What Are the Philadelphia 76ers Doing?
I've seen this movie before...literally. As a matter of fact, a lot of us sports and analytic fanatics have.
We know the story. A general manager, played by Brad Pitt, finds himself in a tough situation (albeit without the salary cap issues) and looks to turn it around with numbers -- and he does. But, Moneyball had a happy ending and Billy Beane is a success in Oakland.
Sam Hinkie, on the other hand, hasn't found his Jonah Hill or his happy ending. There's no story to be written or movie to be directed, but who knows? There might be some day. However, unlike Beane, Hinkie doesn't need a nerdy assistant -- because he fits that role. What he needs is time and player development.
What he might need most of all though is faith.
Since coming to Philadelphia in 2013, the Sixers have been all-in on analytics while the team attempts to rebuild by utilizing information and data to make sound business decisions.
Sixers fans haven't been as accepting of this approach, and with the most recent moves at the trade deadline, they're starting to wonder if and when their team is going to start competing again, and when they're going to get a player whose jersey will be worth the investment. They're also starting to ask questions. What is the front office doing? Do they know what they're doing? Is it the future yet? (That's my bad.)
Do Sixers fans really have any reason to have faith?
Let's see if we can figure this out together, with the help of some numbers.
Trade Deadline Moves
On the busiest trade deadline day in 25 years, the Sixers' front office was pretty busy in its own right. In the first of three deadline deals involving the Sixers, Hinkie sent
nothing the rights to Cenk Akyol to the Nuggets in exchange for JaVale McGee, his $12 million contract and a 2015 first round pick -- originally of the Oklahoma City Thunder -- that is top-18 protected.
Basically, the Nuggets gave the Sixers a first round pick to take McGee off their hands.
The Sixers added another pick to their never-ending stack of "Wild" Uno cards but also picked up the point guard they needed to replace the newly departed Michael Carter-Williams.
Yes, that Michael Carter-Williams -- the one who won Rookie of the Year just a year ago. That one has been the real head-scratcher for many in the City of Brotherly Love.
But, if you believe in what Sam Hinkie and his staff is doing, you can see why they made the move happen. In the three-team trade, the Suns sent the Sixers the Lakers' 2015 first round pick -- a top-five protected pick -- for this year but only top-three protected in the next two years. I'll tell you why this was such a steal in a minute.
Now that we can see who's no longer with the Sixers, it's got to leave you wondering who's left.
With the latest addition of backup point guard Ish Smith, that gives Coach Brett Brown thirteen willing and able healthy players on the roster -- five of whom are rookies (including Nerlens Noel) and three of whom are sophomores. In fact, the Sixers are the second-youngest team in the league, next to the Utah Jazz. It's not called rebuilding for nothing.
Though it hasn't always been sunny in Philadelphia, there have been some bright spots for Philadelphia this season.
Nerlens Noel has shown flashes of brilliance defensively with a Defensive Rating of 100 and 2.6 Defensive Win Shares while averaging at least 2 steals and 2 blocks per 36 minutes.
Following suit, as a team, the Sixers haven't really been all that bad. According to our metrics, they may be dead last offensively, but the Sixers are in the top half (12th) of the NBA in Defensive Efficiency, ahead of playoff teams like the Bulls, Mavericks, Raptors, Clippers, and Cavaliers.
Robert Covington, on the other hand, has proven his value on the offensive end of the floor. The versatile forward is averaging more than 13 points per game 38% shooting from three while posting nearly 5 rebounds per game as well. Analytically, he could be a great fit going forward with his ability to shoot the ball so effectively from long range while attempting more than 6 three pointers per contest.
And then there's Joel Embiid. Sidelined with a foot injury, the big man and former number-three overall pick has yet to step onto the NBA hardwood -- yet he's already drawing criticism from fans and media. Some question his maturity and conditioning, but on the bright side, no one is questioning his ability. Yeah, he hasn't gotten to show anything yet, but from what we saw at Kansas, Embiid might just be the player (and future superstar?) Philly needs.
Not only have the Sixers been picking up future draft picks, but they've also accrued some other future assets in the more present variety.
They have the draft rights to three 2014 picks -- Jordan McRae (58th overall, currently playing in Australia), Dario Saric (12th overall, currently playing in Turkey) and Vasilije Micic (52nd overall, currently playing in Germany).
While Micic will likely spend at least two more years overseas, Saric and McRae are more NBA-ready prospects.
