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January 23, 2017

Sixers midseason grades: Guards

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The Sixers played their 42nd game on Saturday night in Atlanta, which means that we’re now past the midway point of the 2016-17 NBA season. And after Processing their way to 19, 18, and 10 wins the last three years, Brett Brown’s team already has 15.

Over the next five days, we’re going to hand out midterm grades for guards, wings, bigs, Brown, and Bryan Colangelo. Today, we start by analyzing the backcourt, probably the weakest part of the team.

T.J. McConnell

On his little Indie podcast, I thought Spike Eskin made a good point about McConnell being the biggest beneficiary of Brown not calling timeouts at the end of games. This has paid off a few times, McConnell’s game-winner in Carmelo Anthony’s grill and Robert Covington’s game-winner in Evan Turner’s grill #GrillTalk:

This is primarily because McConnell is both a poor and unwilling three-point shooter, which makes him more of a liability in halfcourt situations. Take a look at this play from the recent win over Toronto:

When Joel Embiid gets into the paint, you would hope McConnell slides more toward the baseline and launches a wide-open three. Instead, he catches and immediately looks to drive-and-kick again, throwing a grenade to Embiid at the end of the shot clock. With playmakers like Embiid and eventually Ben Simmons, the Sixers are going to need knockdown shooters at the other positions.

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That said, McConnell has done everything the Sixers have asked of him and more (As an aside, his shot over Melo is Sam Hinkie’s only Twitter like). Besides scoring, the 24-year-old does pretty much everything at an acceptable level. He gets the team into the offense. He’s an above average point guard defender. His teammates seem to like him. There is certainly a ceiling here, but McConnell has established himself an NBA player.

In 108 minutes, the current starting lineup (McConnell-Stauskas-Covington-Ilyasova-Embiid) is blitzing opponents to the point of an 18.7 net rating. They better let McConnell in for free at Xfinity Live! now.

Grade: B

Sergio Rodriguez

In the summer, I thought the Rodriguez signing was a creative answer to a temporary problem. And while it was still a good move to keep short-term money on the books, McConnell (an undrafted free agent) has outplayed El Chacho. Specifically on the defensive end, opposing teams tend to hunt out Rodriguez in pick-and-rolls. But again, I have no problem handing out a one-year deal to Rodriguez when the team is still rebuilding. On the other hand…

Grade: C-

Jerryd Bayless

This was a lost year for Bayless, who signed a three-year, $27 million deal in the offseason. He messed up his left wrist pretty bad in training camp, and after trying to give it a go for a few games in late November, it was clear that he couldn’t play with a torn ligament in that wrist. He had season-ending surgery in December.

Grade: Incomplete

Nik Stauskas

We wrote fairly in-depth about Sauce Castillo last week, and I think it’s safe to say that he has made improvements on a rough first two years. He spoke about avoiding “being invisible” and looking for “opponents feeling him on both ends of the floor.”

“That’s the biggest thing that Coach Brown has always said as far as the aggressiveness goes,” Stauskas said. “Just being active and getting myself involved in any kind of play whether that’s diving on the ground for a loose ball or rebounding or making plays.”

The biggest way that Stauskas can cause headaches for opponents is by making shots and providing driving lanes for other teammates with gravity. On that end, he has improved to a league-average three-point shooter, which leaves something to be desired. After a very hot start, Stauskas has cooled off a bit.

Stauskas has improved his defense a bit, but I do wonder if his improved metrics are largely a function of playing so many minutes with Embiid.

Grade: C

Chasson Randle

24 points and 3 steals per-36 minutes and 66.7 three-point shooting. Since the first 10-day contract, it has been the Chasson Randle Show:

Grade: A

Alright, so Randle has only played 24 minutes. They have been a good 24 minutes, though!

Grade: Incomplete

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann