Since the Golden State Warriors are facing the Philadelphia 76ers tonight, I reached out to Jake Pavorsky of SB Nation’s Liberty Ballers for some insight about one of the more interesting teams (to me) after the trade deadline.
If you weren’t keeping track last Thursday, the Sixers took one more step forward in their seemingly-eternal rebuilding process by trading Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks (in the deal that led to Andrew Bogut becoming a free agent). Prior to that deal, the Sixers sent Ersan Ilyasova to the Atlanta Hawks in order to free up an opportunity for rookie Dario Saric.
Since I knew that Jake had some feelings about these moves, I asked him a few questions over the weekend about the trade deadline, the future, and feelings about the state of the Sixers as a whole.
Q&A with Liberty Ballers
GSoM: This has been both a weird and exciting season for the Sixers, from Embiid showing All-Star potential to Noel being traded. What would you say is the most surprising development so far?
Jake Pavorsky: I think the most surprising development is how many games this Sixers team can take down to the wire. I know that sounds weird. By year four of The Process you figure they should be able to do these types of things. But frankly, this team still doesn’t have a ton of talent, especially with Embiid and Simmons out, and Noel being traded.
Friday’s game against the New York Knicks was the perfect example. The Sixers were down 17 in the second half, clawed their way back, and ended up losing on a Carmelo Anthony buzzer beater. If that game happened last year (or any of the previous two seasons), they would’ve laid down and died as soon as the deficit hit 12 points. But this team has a ton of fight, and they feel like they can compete with any team in the league. For the most part they can. That’s what has surprised me the most, considering their current lack of talent on the floor.
GSoM: After a few days to let the moves leading up to the trade deadline set in, what are your feelings about what the Sixers did?
JP: I still hate it. The decision really comes down to how you valuable you think Nerlens Noel is, and clearly that’s where the front office and myself differ. They didn’t think he was worth 20-plus million a year, and I really disagree, especially considering how much cap space they have.
Noel’s at worst a really good backup center, at best he’s a starter. He’s shown a ton of improvement since last season, and I was hoping to see him play with Embiid. But they clearly had no interest in trying to re-sign him, but waited too long to move him and got little in return. Plus, they’re still stuck with Jahlil Okafor, who isn’t a fit for this team. Moving Noel may have solved their logjam, but it certainly made them worse.
GSoM: In response to the Ilyasova trade, Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo said, "If you look at the path of our basketball team in the last month, month and a half, Dario has performed as even or above Ersan." What are your thoughts about Saric so far and what signs have you seen that he's ready for a larger role?
JP: Looking at Saric’s stats alone, it’s about what I would have expected for this season. Solid rebounder and a decent scorer but not necessarily efficient. For most of the season he was remarkably streaky, but now that he’s broken through the rookie wall, he’s been absolutely phenomenal for the past couple weeks. He’s scoring really well (and doing it while shooting a low percentage from three), hitting the boards hard, and wowing people with some of the passes he’s able to throw.
Saric plays with a certain energy and intensity that just embodies being a Philadelphia athlete, and he’s become a fan favorite. I’m not sure if playing Golden State will bring out the best of his game, but trust me when I say he’s been a pleasure to watch. If Simmons is the Sixers point guard next year, then I can definitely see Saric being the team’s starting power forward.
GSoM: We obviously won't get to see Embiid and Simmons play together this season, but having seen what Embiid can do and expecting great things from Simmons what do you think the Sixers need to put around them to move the franchise forward?
JP: I would really love for this team to find a complimentary off ball guard for Simmons. Someone who can run the point in situations but is also a pretty good ball handler, who can run a pick-and-roll while also hitting a spot up jumper. A Eric Bledsoe, Jrue Holiday -- someone of that skill set. That would be a great person to put in the backcourt.
The Sixers currently have Jerryd Bayless, and he’s like a poor man’s version of the kind of player I’d want. If they can someone manage to draft Markelle Fultz, he could fit that role perfectly. Otherwise, I think they’re alright. Robert Covington and Saric can be starters on a quality team.
GSoM: Aside from the health of Embiid & Simmons, what would you say is the biggest priority for the team right now?
JP: In terms of this season? Just continue to be competitive and grow as a unit. This roster does have a handful pieces that are going to be here past this year, so continuing to log minutes together and build chemistry is really important. I want this team to continue to fight until the final buzzer, but losing games definitely doesn’t hurt at this point.
They’re not going to make the playoffs, and my personal focus has shifted to them getting a high pick. Basically, be good, but not good enough to win a lot. Also, showcase Jahlil Okafor enough that you can find him a new home this summer. I can’t wait for this ridiculous saga to be over.