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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.

Henry Sims

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.

Hollis Thompson

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.

Why Oladipo Deserves ROY Honors Over Carter-Williams

One of the most explosive and athletic swingman to come out of the 2013 NBA Draft class has been Victor Oladipo. Leading up to the draft, there was no question that Oladipo was a top-3 pick—and even talk as the top overall selection. Drafted second overall by the Orlando Magic, Oladipo had analysts dubbing him as the preseason favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award…that was until Michael Carter-Williams came out and took the league by storm to start the season.

Despite fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Carter-Williams seemingly coasting through the season as the favorite, Oladipo has shown that he should be more seriously considered for the award. Listed at 6’5” with a 6’9” wingspan, Oladipo creates mismatches with his lanky frame against opposing point guards. His explosive first step allows him to blow by most two-guards and get to the paint with relative ease. The Sixers recent losing streak of 25—tied for the longest all-time losing streak with the 2011 Cavaliers—should be a major detrimental factor against MCW’s bid for the award.

Comparing both Oladipo and Carter-Williams on a statistical spectrum would be misleading. Oladipo currently averages 14.0 points, 4.3 rebounds nd 4.2 assists while playing just less than 32 minutes per game. On the other hand, Carter-Williams plays at almost 35 minutes per game and averages 16.5, 6.1, 6.3, respectively. The Sixers currently lead the league in pace at 102 compared with the Magic who falls in at 96.1, ranked 16th in the league. With the uptick in both minutes and possessions per game for MCW, it is evident to see why his numbers look more impressive than Oladipo’s on the surface.

Additionally, the durability of a player should factor in for individual player awards. Numbers are most misrepresented when we do not get an accurate look at the quantity of total games played. While Carter-Williams has been missing games left and right throughout the season (due to knee issues), Oladipo played in the first 62 games of season, a feat none of the other top-5 picks could accomplish.

For the most part, injuries have kept the Magic from being more competitive in the Eastern Conference—as they sit at 21 wins with eight games left to go. However, through Orlando's rebuilding season, steady improvement has shown between the synergy of Oladipo and big man Nikola Vucevic.

“Early in the year, we couldn’t really get it together as far as pick-and-rolls and stuff like that, which is normal,” Vucevic tells Orlando Sentinel beat reporter Josh Robbins. “It just takes time, a lot of practice, a lot of work. I think now we have a pretty good chemistry pick-and-roll-wise when he drives…So it’s great. I think it’ll be huge for us in the future.”

Looking more in-depth at Oladipo’s play gives us a better idea of what sort of player Oladipo is. About 44 percent of Oladipo’s plays are run through as the pick and roll ball handler per Synergy Sports. He converts at a 0.77 PPP and shoots at an anemic 39.5 percent clip when running the play. On the defensive end, he gives up a similar 0.78 PPP rate when defending the opposing guard so he does make up for some of the offensive deficiencies with his defense. These numbers are nowhere where they should be for a future star but if Oladipo wants to take the next step, he must learn to develop a more consistent mid-range and perimeter jump shot.

According to NBA.com, about 43 percent of Oladipo’s 859 field goal attempts have been within 5-feet of the rim—where he converts at a 52 percent clip. Outside of 5-feet, he shoots just 32.6 percent from the field—including 9-for-40 between 5-9 feet. In order for Oladipo to continue to progress to the explosive star that many potentially see him as, he must learn to become more decisive and finish stronger around the rim. 

At this juncture of Oladipo’s rookie year, we can see that he has no problems getting to the rim given his unmatched quickness and impressive athleticism. However, Oladipo must learn to control his body more when he finishes around the rim. ESPN Insider’s David Thorpe compares Oladipo’s slashing cutting game to that of Dwayne Wade’s.

