1

Yo, Who Are These Guys?: A Sixers Explainer

Brett Brown feels the burn.

I can’t remember seeing an NBA team get reduced more completely down to a nub of a philosophical concept than this year’s Philadelphia 76ers.

They are the uncanny avatar for the influx of newfangled statistics. They are everything that is wrong with the league—miserable, disingenuous tankers. They are everything that is right with the league, temporarily obligated to clean up the mess left by the elder generation in order to institute a perennial contender shaped and sharpened by the finest and most incisive analytics. They are a raggedy troop of replacement-level talent whom we derisively harpoon for being an NBDL team accidentally marauding upon NBA hardwood. But, who are they?

To be associated with the Sixers is to constantly be saying hello, learning names, and saying goodbye. A staggering 23 basketball players have appeared in uniform for the Philadelphia 76ers this season. But even this high number doesn’t convey the full manic lunacy of general manager Sam Hinkie’s wheelings and dealings.

These 23 players do not include Nerlens Noel and Jason Richardson, who have sported many a suave get-up behind the Philadelphia bench this season. It also doesn’t include Kwame Brown, who was, in fact, also a member of this roster this fall, never coming back to health before being cut right before Thanksgiving (meantime receiving $2.9M for his troubles).

Also not counted among these 23 players are Danny Granger and Earl Clark, who were, for a span of hours at the trading deadline, members of this team before they, too, were cut. It doesn’t count Arsalan Kazemi, whom the Sixers traded for on draft night, then started during Summer League before allowing him to spend this season developing while playing back in his native Iran. And this tally doesn’t include preseason cuts Solomon Alabi, Vander Blue, Justin Holiday, Mac Koshwal, Gani Lawal, Tim Ohlbrecht, Royce White, Rodney Williams, and Khalif Wyatt.

So, who are these 23 players who have actually appeared in a game while the clock ran and the statistics counted? (Bizarrely, all of them are Americans.) Evan Turner, Lavoy Allen, and Spencer Hawes have all been traded to greener pastures. We know Thaddeus Young, this team’s lone carrier of constancy and veteranship. We know Michael Carter-Williams, who, in brief and shining moments, has caused us to honestly invoke comparisons to Magic Johnson. We also know, for different and more underwhelming reasons, Eric Maynor and Byron Mullens, who have been evicted from the protective cocoons of their rookie contracts and have begun to fulfill their destiny of shuttling around the benches of the Association’s less-followed teams.

Despite Hinkie’s perceived quality of allowing anybody who can dribble while walking onto his team, he has delivered cuts from on high rapidly and unabashedly. Lorenzo Brown, Dewayne Dedmon, Darius Johnson-Odom, Darius Morris, James Nunnally, and Daniel Orton have all been thanked for their services and released.

There are still ten more players who have donned the red, white, and blue this season. They have suffered. Oh, they have suffered. The infamous 26-game losing streak was a work molded by their hands. They are the semi-anonymous faces that we see, heads hung in shame in the dank dregs of another 30-point loss. They are the earnest hustlers who still gave an honest effort for every last terrible possession of that 30-point loss. They are involved in one big giant audition for their next job.

Another losing team that’s always captured my imagination is the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats, who stumbled their way to the worst winning percentage in NBA history with a 7-59 record. Sixteen different players played for that team and, a mere two years later, eight of them are already out of the league (Derrick Brown, Matt Carroll, DeSagana Diop, Cory Higgins, Corey Maggette, Jamario Moon, Eduardo Najera, and Tyrus Thomas).

While this year’s Sixers do have a better winning percentage than that legendary Bobcats team, they are comprised of brand-new rookies and not jaded veterans. Will all of these Sixers scatter like the dust and drift out of the Association in short order? Or, perhaps, are there true glimmers of talent here, talent that went unrealized this year without the binding guidance and skills of established players? Here’s what I thought when I looked at the tape. These are your Philadelphia 76ers, listed by date acquired:

Arnett Moultrie

Date acquired by Sixers: June 29, 2012

NBA games played before 2013-14 Sixers: 47 (with 2012-13 Sixers)

Record in games played with 2013-14 Sixers: 0-12

Incisive analysis: We could all use a mulligan year or two in our lives and, well, this would be Moultrie’s mulligan. Injuries kept Moultrie sidelined for the entire first half of the season and, after an underwhelming cameo in the midst of the epic losing streak, he was slapped with a marijuana suspension. As a Doug Collins-regime draft pick, Moultrie is, incredibly, one of the longest-tenured Sixers, having been with the team for almost a full 24 months. Also incredible: Hinkie proactively picked up Moultrie’s option for the 2014-15 season, no doubt banking that Moultrie was showing his true value during his astoundingly efficient rookie year. As a bulky power forward with a smooth and decidedly old-school repertoire of jumpers and tip-ins, Moultrie’s game is definitely solid—but he possesses no elite skills, like Larry Sanders, to make many more legal troubles worth the hassle.

