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May 29, 2024

NBA free agency: Would OG Anunoby be worth the price for the Sixers?

OG Anunoby took the New York Knicks to a new level after being traded during the winter, but is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Should the Sixers have interest?

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OG Anunoby 5.28.24 Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

OG Anunoby helped eliminate the Sixers in the 2023-24 NBA Playoffs. Could he actually join the team this offseason when he becomes an unrestricted free agent?

Since the beginning of the 2023-24 Sixers season, reporting, on-the-record quotes and contextual clues have all told the same story: President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey has his sights set on acquiring another star-caliber player to the team's All-Star duo of Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey this summer. With the constant player movement that has helped define this era of NBA basketball, it may be impossible to guess who that third key cog will be for the Sixers.

Let's evaluate the likelihood as well as the pros and cons of the Sixers adding OG Anunoby this summer.

MORE: Is Paul George the Sixers' missing piece?

Last time the Sixers sprung to sign a free agent who had beaten them up in years past, it did not go well. The team signed Al Horford away from the rival Boston Celtics, inking the veteran big man to a four-year, $109 million pact. A handful of months later, the team needed to send a future first-round draft pick to dump the remainder of that deal on the Oklahoma City Thunder.

But this upcoming summer, as Morey and his front office look to finally put the Sixers over the hump, they could consider a player they know very well: OG Anunoby, whose two-way excellence with the New York Knicks during the 2023-24 NBA Playoffs was a key factor in New York's first-round series victory over the Sixers. 

The Knicks acquired Anunoby in one of the first major trades of the 2023-24 season, sending RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and a 2024 second-round pick to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn. The trade nearly instantly transformed their roster. They turned into a well-oiled machine with Anunoby in the lineup, going 20-3 in the regular season. 

Anunoby filled in some crucial gaps for the Knicks on both ends of the floor: his impressive three-point shooting improved their floor spacing and made life easier for Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle (before his season-ending injury at the end of January), he added pinches of secondary shot creation, and his defense -- both steady and versatile -- took their unit to another level on that end of the floor.

Against the Sixers in the playoffs, Anunoby did it all. He particularly got in a groove over the final four games of the series, in which he averaged 17.3 points per game, shooting 53.6 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from three-point range. The vast majority of his buckets were incredibly timely, often halting Sixers runs and kickstarting New York pushes. He defended just about every key Sixer at some point during the six games, ranging from Maxey to Embiid, and consistently did even more than just hold his own.

So, with Anunoby set to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent this summer, should the Sixers take another crack at adding an enemy to their roster?

Anunoby was a highly-coveted trade target across the NBA once Toronto made him available because of his ability to slot into any lineup and fit in well. His seamless transition to playing alongside his new teammates in New York reaffirmed that notion and bolstered his market value ahead of testing the free agent waters for the first time in his NBA career.

For the Sixers, the vision with Anunoby would be simple: he would take on the most challenging defensive assignments, regardless of position. He would knock down spot-up three-point tries generated by Embiid and Maxey. He would give the team some additional scoring punch when needed. And, entering his age-27 season in 2024-25, he would fit the team's timeline perfectly.

However, there are real causes for concern with Anunoby. Some have to do with his play, but some are incited by other factors. 

First of all, if Anunoby did join the Sixers, it would not be cheap. Anunoby made just over $17 million in 2023-24; that figure would likely be multiplied by more than two in the first year of any deal he signs -- and one would imagine he would sign a four-year pact, the maximum length he can agree to while switching teams. While it is unclear if Anunoby will reach his absolute maximum contract in free agency, he should at least receive something close to it.

If he signs with a team other than the Knicks, Anunoby is eligible to sign a four-year deal worth $181,890,000.

Season (Anunoby age)Salary
2024-25 (27)$42,300,000
2025-26 (28)$44,415,000
2026-27 (29)$46,530,000
2027-28 (30)$48,645,000

Given Embiid's injury history, an ideal third pillar next to him and Maxey is someone who can be relied upon from a durability standpoint. Anunoby is not that. Anunoby played nearly every game for Toronto during the COVID-19-shortened 2019-20 season. Since then, it has been an entirely different story. Anunoby has played more than 50 regular season games just once in the last four regular seasons, averaging 52 appearances per year during that span. What is perhaps more concerning is that he has not exactly been plagued by one injury over and over; he appears to be dealing with completely new ailments in different body parts on a regular basis. To anoint Anunoby as the third star of the Sixers would be to take a massive risk regarding his health.

While there is no question that Anunoby is a very good player who would improve the Sixers on both ends of the floor, is he actually a star-level piece? He could improve in future seasons, but his current production resembles that of a high-level starter -- an extremely valuable piece, of course -- but not necessarily an All-Star. 

That is because of his scoring volume. In Anunoby's first 14 games with the Knicks, he was in the perfect offensive role: Anunoby shared the floor with two high-volume scorers and shot creators in Brunson and Randle, while also playing alongside one of the game's elite three-point shooters in Donte DiVincenzo. During that span, Anunoby had an outstanding true shooting percentage of 63.0.

Once Randle went down for the remainder of the season, though, Anunoby's offensive usage increased and his efficiency took a nosedive. Anunoby posted a below-average 52.4 true shooting percentage over the course of the rest of the regular season, and then bumped it back up to 58.3 -- an above-average rate -- during the playoffs.

We are dealing with somewhat small sample sizes here, but going from the Knicks' fourth-highest-volume scorer on most nights to the second or third hindered his efficiency. It raises the question: is he the ideal third offensive weapon behind Embiid and Maxey? If anyone can optimize Anunoby's offense, it is Sixers head coach Nick Nurse, who spent many years with Anunoby during his time in Toronto. 

It is easy to see how Anunoby would make the Sixers a much better team. But would he elevate them enough to make them true championship contenders despite his expected-to-be massive price tag?  

MORE: Sixers offseason FAQ

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