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September 06, 2022

Mailbag: Sixers roster moves, De'Anthony Melton's role, Game of Thrones

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Football season is almost here, so before the Eagles dominate discussion in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future, let's sneak in a Sixers mailbag with the team still 20 days out from media day.

To the questions...

Are the Sixers going to have a conversation with Danny Ainge about who's available on their roster? Certainly. Is there a realistic trade to be made that helps the team? Probably not.

Late last week, I mentioned my skepticism with Jordan Clarkson specifically, as I don't think he fits the sort of player they might be after right now. The Sixers feel pretty good about their guard rotation, and in any situation where James Harden is off of the floor, there's a high likelihood Tyrese Maxey will be running the show, and vice versa. While your concerns about Doc Rivers running all-bench lineups are noted, their team structure is simply different now, making them less necessary than ever. Clarkson is a bucket getter off of the bench, no doubt, but a ghastly defender and a player with limited utility outside of that scoring-centric role. And the bigger issue is the contract — acquiring a player making over $13 million this year is tough from a practical standpoint for Philly, who which few contracts to move and little room to work with under the hard cap.

If they were going to to try to make it happen for a Utah player, Bojan Bogdanovic makes the most sense, as adding a big wing makes more sense than bringing in another small guard. Bogdanovic is no spring chicken, but he's got two-way value still and is in the final year of his contract, a potential rental option who could close games and add a bit more toughness to a group that has already gotten bigger and more physical this summer. The problem once again is his contract and what it would take to bring him in. Bogdanovic's $19.5 million cap number all but assures he'd have to head elsewhere even if the Sixers were desperate to add him.

My big-picture advice would be to keep expectations in check for who/what the Sixers might acquire between now and the end of the year. The players who are good, young, and cheap enough to have actual trade value are not players you want to move, and they're not exactly loaded with first-round picks to swap at the moment. Moves around the margins are much more likely.

Though it looks funky on paper, Tobias Harris on Darius Garland ended up being a good matchup for the Sixers last season, and I think you probably have to hope that holds up this year. Maxey is probably going to have to be put on whoever the least dangerous Cavs player is — if Isaac Okoro is on the floor, that's probably going to be your best place to hide him. Even if he's not, Cleveland's wing depth doesn't really exist so he's probably hanging out on the "three" in the lineup regardless.

Building off of those assumptions, that's when it starts to get interesting. Do you really want James Harden chasing Mitchell around? Probably not, but I also don't want to force PJ Tucker to chase a guard around for most of the game, which is not his strength as a man defender. Circling back to Maxey, I think you'd probably be using him as a help defender a lot, having him pinch on drives to crowd Cleveland's guards and ensure that Embiid doesn't have to clean up everything around the rim. I don't think there's a perfect solution, but I think this will be less about individual matchups than team defense. You'd probably dabble with quite a bit of zone, too. Garland and Mitchell can both hurt you as shooters if they're on, but Mobley is still a theoretical shooter, with Allen and Okoro in the "non-threat" category if that's their five. 

I would also counter this question by asking how the Cavs expect to defend Philadelphia in a playoff series. Embiid pretty thoroughly kicked the crap out of the Cavs last season — the big man effectively averaged 35-14-6 on 53 percent shooting against Cleveland, laying waste to their frontcourt across four meetings late in the season. Making the Cavs pull the ball out of the basket over and over again is a good way to ensure you slow down their offense, and I don't think a single offseason is going to change how ill-equipped Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley are to defend Philadelphia's best player.

I think it's probably Milton, mostly because his issues have often come down to health. When he's a rotation regular with a defined role, he has been one of their most consistent options off of the bench since Rivers arrived in Philadelphia. That's a pretty big qualifier, though. Milton only appeared in 55 games last year, and getting and staying on the floor has been an issue for one reason or another since he got to the league in 2018.

Korkmaz, on the other hand, I simply can't figure out how to read. He looks incredible on his hot shooting nights and he offers movement shooting in a way no one else on the roster does, but I'm not sure that skill is going to have as much utility for the group moving forward. The Sixers have drifted toward an offense predicated on precise spacing around the Harden/Embiid pick-and-roll, so useful (and comfortable) stationary shooters seems to be the direction they've moved in for role players. Neither of the Milton/Korkmaz duo has shot well for a while, but Shake was a good bit clear of Korkmaz last year. Can't say I have an abundance of confidence in either guy at this point.

I don't think you want Melton in a true "sixth man" role, but I also think you want him in a role that is roughly that important/significant. He can start for you if you need to, he should be in a lot of critical lineups throughout the rotation, but you also need to understand what he does and doesn't do well.

One of Melton's primary issues is that he can bite off more than he can chew as a ballhandler, which you can and should mitigate by having him next to another capable ballhandler at all times. Melton running the offense as a solo ballhandler? Probably not going to be a good time. But he's more than capable of playing off of either Harden or Maxey, attacking closeouts or knocking down catch-and-shoot jumpers as the secondary option. Melton also has the athleticism and length to make an occasional impact as a cutter.