Best-case scenario: David West, but if David West listened to jazz instead of having a mean streak.

Is he in the league in two years?: Yes.

~

James Anderson

Date acquired: July 15, 2013

Previous career games played: 116 (San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets)

Record with Sixers: 18-51

Incisive analysis: The former San Antonio swingman was signed by Philadelphia a month before his old assistant coach, Brett Brown, was named head coach here. While the move to Philadelphia has blessed Anderson’s counting stats—he’s averaging 10.1 points per game after a previous career best of 3.8—Anderson is not playing in the NBA of recent past, when general managers were content to blindly bestow large chunks of cap space to double-digit scorers. Freed from the tight precision of Gregg Popovich’s gameplans, Anderson has uncorked 5.5 3-point attempts per 36 minutes—many of those shots released from several feet behind the line, hitting on only 32.4% of attempts. A career-worst Defensive Rating of 112 is less of an indication of Anderson’s true talents and more like his (misguided) belief that self-preservation in this topsy-turvy season means posting flashy offensive numbers.

Best-case scenario: To be along for the ride as San Antonio’s twelfth man in a year when they get to the Finals.

Is he in the league in two years?: Yes.

~

Tony Wroten

Date acquired: August 22, 2013

Previous career games played: 35 (Memphis Grizzlies)

Record with Sixers: 17-54

Incisive analysis: As Rob Mahoney of The Point Forward noted last week, Wroten perhaps contributed more than any other individual player to the league’s perceived tanking efforts. I agree with this assessment—although it should be noted that christening Wroten as the Most Valuable Tanker is something entirely different from labeling him the League’s Worst Player, or even one of the league’s worst players. Rather, Wroten’s involvement on a losing team has been a singularly toxic relationship for both himself and his employer. Wroten’s blatant lollygagging on the defensive end—just about the only time you’ll see non-hustling from a Sixer this season—is indicative of a mindset that is woefully at odds with a young team that’s sacrificing present wins in order to build future culture. As we’ll see below, the Sixers roster is actually flush with shoot-last players—it is entirely possible that Wroten was acquired simply to have somebody on the roster to fill the possessions up with shots while the defense-first wings were developed and evaluated. Wroten definitely has his talents: his 56.6 shooting percentage on shots three feet or less from the basket is an indication of his excellent creative ability to drive and finish—and this number doesn’t take into account the numerous fouls he draws while doing so. (And these are real fouls, not James Harden wrist-taps.) His 21.5% success rate from three is at least a little exaggerated, as Wroten is unable to help himself from hurling a half-court shot at the basket in the dying seconds of a quarter.

Best-case scenario: To be surrounded by veterans and thus evolving into a shoot-first back-up who still contributes value, like a Jerryd Bayless.

Is he in the league in two years?: Yes. Defense, as the recently coined proverb goes, is half the game. But offense still makes up for a whole half as well. There will always be a spot in this league for 20-year-olds who can create shots for themselves.

~

Hollis Thompson

Date acquired: September 24, 2013

Previous career games played: 0

Record with Sixers: 17-59

Incisive analysis: Even after watching so much tape, it’s hard for me to tell the differences between Thompson and Elliot Williams (examined below): both are quiet, lanky wings who, thanks to their astonishingly low usage rates, can tend to fade into the background of a game. Thompson is shooting a magnificent 40.2% from three, good for 22nd in the league. Plus, most of Thompson’s opportunities come on frantic kick-outs after the designed play has crumbled—perhaps Hollis would be among the league’s elite shooters if plays were actually implemented for him to get open shots. An undrafted rookie, Thompson has made the most of his unglamorous situation: his 1.9 Win Shares is more than all but seven drafted rookies have achieved.

Best-case scenario: A small but established niche as a Steve Novak or Anthony Morrow-type shooter.

Is he in the league in two years?: Yes.

