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June 14, 2024

Three starting-caliber role players the Sixers could sign in free agency

The Sixers are going big game hunting this summer, but they will also need to add reliable role players. Which free agents may fit the bill?

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Malik Beasley 6.13.24 Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports

Could Milwaukee Bucks sharpshooter Malik Beasley make his way to Philadelphia in free agency this summer?

Understandably so, much of the focus regarding the Sixers' plans in free agency -- which begins in just 16 days -- are centered around their well-documented pursuit of a third star to place alongside their All-Star duo of Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. But what is arguably just as important is how they fill out the rest of their rotation: even if they sign someone like Paul George, they will suddenly have a thin roster without tons of resources to add established role players.

If the Sixers end up utilizing cap space this summer -- as many expect them to -- and distribute most of it to a star, their next-most valuable asset will be the room mid-level exception, which will be worth a hair over $8 million in 2024-25. Deals signed using the room MLE can be anywhere from one to three seasons long with pay raises or decreases of up to five percent each year.

In order to sign a high-profile name like George, the Sixers would likely need to renounce their Bird Rights on several key players from last year's team, including Tobias Harris, Nic Batum, De'Anthony Melton and Buddy Hield. That means using the room MLE on a starting-caliber player would be imperative.

Sixers 'Stay or Go' series

Tobias Harris | Kelly Oubre Jr. | De’Anthony Melton
Nic Batum | Kyle Lowry | Buddy Hield | Cam Payne

So, who are three upcoming free agents who could fit the bill for the Sixers in that price range?

Malik Beasley

Beasley signed a prove-it veteran's minimum deal with the Milwaukee Bucks last season with the promise of being their starting shooting guard. Beasley started 77 games for the Bucks and proved his value to a winning team thanks to his remarkable three-point shooting -- on the year, Beasley finished in the top 25 of all NBA players in both three-point attempts and three-point percentage. He continues to assemble one of the most impressive track records as a long-range shooter in the NBA.

Beasley is sure to see a significant pay raise this summer, and the room MLE might be the most reasonable price point.

While he is never going to be an imposing defender, Beasley's production from beyond the arc is legitimately significant enough that it can help transform the Sixers' offense and give Sixers head coach Nick Nurse much more schematic diversity on that end of the floor. Not only is he excellent spotting up from three-point range, but he can run around screens and fire while on the move.

Beasley could -- like three-point marksmen JJ Redick and Seth Curry before him -- form a lethal two-man game with Embiid, should the pair of players share enough consistent time together on the floor.

Over his last four regular seasons, Beasley has emerged as one of the highest-volume three-point shooters -- averaging 7.8 triples per game -- while maintaining an impressive 38.3 three-point percentage.

Gary Harris

In his three full seasons with the Orlando Magic, Harris dealt with plenty of injuries -- he logged just 163 appearances during that period -- but also had the best stretch of his career as a three-point shooter. Over the last three seasons, Harris made 39.4 percent of his three-point tries on 4.4 attempts per game.

Harris' reputation has always stemmed from his defense -- he is long and strong enough to defend certain wings, but is much more reliable against players at either guard position. Maxey made significant strides on the defensive end during the latter portion of the season, and Embiid will always be a game-changer on that end of the floor, but they will need perimeter players who they know can be relied upon to take on challenging defensive assignments.

Because of the Sixers' desire to keep Embiid around the rim as frequently as possible, it is valuable to add a high-level point-of-attack defender at the guard position, and Harris is that. The biggest cause for concern with Harris likely is not anything related to his on-court fit; it is his availability (or lack thereof).

Royce O'Neale

O'Neale is a player who has long made sense as a Sixers target, whether it is in a potential trade or now as a free agent. O'Neale spent the better part of two seasons with the Brooklyn Nets before spending the final few months of 2023-24 with the Phoenix Suns. 

Over the last five seasons, O'Neale has attempted 4.5 three-point tries per game -- like Beasley and Harris, his ability to shoot at a high volume from deep is a key part of his value -- and made 38.2 percent of those shots. O'Neale is only listed as 6-foot-4, but has a 6-foot-9 wingspan and a very sturdy frame that allows him to defend some of the game's biggest wings.

O'Neale is never a player who a team is going to run its offense through, but he is a surprisingly good passer. As we saw with Batum this season and Danny Green in years past, having a wing who can be reliable as a post entry passer to Embiid is a major boon for the Sixers' offense -- and as teams like the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets have shown in recent years, it never hurts to have as many players capable of making a crisp pass as possible.

The Suns will not be able to sign significant free agents from other teams this summer, so bringing O'Neale back could be a significant priority for them. But if not, he could fit well in Philadelphia -- as he has just about everywhere he has been in the NBA.

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