I saw a clip from ESPN’s The Jump talking about the Sixers’ summer and the headline really struck me. It reads: “Explaining the 76ers’ ‘bad summer.'” The description of the clip outlines a few reasons, like not signing LeBron James, not trading for Kawhi Leonard, as well as losing Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.
Most of the actual clip is focused on the team’s GM situation. The Sixers not hiring a GM, up to this point, isn’t the most surprising thing. After what happened with Bryan Colangelo, they want to be extra sure they get the right guy. That’s not saying Colangelo wasn’t the right guy in a basketball-sense, but with all of the stuff surrounding his departure, there was clearly a disconnect.
Should more have been done with the time that has passed? Maybe, but this ownership group can’t afford any more hiccups. I can’t fault them for taking their time, even if they haven’t best maximized it.
Back to the headline.
The Sixers haven’t had a bad offseason. That’s utter nonsense to me. Even if LeBron’s wife was the Sixers GM, he wasn’t signing here. Paul George was never leaving OKC. The Spurs wanted Ben Simmons-plus for Kawhi Leonard. Outside of those three clear difference-makers, no one would’ve really moved the needle with regard to championship contention right away.
Who else should they have signed? Really? Did you want Rudy Gay? Michael Beasley? Brook Lopez? My point is simple: there were very few guys that would’ve helped substantially next season. Tyreke Evans might’ve been interesting and the same goes for Will Barton. However, both don’t necessarily present enough of an upgrade to warrant taking touches away from the Sixers core.
All of the questions surrounding Markelle Fultz make it tough to bring in a guy like Evans because, ideally, Fultz will be playing that role. Since no one knows exactly what Fultz is yet, it’s hard to justify signing Evans. His addition would only take more time and touches away from Fultz and others. Not to mention, he isn’t a consistent shooter. The Sixers shattered expectations last season, only raising the expectations for the immediate future and causing the collective want and need for more moves to happen.
My biggest gripe falls with the narrative that the Sixers had a bad offseason because they lost Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova. Sure, Belinelli and Ilyasova were key cogs down the stretch when the Sixers were plowing through tank regiments. When it came to the postseason though, both guys played much lesser roles and were clearly out-played on the court.
People don’t realize why Belinelli and Ilyasova made such big contributions to the team. For most of the season, the Sixers reserves were awful. Guys like Jerryd Bayless, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Justin Anderson, Richaun Holmes and Trevor Booker were being counted on off the bench. Even TJ McConnell and Amir Johnson weren’t helping a lot. Every reserve had negative on/off splits. (All on/off numbers are from cleaningtheglass.com, or CtG for short.)
|Name||On/Off Splits||Minutes Played||Percentile|
The Sixers starting lineup had a +21.7 Net Rating last season (CtG). Overall, the Sixers were +5.2 (CtG), which was good for fourth best in the entire NBA. Individually, all of the Sixers starters had positive on/off differentials, meaning the team was better with each player on the floor. Only one reserve had a positive on/off split: Marco Belinelli. Even Ilyasova posted a -7.4 on/off number with the Sixers. That’s why Belinelli’s presence felt so important.
To be clear: I’m not saying Belinelli didn’t help. In fact, he helped a lot. I just think people don’t use the correct context when talking about his, and Ilyasova’s, impact. The guys they were displacing were mostly, to be blunt, awful.
I will boil my point down to one sentence: If you want to talk about how much Belinelli helped in his 714 minutes, make sure you talk about how much TLC and Bayless hurt in their 740 and 898 minutes, respectively.
Since I’ve been ragging on the bench up until now, I will point out that there were a few positive indicators. Johnson had the second highest defensive box plus-minus (DPM) and and box plus-minus (BPM) on the team, trailing only Simmons. Booker, Holmes, and McConnell also had positive DBPMs. It wasn’t all bad. However, from game one to game 82, there is room for improvement. (BPM and DBPM stats pulled from basketballreference.com)
This year, the bench will be much better from day one. The Sixers drafted Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet, and Shake Milton. They traded for Wilson Chandler (-.5 on/off) and Mike Muscala (+1.8 on/off). They signed previously-drafted Jonah Bolden. This doesn’t even take Fultz into account. His presence could send someone like Redick or Saric to the bench; or he could be an integral bench piece himself.
The Sixers bench unit is miles better than it was this time last year. Obviously, it’s hard to forecast how the rookies will perform, but Chandler and Muscala will help a lot. I think they’ve gotten more shooting and improved a bit defensively. Having a bench like this, for a full season, will do wonders. It will also help come playoff time, coupled with another year of development from the team’s established players.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both had summers of full health to work on their games. Redick, Saric, and Robert Covington will be back. Fultz seems to be returning to the head space that helped him become the number one pick in 2017.
Sure, no big names entered the fold this offseason, but that doesn’t mean this summer was a failure. Not to mention, the Sixers still have a clean cap-sheet for next summer.
Basketball will be back soon and, as Motion City Soundtrack once exclaimed, Everything Is Alright.