Do the Sixers have a development problem?

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey, right, drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks’ Jrue Holiday during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, March 4, 2023, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

Flashback to May of 2015 and the Sixers had one of the brightest futures across the NBA. They held possession of 13 first-round picks over the next eight seasons and 34 selections in total. Sam Hinkie had done one of the most impressive jobs collecting assets in the NBA’s history before he was gradually shown the door.

Do the Sixers have a development problem?

Looking at the current Sixers roster, it is difficult to feel great about how these assets panned out. While the plan to collect all these assets and then build a sustainable competitor made perfect sense, the execution was far from flawless.

There are plenty of mistakes to nitpick along the way. Selecting two first-overall picks who forgot/refused to learn how to shoot feels like a storyline that could only take place in Philadelphia. But nonetheless, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons heard their names called as the Sixers’ pair of top pics. Missing on other top selections such as Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel whose games did not translate to the NBA in the way it was hoped also hurt.

In addition, there were the all-in big swings for trades as the Sixers went “star hunting” and flipped to win-now mode. Pouring in assets to trade for Jimmy Butler only for him to play just 67 total games in a Sixers uniform ended up being a miss. Trading for Tobias Harris only to be handcuffed into handing him a near-max contract also has put the Sixers in a difficult spot.

However, most of these sins have been under the supervision of previous front-office regimes. There has admittedly been a newfound stability since Elton Brand has settled into his role as General Manager and Daryl Morey came on board as the President of Basketball Operations. Morey’s experience has been valuable in steering the franchise in the right direction and he deserves immense credit for his handling of the Ben Simmons situation which very easily could have derailed all remaining hope within the organization. Managing to bring in James Harden should be recognized as a massive success, even if his future with the organization is uncertain.

This is not to say the roster management has been entirely perfect under Morey either. One area that has particularly rubbed Sixers fans the wrong way has been the success of young players on other teams.

Managing the Bottom of the Roster

The most notable blemish should be the mismanagement of the younger players. This also does not fall fully on the shoulders of Morey as much of this blame can be put on the developmental game plan or Doc Rivers unwillingness to play inexeperienced players.

A surprising move at the start of the season was the Sixers’ decision to release both Isaiah Joe and Charles Bassey. The two former second-round picks had each shown some positive flashes during their limited time on the floor but played fewer than 120 games and 1200 game minutes combined.

It was stated the motivation be moving on from both these players was the financial and roster flexibility moving forward. Going into the season with just 14 players allowed the Sixers to get a better look at what their needs are before making these final decisions.

It is pretty disappointing now to reflect on this decision and realize the big swing the Sixers landed on was adding Dewayne Dedmon through the buyout market. It also should be noted that Dedmon suffered a hip injury seemingly upon his arrival in Philadelphia and has yet to suit up for any game minutes.

In contrast, Isaiah Joe has established himself as a key part of the Thunder rotation averaging 9.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists while shooting 44.9% on three-pointers.

Yes, it is true there are not as many minutes for Joe on a contending team like the Sixers, but if you can’t find a way to get the NBA’s third-best three-point shooter on the floor on a team that is constantly looking for floor spacers, that is more telling.

Charles Bassey has had a more turbulent year with the Spurs than the perception of him seems to indicate. He has bounced back and forth from San Antonio to their G League affiliate in Austin. He has played 14.1 minutes per game across the 30 games he has gotten action with the Spurs, averaging 5.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks. San Antonio has seen enough from him to give him a four-year extension with a cap hit of just $2.5 million per season and lock up their backup center of the future as the Sixers still have concerns over theirs.

LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 17: Philadelphia 76ers Forward Matisse Thybulle (22) dribbles up the court during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers on January 17, 2023 at Arena in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

The Sixers & the Matisse Thybulle conundrum

The biggest move of the trade deadline was the decision to trade Matisse Thybulle as well as swapping draft picks in order to bring in Jalen McDaniels. It also has become a favorite topic of Sixers fans to box score watch and keep tabs on Thybulle’s success with the Portland Trail Blazers.

For what it is worth, Thybulle is averaging 9.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.7 blocks, and 1.7 steals across the 30.3 minutes per game. He has made a strong impression during his first six games in Portland and has connected on 14 of his 26 three-point attempts (53.8%) thus far.

While it is fair to be frustrated at the lack of opportunity for Bassey and Joe recieved, this is not an accurate representation of Thybulle’s time in Philadelphia. Sure Doc Rivers could have done a better job defining his role and being more consistent with his minutes, but Thybulle did not grab hold of the opportunity he seems to be doing in Portland.

Across his four seasons in Philadelphia, Thybulle played a total of 245 games, including 78 starts and averaging 19.8 minutes per game. He did not develop offensively in the way it was hoped and this would have only further caused issues as the playoffs approached. Thybulle shot 35.7% from beyond the three-point arc as a rookie, and this sunk to 31.3% last year, and 33.3% through the first 49 games with the Sixers this season. The unwillingness to shoot at times was an even greater concern than the efficiency during his Sixers tenure.

With Thybulle being set to be a free agent at the season’s conclusion and a stable role in Portland, it should not be a massive surprise that he is having success. Playing in a more guard-dominant system with more movement like Portland also makes it easier to hide his weaknesses. There also did not seem to be much optimism the Sixers would be able to resign Thybulle this summer, so moving on now made sense.

What does Jalen McDaniels bring to the Sixers?

In contrast, Jalen McDaniels has provided an interesting new element to this Sixers team. He is still finding his footing and role with the team, but his athleticism and length have been welcomed. McDaniels has not shined in the box score but has been a part of a bench unit that changed the game in back-to-back matchups for the Sixers. He is a pesky defender who adds the ability as a lob threat offensively and is a more complete basketball player than Thybulle. McDaniels will be playing a fairly significant role on this Sixers team, looking like he is slated to be the second man off the bench, so fans should still remain optimistic.

Financial Problems brought on by these struggles

While you can look at each of these situations individually and overlook things, it is frustrating when they are all compounded together. The Sixers’ inability to capitalize on the talents of players while they are with the franchise is one that has and will continue to set them back.

Beyond just the need for players like Isaiah Joe on the roster, it also hangs the Sixers out to dry from a financial aspect. Rather than keeping young players on team-friendly and cost-controlled contracts, they fill the bottom of the bench with more costly (and less exciting) players like Danuel House Jr ($4.1 million) and Furkan Korkmaz ($5 million). The Sixers have also unloaded nearly all of their notable draft picks moving forward, so they will be forced to continue this plan of action for completing the bench for the next few years as well.

Getting production out of players still on rookie deals is the most cost-effective way to build a roster. This becomes increasingly important when there is such significant money tied up in players like Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Tobias Harris. While Tyrese Maxey ($2.7 million) is a notable example of a success, not having the same ability around the margins is still a frustration.

Whether it is a disconnect in their roster management or player development, the Sixers have not laid the groundwork for long-term success in the way that it was hoped. However, if they are able to get over the championship hump without it, this will all be overlooked. For now, the Sixers will be locked in on surviving their gauntlet that is the rest of their regular season schedule before looking to make some postseason noise. But it should be noted they may be even more all-in for this season than most even realized.

AP Photo/Aaron Gash