Saric has just one year remaining on his contract with Anadolu Efes and has recently been named FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year for the second year in a row while McRae, a former Tennessee Volunteer, is leading the National Basketball League in scoring with 21.8 points per game and could be added once his season ends.
The Sixers have promising players in place, but their most valuable asset might not be their own. As I previously mentioned, the Sixers own the Lakers' 2015 top-five protected first round pick. While the Lakers seem to be in full-on tank mode, and our projections don't expect them to finish any better than the bottom four, some unlikely scenarios in the draft lottery could push the pick outside the top five -- and even if it doesn't, the pick is just top-3 protected in 2016 and 2017 and becomes unprotected in 2018.
So, if the Sixers somehow receive the Lakers' pick this year, they could have up to four picks in the first round -- particularly the top 19 picks -- in this June's NBA Draft.
To help put that piece of ridiculousness into perspective, I constructed a chart showing the Sixers' best possible scenario for the upcoming draft and each individual pick's value in terms of average: career Win Shares, Win Shares in the first five years and Win Shares per year. I pulled this data from an article written by our very own Bryan Mears as he evaluated Kevin Love trade scenarios this past offseason.
Take a look.
|Year||Pick||Carer Win Shares||WS In First 5 Years||WS Per Year|
As promised, here's why the MCW deal wasn't so puzzling after all. Though Carter-Williams has the hardware, he had just 1.3 Win Shares a year ago and has -0.6 to date this year. As you can see from the chart, if the Sixers were to land the number six selection with the Lakers' pick, they'd likely get a player who would average nearly twice the Win Share output of Carter-Williams a year ago -- and with all their possible first round picks, the Sixers could theoretically add 12.02 wins per year and 67.29 over the next five years.
If we're playing the percentages, it's likely that the Sixers get the opportunity to add some elite talent. As this chart indicates, there's over a 20% chance the Sixers obtain the Laker pick at number six.
One interesting thing to watch for is whether the Sixers can earn the number one pick. Some people expect the Sixers to tank hard and finish worse than both the Timberwolves and Knicks, therefore receiving the best odds at the number one pick -- but, either way, Philly will have a good chance at winning the the lottery. Our projections expect Philadelphia (61.0) to finish just second in losses to the Knicks (62.6).
The draft picks don't stop in the first round of the 2015 draft.
As of right now, the Sixers could will likely have five selections in the second round of this year's draft with four of those coming between the picks of 35 and 45. Hinkie and the Sixers will practically run the second round, but can they find some great talent late?
Even if they don't, Hinkie and staff have stocked up on picks for 2018-2020. The Sixers are due: one first round pick and three second round picks in 2018, one first round pick and three second round picks in 2019 and one first round pick and two second round picks in 2020.
With a complete portfolio of future assets, both overseas and in their general manager's back pocket, the possibilities in Philadelphia are really scary.
They could go one route and develop a team of young players with Covington, Noel, and Embiid in hopes that they click as a unit. That would entail getting the most out of draft picks and trying to build through that process, in the mold of the San Antonio Spurs.
The Sixers' front office could do a lot this year alone. With their four possible first round picks, they could gain a lot of talent really quickly. If the odds are in their favor, the Sixers will get the first or second pick in this year's draft -- and if they do, I'd look for them to take Emmanuel Mudiay or D'Angelo Russell at the top of the draft. Russell could be the multi-talented, efficient point guard the Sixers were hoping MCW would be, or Mudiay could be the type of wing scorer Philly hasn't seen since the great Allen Iverson.
As for route number two, the Sixers could decide to bypass the whole sustained youth movement and use picks and rookies to their advantage in the trade market or free agency. With the increasing TV deal and salary cap, the rookie salary scale will remain the same until 2020 and will be extremely valuable for teams to exploit, but will also put more pressure on general managers not to miss on picks.
So, while some teams may be scrambling for picks after a miss, the Sixers will be a large part of the supply for the demand.
As for free agency, the Sixers could be presented with a few big-time options in the next two summers. Kevin Love is an unrestricted free agent after this year while Bradley Beal (restricted), Nic Batum, and Kevin Durant (unrestricted) will all be free agents after next year. Just some food for thought.
In my opinion, Sam Hinkie and the Sixers know exactly what they're doing -- and it might just be a matter of when and how their master plan comes to fruition in the future. Have faith Sixers fans, but most of all, enjoy the draft(s)!