Sixers: Is Zach Lavine the missing piece?

Restlessly waiting for an offseason roster shakeup is apparently the new norm for the Sixers. While that’s not all bad—it’s the reality plenty of win-now teams are facing—it’s definitely unsettling. As we wait for the NBA playoffs to wrap up, all we can do is speculate as to what the new front office (streamlined behind Elton Brand) will do this offseason.

One move that‘s overwhelmingly clear the Sixers needs to make if they truly want to contend, is they need to add that third star/primary shot-creator (the go-to, late-game option type). Some would argue the roster is better served by focusing more on role players as opposed to chasing down a “third star”, but Ben and Joel absolutely need a high-level shot maker around them to relieve some pressure offensively, and it’s clear they need someone to close out games as well (Embiid flops don’t cut it).

Joel is a perfect “1b” option, Ben is a table setter, and now they need to add an alpha-scorer to top things off. Enter Zach LaVine, whose scoring ability is evidenced by 25.5 points a night on an efficient 56.8% true shooting in Chicago last season.

For a variety of reasons, Lavine appears to be the most attainable “third star” out of all the names being loosely connected to the Sixers. Let’s run through them: Devin Booker? Just inked a 5-year max extension—not a chance. Bradley Beal? The Wiz appear ready to run it back in ‘21. Chris Paul? Very possible, but his $43 million cap hit complicates things.

That leaves Lavine. He’s not the brand that the other three are, but he’s a walking bucket, available for trade (CHI is shopping him in hopes to kickstart their rebuild), and he’s on a very attainable contract ($18 mil. for the next two years). In other words, if the Sixers want to add Lavine there’s not much in the way of doing so.

The big question of course is whether or not he’s the right fit to complement Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. While I wouldn’t have made this argument a season ago—Lavine has been pretty bad defensively though his career—he’s the exact sort of offensive weapon the Sixers need to add around Ben and Joel if they truly want to contend for a Finals.

Pull-up shooting

The Sixers dearth of players who can create for themselves has been apparent in each of the past three playoffs. With Embiid being a big-man, and Simmons lacking a jumper, the Sixers have always needed to find a third star to pair with them to be the lead bucket-getter, or shot-creator. Obviously Tobias has not been that, and it’s clear that he’ll never be that.

Lavine, on the other hand, is a legitimate threat to pull-up from anywhere. Of the 25 players who averaged at least three pull-up 3PA per game, he ranked 8th on that list at 36.5% on 4.5 attempts, sandwiched in between Kemba and CP3 on the list.

Catch and shoot (off-ball)

I’m as exhausted writing it as you probably are reading it, but any player the Sixers add needs to be able to coexist thrive with Simmons and Embiid offensively, and that starts with being a catch and shoot threat from deep. Again, Tobias and Butler both proved in their time here that they didn’t really satisfy this.

Lavine, on the other hand, does have a spot-up threat to his game, and he can even do damage running off screens a la Redick. Of the 161 players with at least 2.5 catch-and-shoot 3PA per game, he sits 22nd with a clip of 42.6% on 2.8 threes per games


With the way NBA defenses switch nowadays it’s important to have players who can exploit a mismatch, and the Sixers lack of threats who can make a poor matchup pay is glaring. Obviously you don’t want to rely on iso-ball, but having a player who can get a bucket on his own and routinely expose weak links in a defense isn’t a bad thing—the essence of basketball is seeking mismatches and attacking them.

LaVine might not be considered an elite isolation scorer, but he’s certainly more capable than anyone the Sixers have had in a while. His 0.91 points per iso possession (11.4% iso freq.), while not spectacular, sits just ahead of Lebron, Giannis, and Beal in terms of efficiency—make of that what you will.

Pick and roll

The fact that the Sixers have yet to find a way to unleash Embiid in the pick and roll is shameful, and if you think rolling is something Joel doesn’t/can’t excel at—as I’ve often heard suggested by local media—you’re clueless. With Brett Brown out of the picture you can fully expect the next coach to unlock that to some degree, it’s just up to Elton Brand to find the right partner.

Lavine isn’t some high-usage ball handler who would be initiating a ton of offense, but he’s more than capable as a pick-and-roll ball handler, and this is where his ability to both get to the rim and pull-up for a jumper is a real threat. On 9.6 pick-and-roll possessions per game Lavine averages 0.89 points per possession—the middle of the pack for high volume P&R ball handlers. Again, this wouldn’t be Lavine’s bread and butter, but it would certainly be a welcome action in our offense.


This section almost goes without saying given LaVine’s athleticism, but his ability to make his mark in transition would pair perfectly with Ben Simmons. Of the 44 players who average at least three transition possessions per night, his 1.18 points per possession sits 10th in efficiency (for reference, Simmons ranks 40th at 0.97, though he makes up for that in volume). Lavine’s ability to play above the rim is next to none in the NBA, and that’s most evident when he gets out in transition.

His “poor” defense is blown out of context

Lavine gets a pretty bad reputation on defense, but his struggles are somewhat blown out of context. The reality is he’s been overstretched in Chicago where he’s asked to defend the opposing team’s lead scorer—a role that he obviously wouldn’t need to fill here. Lavine is much better suited playing the majority of his defense off-ball, and on top of that, there isn’t a better place for someone of his defensive reputation to be than surrounded by Embiid and Simmons. Again, while I understand the instinct to point out his track record on defense, it would hardly be an issue in Philly.

If the Sixers truly want to be contenders then they can’t run back this roster as currently constructed, and they absolutely need to add a primary shot creator who can be the third star and closer that Embiid and Simmons so clearly need. While there are a number of options who have been loosely linked to the Sixers, Zach Lavine makes far and away the most sense long term. He’s a walking bucket, and given the team’s current situation they’d be foolish not to pursue this opportunity.

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