“It’s the craft part that Oladipo needs to study the most – seeing when to speed up, when to slow down, when to try the Euro-step, etc. – because finishing at a high level requires more than just jumping high when you are shorter than 6-foot-6. Recognizing opportunities to race is also a Wade specialty, something Oladipo often misses out on in games.“

Despite these holes in his game, Oladipo should clearly be getting more recognition from around the league and the media as the 2014 Rookie of the Year. Certainly MCW has had an impressive campaign himself, but it has got to be tough to evaluate his rookie campaign given the Sixers’ D-League roster.

The Age Of Hinkie: Year 1

Despite the outpouring of criticism aimed at the Philadelphia 76ers for tanking, what we are actually witnessing is a multi-year plan being masterfully executed. Tanking is not some new phenomenon that Sam Hinkie has innovated himself in order to intentionally disgrace the integrity of the NBA. 

Since 1987, a lottery system has been in place that incentivizes the worst teams in the league to lose. For some reason (perhaps the record for consecutive losses in a season being at stake), the cries about the detriment that causes to the league have never been louder. It is certainly something that should be open to discussion in the Adam Silver era, but with the current system being what it is, a shrewd general manager will have to consider this option, and Hinkie is certainly that. 

The 76ers haven’t been a truly competitive franchise since the height of the Allen Iverson era. No team has been a better example of being trapped on the mediocrity treadmill than this one. A plethora of late lottery picks and first round playoff exits have not moved the needle in either direction. A rotating door of retread general managers (Billy King, Ed Stefanski, Rod Thorn) and coaches (Maurice Cheeks, Eddie Jordan, Doug Collins) hasn’t helped either. This team should have been rebuilding since the Iverson trade in 2006 that netted veterans (Andre Miller and Joe Smith) instead of young talent with potential (one potential rumored deal would have sent Rajon Rondo and Al Jefferson back to the 76ers). 

Without much appeal for free agents, the draft is really the only method for teams like the 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings to find legitimate pieces to build with, and it’s been proven time and time again that those prospects are stacked at the top of the draft order. What’s the best way to secure top draft position for your team? Clean house. 

Hinkie was inserted as GM and immediately initiated the reboot by sending Jrue Holiday (an All-Star that season, which quite possibly will be his only appearance) to the New Orleans Pelicans for Nerlens Noel and a top-5 protected pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. With Dell Demps in win-now mode mandated by ownership, Hinkie probably shaved a year off of the rebuild by getting that extra draft pick. The Pelicans may have overestimated their potential coming into this season, although the season-ending injury to Holiday could not have been anticipated. That pick (currently 10th) is likely to be conveyed this year, and to say that the praise for this draft has been hefty would be an understatement.   

The next series of Hinkie’s moves have been to acquire young players with potential on cheap rookie-scale deals either via undrafted rookies, D-League standout players, or end-of-bench players that have gone unappreciated. Players like Tony Wroten, James Anderson, Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims all have had opportunities to showcase their skills and improve their games by getting legitimate minutes that they otherwise would not receive. 

Lastly, Hinkie had to decide which veterans to keep and which to deal before the trade deadline. Spencer Hawes went to the Cleveland Cavaliers for two second round picks and the aforementioned Sims, while Evan Turner went to Indiana for Danny Granger’s expiring and another second rounder. The market clearly wasn’t great for either player, but Hinkie garnered what value he could as both players are in the last year of their contracts and don’t fit into the future plans.

He held on to Thaddeus Young, arguably his most valuable trade asset, who could possibly be dealt  in a draft night deal or even kept on the roster as a veteran presence. Young’s character is highly regarded throughout the league, and his style of play is such that he won’t take the ball away from developing players who need it. 

The result of losing Turner and Hawes has not been pretty, but let’s face it: it wasn’t exactly shimmering before either. Hinkie is interested in going into the May 20th draft lottery with at least the second worst record in the league. It’s doubtful that he cares whether or not this team loses 36 games in a row to end the season and smash the current 26-game record. If he can walk away from this draft with a franchise player, he will be satisfied. 

