So far Brett Brown and company have failed to land the “superstar” they openly covet, but that doesn’t make this offseason a failure by any means.
Here’s a grade for each of the moves the team has made this summer.
Trade for Wilson Chandler
I told myself at the beginning of the offseason that as long as we add another switchable, two-way body on the wing then I won’t complain, and that’s what we got in Wilson Chandler. What makes this move even sweeter is the fact that we got him for free.
Is Chandler the “final piece?” Obviously not, but he is a proven NBA scorer and defender. He shot 36% from three last season and has shot 34% over his 11-year career. He can run around screens, shoot off the bounce, and in stand-still situations. On top of that, he has the ability to create his own shot and get to the rim.
The Sixers currently don’t have a player who can get to the rim AND knock down open shots. Simmons, Fultz, and McConnell aren’t great shooters yet, we know Redick isn’t much of a ball handler, and Covington is pathetic when forced to do anything other than catch-and-shoot from three. Believe it or not, Wilson Chandler is the most complete perimeter player on the Sixers roster.
Defensively, he won’t blow you away, but he has enough of a combination of size (6’8’’, 225) and quickness to switch 1 through 4.
This is where the Sixers got exposed in the playoffs. Boston’s deep cache of versatile wings allowed them to pick and choose their matchups on offense. I spoke about this in April, but the Celtics essentially ran dribble hand-offs until they got Tatum, Rozier, Brown, Smart, or Larkin matched up on Redick, Belinelli, or whichever defensive black hole was currently on the floor.
The lack of switchable bodies on the wing, and BB’s philosophy of switching everything, meant that Boston could find good offense every time down the court, and that’s exactly what they did. Chandler—along with Fultz and Zhaire Smith—should make that less of a concern this season.
The other major concern from the Boston series was a lack of players who could create for themselves, and as I mentioned earlier, Chandler satisfies that. His isolation numbers aren’t spectacular, but are good for 0.74 points per possession with 10% of his shots coming in isolation. For comparison, Chandler’s former teammate Will Barton averaged just 0.64 points per possession in isolation, and he just got paid $54 million to stay in Denver.
Chandler is a “B” rated addition, and if he was signed in free agency I would have given that grade, but the fact that he was added as a salary dump and the Sixers were able to add a second rounder and some pick swaps in the process makes this deal an easy “A.”
Trade for Miami pick:
Draft Zhaire Smith:
All in all, this move deserves a “B.” I like Smith’s potential, but I’m not wild about him.
He should be a solid dose of energy and bounce on defense and in transition, but, barring a major development in his jump shot, he’ll be lackluster on offense for large stretches of the season.
I realize it’s not wise to judge a draft prospect based off of “immediate fit”, but the truth is we could have had a player with similar long term potential to Smith while also being able to contribute right away. There’s a misnomer amongst Sixer fans that Smith has more “potential” than a guy like Mikal Bridges, but that’s simply not true. “C+” may be a bit critical, but this pick is a disappointment for anyone who hoped to add a more capable immediate contributor—which we momentarily had in Bridges.
However, when you take into account the fact that we landed an unprotected first round pick, it’s hard to deny the genius behind this trade.
For the price of moving back six spots in the draft, the addition of the 2021 Miami pick was a hell of a bargain, and could be a key to landing a superstar in the future (Kawhi or not). For that reason alone it’s hard to give this move anything but an “A+”. You could argue that this pick has similar value to Fultz and Dario in any trade discussions, and it certainly has more value than any of our own first-rounders.
Adding this kind of trade chip/asset without really giving up much of anything is a Hinkie-esque move from the current front office-by-committee. I’m not a huge fan of Smith, but stealing an unprotected pick from Miami makes it worth it. “B+” seems fair, and if the pick eventually helps us land Kawhi, it’s an “A.”
Re-sign JJ Redick
I realize that Redick may be a minor liability on defense, but that trade-off is well worth the spacing he provides on offense. There were stretches of last season—prior to the addition of Belinelli and Ilyasova—where Redick was the only reliable shooter the Sixers had on the roster. When he was off the floor, our offensive efficiency took a huge dip, and opposing defenses locked in on Embiid and Simmons without a worry in the world.
Can you win an NBA championship with Redick logging over 30 minutes per night as a starting two-guard? Probably not. But that doesn’t erase the value he clearly has on this current team.
You can always point at his box plus/minus numbers and conclude that his contribution on offense is mitigated by his poor defense, but his win-share numbers tell a different story. JJ was tied with Dario for second on the team with 6.6 win-shares (4.8 offensive win-shares), and he even had more than Embiid (6.2). Now, to be clear, I’m not saying Redick produced more “wins” than Embiid, but that stat is evidence of the value that he brings to the table.
And that’s just on the court, how do you even calculate his value in a locker room where he was relied upon as a leader for the team’s developing core?
