoid of true playmakers, McDermott was able to create openings for himself on offense purely due to his activity off of the ball.

The graph clearly shows that the Philadelphia 76ers don’t have a single movement shooter or off-ball weapon on par with Doug McDermott. In fact, the closest would be Joel Embiid, an All-NBA talent who’s obviously best used on the ball.

The X-Axis shows how many points a player scores off of movement — i.e., cuts, handoffs, 3-point relocations, etc. — every 75 possessions. The Y-Axis is a measure of a shooter’s 3-point accuracy on catch-and-shoot attempts in relation to the difficulty of their takes. The higher the player is, the more efficiently they hit, and the more contested their average looks are. Between these two stats, it’s clear that Doug McDermott is one of the most lethal off-ball scorers in the entire league and miles ahead of any role player currently on the Sixers.

Why This Matters for the Sixers

While adding either a more reliable, defensive-minded backup big or an additional playmaker would be a significant boon for the remainder of the Sixers’ regular season, acquiring a movement shooter/off-ball weapon like Doug McDermott would be paramount to their postseason fortunes.

In the playoffs, rotations will tighten, making it much more meaningful whether Joel Embiid and James Harden’s replacements are the best or the worst in the bracket. While depth is still important, it’s much more crucial how good a team’s sixth, seventh, or eighth man is than their tenth. Harrell or Reed should be able to garner enough stops in the 10 minutes per game that Philadelphia will lean on them for in the postseason, and Harden and Tyrese Maxey will likely fill all of the point guard minutes available once the Sixers reach the playoffs.

Other things also happen once the regular season wraps up. Defenses start to tighten, and the game slows down dramatically. It becomes a true test of which team’s defense is more unwavering and which squad has the most talented half-court scorers.

While Philly has a litany of offensive talent between Embiid, Harden, Maxey, and Tobias Harris, opponents will key in on these offensive stars, sending help and double teams off of the Sixers’ supporting cast and betting that Philadelphia’s role players will miss enough shots in a seven-game series to give them the victory. While they’ve been one of the better shooting teams in the league, that might change when the lights get a little brighter, and these catch-and-shoot specialists are suddenly tasked with creating offense.

Not only would Doug McDermott give the Sixers a sharpshooter that would make defenses pay for shading off of him, but his off-ball prowess and constant state of motion will also diversify Philadelphia’s offense and make them much more difficult to try to contain. His ability to create open looks for himself without the ball will also mitigate the need for Philly to identify another playmaker.

Head coach Doc Rivers has had tremendous success with these types of players, such as Ray Allen and J.J. Redick. Adding another sharpshooter in that mold, like Doug McBuckets, will make Rivers’s game plan all the more lethal, helping to prevent offensive bogs in the wound-down pace of the playoffs.

According to HoopsHype, McDermott could be available for the low, low price of just two second-round picks. The Sixers would be hard-pressed to find a better value available on the market, especially one that could have such a massive impact on their title chase.