~

Brandon Davies

Date acquired: October 27, 2013

Previous career games played: 0

Record with Sixers: 14-36

Incisive analysis: I want so much to like Brandon Davies, no doubt because of my inexplicable crushes on lanky defenders of thankless versatility like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute or Jared Jeffries. Like Mbah a Moute or Jeffries, Davies has the size of a center but is capable and eager and willing and agile enough to guard any position on the court. You can’t put a man on an island if he never shies away from any defensive assignment. Unfortunately, also like Mbah a Moute or Jeffries, Davies’ poise turns into a discombobulated, brick-handed mess once he crosses over to the offensive end of the court.

Best-case scenario: Even if nobody ever bought their jerseys, Jeffries spent 11 years in the league and Mbah a Moute is going strong in his sixth.

Is he in the league in two years?: If he is, it’s as one of those guys who is always going back and forth between the big show and the NBDL.

~

Elliot Williams

Date acquired: November 20, 2013

Previous career games played: 24 (Portland Trail Blazers)

Record with Sixers: 12-53

Incisive analysis: Williams comes with an injury history that would make Greg Oden weep: picked 22nd overall by Portland in the 2010 draft, Williams was only healthy for 24 games before his rookie contract expired last summer. Who knows how much of a grace period Williams should receive in order to shake rust off, but he has shown a very similar game to Thompson, only a skosh inferior in just about every way. His three-point accuracy is an uninspiring 29.8%, and his Defensive Rating of 113 is a reflection of his tendency to get wholly swallowed up by any pick thrown his way. Still, picking up Williams feels like a worthwhile experiment by Hinkie, hunting for value in unanticipated places.

Best-case scenario: To be matched with a thoughtful teacher in a low-pressure situation in the NBDL.

Is he in the league in two years?: Let’s see after some NBDL time.

~

Henry Sims

Date acquired: February 20, 2014

Previous career games played: 22 (New Orleans Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers)

Record with Sixers: 3-22

Incisive analysis: Hinkie’s trade deadline activity will always be remembered for his dumping of Granger, Turner, Hawes, Earl Clark—stripping his roster of any and all veteran consistency. But it should be noted that Philly’s trade with Cleveland netted them a promising, defense-first big in Sims, who deserved his instant appointment to starting center. The offensive game looks to move quite fast for Sims—his constant splayed-limb flailing is not a foul-drawing act, and the shots that go in seem to surprise Sims as much as the viewer. But Sims shines through on defense, perpetually fighting for position pre-entry pass against the opposing center, an effort that can limit a post wizard like Al Jefferson to jump shots. Sims’ Defensive Rating of 110 in Philadelphia must include consideration that Sims is constantly patching up the sieve of driving wings that Wroten and Anderson let through. The 1.8 Win Shares Sims has contributed since arriving in Philly is equal to Hawes’ production in Cleveland, and compares favorably to Clark’s career total of 2.9 Win Shares. Perhaps the reports of Hinkie’s manic tanking were just a smidge exaggerated.

Best-case scenario: Omer Asik, pre-mood swings.

Is he in the league in two years?: Yes.

~

Jarvis Varnado

Date acquired: March 1, 2014

Previous career games played: 14 (Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls)

Record with Sixers: 3-19

Incisive analysis: Hinkie found another big, stout defender in the waning moments of the regular season: Varnado’s Block Percentage of 7.2 would lead the league (over Anthony Davis’ 6.7%) if he had enough minutes to qualify. Varnado’s Total Rebound Percentage of a flat 10% is definitely underwhelming, although this can be at least partly attributed to Varnado’s comfort with the mid-range jumper, keeping him positioned outside the paint. Varnado’s love for the blocked shot, as indicated on his personal WordPress, means that he gambles himself out of position on a regular basis. But, coupled with his eagerness to contribute on fast breaks, Varnado has at least played an exciting game to intrigue downtrodden Philly fans.

Best-case scenario: The helicopter arms of JaVale McGee, sans shenanigans.

Is he in the league in two years?: Yes.

~

Casper Ware

Date acquired: March 24, 2014

Previous career games played: 0

Record with Sixers: 2-6

Incisive analysis: The diminutive point guard interpreted the ten-day contract offered his way as a vote of tremendous confidence, promptly shooting 6.5 3-pointers every 36 minutes in his brief moments backing up the point.

Best-case scenario: Jordan Crawford, if Jordan Crawford carried himself with a quiet nobility.

Is he in the league in two years?: No.

~

Adonis Thomas

Date acquired: April 7, 2014

Previous career games played: 4 (Orlando Magic)

Record with Sixers: 0-1

Incisive analysis: I mean, who can really know?

~

The wheeling and dealing is not on pace to stop for the 2014-15 season, as Hinkie has clearly made it a priority to stockpile an apocalypse-ready hoard of second-round picks.

Miles Wray