Searching For Journeymen
The Philadelphia 76ers have scoured the far edges of the NBA universe to find potential where others have only found disappointment. It’s been a running gag all season with this team. The D-League Sixers. Thaddeus Young putting his arm around a young referee pointing out to him who all of the players are perfectly encapsulates the rotating door that has been the team’s roster all year. But amidst the D-League hopefuls and marginal talent, a few players have proven themselves as NBA caliber, and deserve to have roster spots either with the Sixers or with another franchise.
Who Henry Sims is: A midseason acquisition as part of the Spencer Hawes' trade with Cleveland (initially considered a throw-in), Sims went undrafted in 2012 after four seasons at Georgetown (Sam Hinkie must have an affinity for Hoyas, more on this later). He’s bounced around various D-League and Summer League squads, as well as spent some time playing for the Petron Blaze Boosters of the Philippines.
What He Brings: When your frontcourt consists of players such as Hawes and Byron Mullens, it’s safe to say that you are lacking in muscle. Sims is big (6’10’’, 248lbs), strong, and more skilled than anyone realizes. The best part of his game however, is that he is hungry on defense. Sims was able to come in and quickly establish himself as the team’s starting center. His verbosity on defense has won over coach Brett Brown, who has been desperate to find someone who can be a presence on the interior for this team. Since joining the team on February 20th, he has posted four double-doubles, had a 24 point, nine rebound performance against Boston where he shot 18 free throws (a career high), and was instrumental in the team’s two recent victories (for a team that has 17 wins on the season, that’s a big deal).
What He Needs to Work on and into the Future: Sims can be a bit undersized at the center position (a recent manhandling by Charlotte’s Al Jefferson demonstrated that), and he doesn’t possess great length. He also would never be referred to as a leaper. Continuing to develop his strength should be a priority. He just turned 24, so some potential is still there. If he continues his productive play and demonstrates the kind of character that Brown and Hinkie so cherish, he should keep a spot on this team’s roster, perhaps a long term piece as Nerlens Noel’s backup. If his baseline and free throw jumper continue to improve, he could be utilized at power forward against big lineups, along with Noel.
Who Hollis Thompson is: Hinkie probably has a giant bulletin board with pictures of all players and staff, mapping their entire basketball careers and paying special attention to any potential intersections, similar to a television detective piecing together a case. Thompson is also a Georgetown product, and a former teammate of Henry Sims. Coincidence? Doubtful. Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel played on the same AAU basketball team when they were in high school, BABC Boston. Carter-Williams, Noel, and Brett Brown are all from the Boston area. Hinkie is looking for synergy, and Thompson might just fit the bill. Also undrafted in 2012, Hollis played for the Spurs Summer League squad (Brown’s former team) in 2013 before landing a deal with the Sixers.
What He Brings: An athletic specimen at 6’8’’ and only 23 years old, Hollis is capable of playing the shooting guard or small forward position. He shoots the 3-ball at a very respectable clip, just under 41%. He is fast in transition and a good finisher on the break. His combination of speed and length give him promising defensive potential on the wing. He has been in and out of the starting lineup this year, generally rotating with another former Spur, James Anderson. He recently hit a career-high six threes against the Nets, two of which came in the guts of the game that would ultimately end in a tough fought loss.
What He Needs to Work on and into the Future: Thompson’s ability from long range is currently his greatest offensive strength, so he should use his shooting touch to establish a midrange game this offseason, as well as develop some signature ball handling moves to create his own shot off of isolation plays (he is mostly utilized as a spot up catch-and-shoot player, very reminiscent of Bruce Bowen standing in the corner getting ready to receive the pass). Defensively, he is long but slight. Strength-training should be heavily emphasized this offseason if he wants to establish himself as a two-way player. Like Sims, the potential is there, but Thompson’s future with the team hinges upon this year’s draft. It’s no secret that there is another 6’8’’ wing that the Sixers are targeting.
People never hesitate to point out the detrimental effects that tanking/rebuilding has on the league, but rarely do we hear about the beneficial ones. Securing a roster spot in the NBA is incredibly difficult, with athletes playing all around the world just to get their one opportunity on the one team that has a need for the position that they play. Say what you will about the Sixers this year, but players like Sims and Thompson will likely have jobs in the NBA next year, and it can be attributed not only to their hard work, but to the exposure they’ve received with this franchise.