By Chad Berman and Alex Pacione
This is what happens when you stop trusting the process. RIP Sam, you died for our sins.
It wouldn’t be draft season without the NBA’s eternally tanking punching bag, the Philadelphia 76ers, being entrenched in a mind-numbing vortex of insane trade rumors. With the 2016 NBA Draft taking place tonight, let’s take a look at some of the potential stupidity 76ers general manager and president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo could’ve concocted on draft day.
Recent rumors had linked the Sixers to the Atlanta Hawks in a trade that would’ve sent power forward/center Nerlens Noel and draft picks to the ATL for point guard Jeff Teague (and a panda that would’ve been named later with some broads in Atlanta). This move would’ve been about as successful for the Sixers’ long-term plans as Joel Embiid’s recruiting attempts have been (His unconventional tactics include trying to lure LeBron to Philly by subsequently blocking him on Twitter—Kevin Durant is the latest target of Embiid’s fearless campaign.)
Thankfully, the Sixers dodged a major bullet, as the Atlanta Hawks sent Teague to the Indiana Pacers in a three-team deal that included Pacers point guard George Hill going to the Utah Jazz and Atlanta receiving the 12th pick in tonight’s draft. It appears that Philadelphia was on the precipice of this potential catastrophe, however, as reports came out that the 76ers were involved in the trade discussions up until the last minute since they are apparently leaving no stone unturned in their search for a veteran point guard. This is the kind of short-sightedness that us Process Trusters feared when former general manager Sam “The Savior” Hinkie “stepped down.”
Let’s concede, however, that the move would’ve been a very palatable one to a point guard-hungry 76ers team. The Sixers are more desperate for a competent point guard than Donald Trump is to prove that his birth father isn’t an orangutan. Colangelo has made it painfully clear with Hinkie “stepping down” that he wants to stop tanking and start winning as soon as possible. Trading for Teague would’ve been an integral part of this shameful anti-tank plan.
When the 76ers traded for Ish Smith last season, they proved that with at least a decent point guard they could play like a somewhat proficient basketball team—not exactly a resounding endorsement, but those don’t exactly grow on trees in Philadelphia.
As a starter, Smith had an offensive rating of 99.1 compared to those of Isaiah Canaan (94.0) and TJ McConnell (91.2), the Sixers’ other primary starting point guards. Those are striking differences and represent the 76ers’ pronounced improvement with a more capable point guard running the show.
Furthermore, in the first 13 games after Smith was acquired, the 76ers went 5-8. Prior to those 13 games? A horrifying 1-30. Add to that the fact that Smith shot only 40.2% from the field. With Teague, a career 44.8% shooter, who undoubtedly would’ve been a better option than Smith, the Sixers would’ve finally had a stable, starting-caliber floor general—sorry, Ish—to run and drastically improve their offense, which ranked dead last in the NBA in 2015-16 with a rating of 96.6.
Teague would’ve also brought much needed veteran leadership to the Sixers. The average age of the entire team is a callow 24.6 years. Of the 76ers’ starters last season, the oldest was 32-year-old Carl Landry, who played in only 36 games and started 12. I feel obligated to mention that Elton Brand is 37 years old (and that he’s still alive), but he spent the majority of last season preoccupied with trying to play basketball at 37 years old. Most of the Sixers’ other primary starters are 25 or under. Hollis Thompson and Robert Covington, who are both 25, started 17 and 49 games, respectively. Nerlens Noel, Jerami Grant, and Nik Stauskas are all 22 and started 62, 52, and 35 games, respectively. Rookie Jahlil Okafor also started 48 games and is only 20 years old.
Smith is 27 but is also a career journeyman and only joined the team partway through last season. Teague is 27, was an All Star just two years ago, and has been in the league for seven years. He has established himself as a bona fide star and an unquestionable starter, facts that would’ve been well respected in the locker room. Could he have prevented Okafor from Tokyo drifting across the Ben Franklin Bridge? Unlikely, but crazier things have happened. Regardless, the Sixers are in desperate need of a stable veteran starting presence.
However—and this is a pre-lap band Chris Christie-sized however—the Sixers would’ve been better off bringing Todd MacCulloch out of retirement from being a pinball wizard than they would’ve been trading Noel for Teague. The most conspicuous reason for not pulling the trigger on the trade is that Teague will be a free agent after the 2016-17 season. That means he essentially would’ve been a one-year rental who could’ve easily bolted after a mediocre season if the environment and long-term outlook wasn’t amenable to him.
Therefore, the Sixers would’ve given up one of their most promising bigs for a temp point guard—albeit a markedly better one—in what still would’ve been a dreadful and wasted season only to have said point guard leave for greener pastures the following season. Then, the 76ers would’ve been left with their tailpipes blowing in the wind sans a starting center and point guard in Noel and Teague and even worse for the wear in the 2017-18 season and beyond.
It is also much harder to come by a supremely athletic, rim-protecting big than it is a good point guard. Noel is a truly unique talent who has the potential to be a defensive player of the year candidate every season. He’s also only 22 years old and will be a key cog in the Sixers’ lineup for years to come. While he struggled when sharing the floor with Okafor last season (mostly due to him having to compensate for Okafor moving slower than John Goodman in heels), Noel is a defensive savant who averaged 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks (very good considering he split time between power forward and center) per game. That kind of versatility is an incredibly rare mold. He’s the reverse Draymond Green of the center position: Whereas Green can play bigger than he is and guard in the post in addition to on the wing, Noel is rangy enough to play smaller and cover power and small forwards on the perimeter while also keeping bigs out of the lane.
Noel also ranked in the top 10 in a lesser-known but very telling statistic last season. He was ranked No. 8 in Defensive Box Plus/Minus Rating (with a rating of 3.4), an estimate of how many points per 100 possessions he contributed over a league average player, translated to an average team. Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan, and Kawhi Leonard were among those ranked near Noel, all three of whom are considered top-tier defensive players, and Noel is only going into his 3rd season.
The correct move for the Sixers in this dystopian post-Trust the Process world is to be as deliberate as they have been for the past few seasons. They should wait for a better move involving a player with a more concrete future with the team. While we hope Colangelo is doing his due diligence, the rumors and reports swirling around make it seem as though that isn’t the case. Hinkie did a great job of drafting players with high ceilings, so before making impulsive trades, Colangelo should wait until we see what Embiid and the incoming Dario Saric have to offer—not to mention the 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons. The process needs to be trusted just a bit little longer because we haven’t even scratched the surface of seeing the toils of Hinkie’s labor come to fruition. The 76ers shouldn’t even think about dumping a transcendent defensive talent for a one-year rent-a-guard, even if he would be a vast improvement over the Sixers’ current scrapheap of point guards. Be cool, Colangelo.