How soon we forget that even though many predicted Philadelphia was intentionally tanking this season, they had a Western Conference counterpart in the Phoenix Suns. Before the Sixers were shipping away Turner and Hawes to anyone willing to part with second round picks, the Suns were unloading a quality center in Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards for Emeka Okafor’s expiring and this year’s protected lottery pick. This was a blatant move to worsen the team in the short-term, and everybody knew it. The only problem is…they got good. Although it’s looking like Phoenix might just miss the playoffs to end their Cinderella season, their unexpected success has focused what was originally a two-headed tanking microscope, squarely on the Sixers. 

Too Early For Nerlens Noel

Nerlens Noel should not play this season, both for the good of himself and the 76ers franchise as a whole. He has to accept the teamís strategy and take full advantage of this time to focus on his development.

The Eastern Conference At The Deadline

The East deals included the only two All-Stars dealt (Antawn Jamison and Danny Granger), the two best players (Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes), and the smartest player (Professor Andre Miller, PhD).

The Case For Michael Carter-Williams As Fringe All-Star

Michael Carter-Williams should at the very least be considered for a reserve spot in a conference that really lacks a dominant lead guard. Brett Brown and the 76ers are very high on MCW, but hadn't really thought about the strength of his candidacy when asked.

Michael Carter-Williams' Fresh NBA Stardom Reminds Philadelphia Of Iverson

Michael Carter-Williams will never score with the frequency Allen Iverson did over an entire career, nor become the unique cultural icon, but heís already shown Philadelphia flashes of the level of talent that made A.I. a legend there and the mental makeup to go with it. Now, heís hearing about it, too.

76ers Veterans Should Keep A Bag Packed

Based on the track record of Sam Hinkieís moves as general manager of the 76ers thus far, it is safe to assume that only two players on this roster are untouchable: Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, meaning Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes could be on the move.

The Bright Spotlight: Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers started the season quickly in what was supposed to finally be their chance for a full rebuild and a high draft pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

30 Rapid-Fire Questions For Each Team's Front Office

The following 30 questions are the biggest issues facing each NBA front office as the 13-14 regular season begins.

30-Team Offseason Rundown

Great drafts for the Rockets, 76ers, Nets, Warriors, Hawks and Grizzlies headline this complete rundown of the 2013 offseason.

Summer League Player Evaluation: Michael Carter-Williams

Michael Carter-Williams has had some intriguing stat-lines during his initial Summer League games. Here we breakdown the tape on his tendencies and what he will need to improve upon to reach his NBA potential.

2013 NBA Offseason Primer

With the 2013 NBA offseason underway, here is a primer on what all 30 teams are facing.

Leroux's 2013 NBA Draft Review

Breaking down all 30 teams by category of how they fared in the often surprising, never disappointing 2013 NBA Draft.

2013 NBA Amnesty Primer

One fun component of the Amnesty rule is that we know exactly which players are eligible for it and that number can only decrease over time since the players had to have been under contract with the same team before the new CBA.

The Lottery Lowdown

We have seen a whole lot of changes since the pre-Tournament issue of the Lottery Lowdown. March Madness gave us a few players to watch both this year and for 2014 while the Nike Hoop Summit and Combine helped clarify the picture in terms of athletic ability and positional versatility.

How Many Players Teams Acquire At Each Trade Deadline On Average

The Kings, Knicks, Rockets, Thunder and Cavaliers have been the most active teams at the deadline over the past decade, while the Spurs, Pistons, Heat, Lakers and Pacers have made the fewest deals.

Leroux's 2012-13 NBA Tier Predcitions

While the drop-off from the Heat to the rest of the Eastern Conference is severe, the Lakers, Spurs and Thunder have quick company in the second and third tiers.

Leroux's 30-Team Offseason Review

The Nuggets, Lakers, Heat, 76ers and Nets were amongst the teams with great offseasons, while the Bucks, Magic, Suns, Knicks, Cavaliers and Bulls were in the bad column. Here's how all 30 teams have fared in the 2012 offseason.

Team-By-Team Gold Medal Winners

The Jazz and Thunder have had the most Gold Medalists since the USA began bringing NBA players in 1992, while Duke leads amongst colleges. How do the other 29 NBA teams rank?

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