In times of need you could turn the ball over to him if you must, and he's definitely not shy about trying to find his own shots out of a pick-and-roll. But Melton's best minutes have almost always come with a capable partner alongside him, ranging from an All-Star talent like Ja Morant or a steady bench guy like Tyus Jones. Essentially, I think you want him playing more of a finishing role, one where he's not making multiple reads and can simply decide whether to rise up, drive, or swing the ball when it gets to him. It's not that he's incapable of self-creation or scoring off-the-dribble, but you don't want him grinding the clock down for iffy shots, which can happen a bit too often with Melton as the lead creator.

If you don't overextend him, he can help you out on offense a lot. And there's no real reason to overextend him with the group they have. Multi-guard looks should be on the floor pretty consistently for Philly this year, and that will suit Melton just fine.

To be fair to Doc, I don't think he would be wholly responsible for such a move if it happened. I think saying/thinking you're going to roll with a backup big rotation of Reed/Bassey/Tucker is one thing, and actually living it is another. Though I'm sure Rivers (like any coach) would be more skittish about the prospect of relying on young bigs, I can't say I'd blame him for being skeptical after watching Bassey in Summer League this year. And if the Sixers end up in a spot where Tucker has to play way too many minutes as a small-ball five, they might end up harming their contention chances for the sake of surviving regular-season minutes.

Do I think it'd be ideal to spend another roster spot on an older big man? No. But I'd say there's a decent-ish chance we at least see one come in as a camp body, if for no other reason than to test the mettle of the younger guys. 

Don't count on it, brother.

So I admittedly have not watched Rings of Power yet and will likely check out the first episode or two, but I have to admit, I can't say I'm all that excited for either one. I watched the pilot for House of the Dragon and came to the realization that I am not super interested in engaging with the Game of Thrones universe. And Game of Thrones occupies a big enough cultural space that if I want to keep up with it, I have to watch it so quickly to avoid having it spoiled that it just turns me off of engaging with it at all. I'm not sure why/when it was decided that it was just open season to air spoilers out in public, but if I have to choose between using the internet freely and watching House of the Dragon, it's a pretty easy choice for me.

(I know it's a prequel we basically know the ending for, but I still don't want to know half of what happens in an episode before I even sit down to watch it.)

Maybe I have a hipster streak, or maybe Game of Thrones S7+8 ruined Westeros for me forever. I'm just a little exhausted with the media zeitgeist centering around extended universes and CGI and shows that I can't discuss with a friend without a conversation about one of 750 fan theories connected to the show. The discourse around these big properties is just genuinely insane now, where if you try to critically engage with something you get hit with the "let people enjoy things" treatment for not consuming content like a mindless drone. There are just so many good shows being made that I'd rather sink my teeth into without feeling obligated to know "what the implications are" for the six related properties that will follow. I just finished season one of The Bear over the weekend, which was delightful. 

Of course, as soon as Dune Part 2 drops, I won't be able to shut the hell up about it, so we're all hypocrites deep down.

I think this simply comes down to how things look in camp and what the market looks like at that point. Earlier this summer, I was bearish on Isaiah Joe surviving a potential cut situation, as he hasn't done much in his limited minutes and his contract is non-guaranteed if he's cut before October 23rd. But if you're comparing his play to, say, Trevelin Queen at Summer League, there was a pretty significant gap between them in favor of Joe, who is also younger than Queen.

A big ol' shrug from me. Queen's 300k guarantee normally wouldn't matter much, but as a hard-cap team, every dollar matters.

Until/unless Joel Embiid decides he no longer wants to play for this franchise, there isn't going to be a Process 2.0. He is good enough that they will be semi-relevant for as long as he's healthy, and the hope would be that Maxey grows into their longer-term anchor as the big man ages out. If things go to hell in a handbasket these next couple years, I suppose a rebuild isn't out of the question, but I also don't think a dramatic teardown a la what happened previously is in the cards.

Probably Maxey, not because I think I'd have any chance to beat any of these dudes in a fight, but because he's the nicest kid on the team and we could probably hash it out without me taking a true beating. 

Charles Barkley is the easiest selection ever. Consensus No. 1 pick. After that, the field is fairly open, though I think I'd lean toward a group of guys that all played together: Barkley, Julius Erving, and Andrew Toney. You have Barkley as the comedic relief, Erving's cool and calm presence, and then Toney, whose desire to keep to himself and say little publicly is cut into by having two former teammates with him. I might be more interested in Toney than anyone else in Sixers history — a guy who everyone that played with and against cited as one of the baddest dudes they knew, but whose career was cut short by mismanagement or bad fortune (depending on who you ask) only for Toney to basically fade into the background. I would love to hear more about his life and career from the man himself, and I suspect putting him in that environment might make that possible.

Of course, maybe it just turns into Barkley dominating the conversation and Toney continuing his silent streak, but that's not the worst outcome in the world. 

If it's for a bit, then yes.


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