Again, is he a long-term solution? No. But that’s what makes the 1-year deal so sweet—cap flexibility is the name of the game, and the Sixers know that.
Redick played a vital role in the 24-win turnaround last season, and if the front office failed to bring him back then our offense would have taken a regression to the bottom half of the league—that’s not an exaggeration, and that’s why this move deserves an “A.”
Signing Nemanja Bjelica
I’ll be honest, other than the fact that he’s a stretch big, I didn’t know a whole lot about Bjelica before the team signed him. He played in the Euro League until he was 27, and he’s spent the past three seasons in the NBA with Minnesota.
Expect Bjelica to fill the Ersan Ilyasova role. He’s not quite as physical as Ersan in the post, but he appears to be a slightly more reliable shooter. Here’s a breakdown of both players’ shooting numbers for the past few years:
’15-16 Bjelica — 38.4% on 4.2 attempts per 36
’15-16 Ilyasova — 37.1% on 5.0 attempts per 36
’16-17 Bjelica — 31.6% on 5.4 attempts ”
’16-17 Ilyasova — 35.3% on 6.8 attempts ”
’17-18 Bjelica — 41.5% on 4.8 attempts ”
’17-18 Ilyasova — 36% on 5.3 attempts ”
Nobody would accuse Ersan of being a bad shooter, but at the end of the day, opposing defenses were willing to live with him shooting threes and that had an impact on our spacing when he wasn’t hitting. He hasn’t shot above 38% in four seasons, and he shot just 29% last year in the playoffs. Compare that to Bjelica, who shot 41% from three last year, and 53% in the playoffs.
If he can sustain the percentages he hit last season and as a rookie then he’ll be able to space the floor more so than Ersan and Amir could. Judging from his tape, he looks like he has a quicker trigger and softer touch than your typical stretch-big.
The other question I have is where he will play most of his minutes. In Minnesota he logged the majority of his time at power forward but he has the size to play center and I think that’s where he’ll be best served—running pick and pops in a 5-out set with Simmons, McConnell, and Fultz.
Ersan and Amir both logged a little under 20% of their minutes at center, and I think Bjelica will see a similar split in his time.
His rebounding numbers are close enough to Ilyasova to not expect a huge drop off, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for doubting his ability to hold his own in the post. If I’m being totally honest, I would have preferred a tougher, more hard-nosed big to back up Embiid, like Kyle O’Quinn or Ed Davis, but we can still find a way to add a body like that if need be.
At 30 years old, Bjelica is a comparable defender to Ersan but his offensive game is much more suited for today’s NBA and Brett Brown’s system. Ideally, he should be a slight upgrade off the bench, but with just three seasons in the league he’s not as proven of a commodity as Ilyasova or Amir, and that’s why I give this move a “B” instead of an “A.”
Drafting Landry Shamet
I like Shamet more than Milton, but the value Milton has for a 57th overall pick is hard to deny. I haven’t been a huge fan of a lot of second round picks the team has made over the past couple of seasons, and there have been a lot, but I really like both of these picks. I think both players have a similarly good chance to make the roster.
Milton has 3-and-D potential and versatility that you normally don’t find so late in the second round. He has point guard traits but is capable of playing off the ball—a necessity for any guard who wants to play next to Ben Simmons. He shot 43% from three in college over three seasons, and his 7-foot wingspan allowed him to be disruptive on defense—1.4 steals per game as a junior.
Landry Shamet, on the other hand, has more potential offensively. He’s a knockdown shooter, and if that translates well to the NBA it’ll allow him to crack the rotation as a rookie. On top of being a shooter, he can handle well and has solid court vision.
What hurts his stock is what hurts most sharpshooters—bad defense. He’s a bit of a liability on that end, but he plays hard and gets a decent amount of steals. He’s a solid athlete, which means the tools are there, he just needs to put it together a little more. His defense really won’t be any worse than Belinelli was, and I think Shamet can provide similar offense to what Marco was able to sooner rather than later.
The bar is relatively lower for second round picks, but I think the front office made great moves with both of these selections.
Re-signing Amir Johnson
I like Amir Johnson. He sets good screens, rebounds well, and his post defense is solid. He doesn’t stretch the floor much, and he’s not exactly a feared rim-protector, but he fills the backup center role well.
The Sixers could have tried to find a slight upgrade here—that’s what I predicted they would do—but at the cost (veteran minimum) it’s hard to argue with this move. And at just 1-year they continue the trend of keeping next year’s books ink-free.
There’s not much more to say on this move. Amir is what he is—a “B” player off the bench.
From the burner account scandal, to the draft night trade frenzy, to the roller coaster ride of “star hunting” — arguably the most important offseason of The Process hasn’t been short on drama. But the one thing that it has come up short on is landing that “final piece” that we hoped to add this summer. And until that move happens, I simply can’t give this offseason an “A” — no matter how much I’ve loved their moves.