A Look at the Knicks’ Atlantic Division Rivals: Philadelphia 76ers

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Jake Benzaquen, who is a staff writer for Fourth and Sixth

It has been almost two weeks since one of the most memorable drafts in NBA history.  The New Orleans Pelicans headlined the historic night with a blockbuster trade involving the Philadelphia 76ers, who sent their all-star point guard, Jrue Holiday, to New Orleans in exchange for the 6th overall pick (Nerlens Noel) and a protected 2014 first round pick.  The pick that New Orleans sent is top-5 protected and this shouldn’t be a problem, since the Pelicans are aiming for a playoff spot (as fairly new owner Tom Benson has instructed management to hurry up their rebuild) with the new addition of Tyreke Evans alongside Holiday in the backcourt, and the developing Anthony Davis down low.

After taking 14 days to digest the trade, I really, really love what Philly’s new general manager, Sam Hinkie, has done.  Many people (myself included) tweeted and bashed the rookie GM for what would end up being his first big move as a top dog.  Hinkie sent away a beloved point guard who had developed within the 76ers system for 4 full seasons.  Holiday became a dynamic passer, shooter, and playmaker after being selected 17th overall out of UCLA at just 19 years old.  Holiday is a solid on ball defender, an alert off the ball communicator, and someone who can occasionally guard the 2 or 3 due to his length (6’7″ wingspan) and height (6’4″).  He also has a great three point shot averaging 37% from deep over his career, with the percentages not wavering, staying between 36% and 39%. Obviously, the fan base of Philly was not pleased with their new GM at the time.  However, they should keep an open mind towards the future.

Sam Hinkie took a team without a true identity, and transitioned it into a team that is clearly rebuilding.  Honestly, a lineup consisting of Holiday, Evan Turner, Jason Richardson, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes was not posing a threat to any team, let alone the Heat, Spurs, and Bulls of the world.  Yes, this starting 5, with Nick Young off the bench, could compete for the last two-playoff spots every year, but what would that bring the city of Philadelphia?  First-round exits to the Heat/Knicks/Bulls/Pacers every year?

Of course, every front office values making the playoffs, and keeping a team semi-competitive.  This keeps the team’s public opinion up and does not let them fall to the Bobcats level (while making more money as well).  The Utah Jazz have done this every year since Deron Williams left, and the Bucks have been an eight seed for as long as I can remember.  The point is that Sam Hinkie does not want to be a first round exit every year, and the city of brotherly love should not only respect that, but embrace it.

Hinkie traded away the teams beloved point guard for what many viewed as the best prospect in the draft, in Noel.  Noel is a 6’10”, lengthy, raw, center.  Noel is the (future) rim protector that Philly has not had in a while.  While the Kentucky Wildcat will make an immediate impact defensively, his offensive game will need a ton of work.  Many scouts view him as being the next Tyson Chandler, putting that as his ceiling.  There are also tons of question surrounding his health, specifically his surgically repaired knee.  There is no doubt Noel will be Hinkie’s starting center for as long as he, and Noel, desire.  However, there is doubt to how much of a game changer he can truly be.

Although Noel is a nice piece to the puzzle, where Hinkie aims to really start his rebuild is in the 2014 draft.  The 76ers already have New Orleans’ 1st round pick, which was already discussed, and their own pick as well.  Hinkie hopes that New Orleans rebuilding project will go as poorly as possible, and he will have his own team tank in order to get the highest chance at landing a superstar prospect.  The 2014 draft is stuffed with amazing athletes and players, and any pick in the top 4 is really guaranteed a superstar.  Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon, and Julius Randle headline this class, and Philly hopes to land one of these assets to pair with Noel (and Michael Carter-Williams).  A core of MCW, Noel, and anyone of the four players previously mentioned is a great young team, which Hinkie hopes he will have put together by July 2014.

There are still a lot of questions surrounding the current 76ers roster.  Specifically Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young, who really are the only two capable NBA players left (Spencer Hawes on some nights could make the list as well) on the roster.  Turner is a good role player, and could really fit well in any NBA system.  He is a lengthy, versatile, defender who can switch onto point guards and small forwards at times.  Turner has a 6’8” wingspan with a 6’7” frame, and creates issues with his length.  However, Turner is not considered a stopper at these positions, as he lacks the quickness to keep up with the smaller guards, and the size and strength to muscle the forwards.  However, he can be useful on defense with a coach who loves to switch on the pick and roll (i.e. Mike Woodson, Monty Williams).  Since being drafted second overall out of Ohio State, Turner has not improved his game significantly.  This year in his third season, his statistics rose in almost every category.  Points, rebounds, assists, steals, you name it the numbers went up.  However, Turner really only had these numbers increase due to his increased playing time with the departure of Andre Igoudala.  He saw 9 more minutes per game, and increased his scoring to almost 14 points per game, rebounds to 6 per game, and assists to 4 per game.  These are all expected numbers with an increase in minutes, and it is hard to say any of it is due to player development.  However, one area that is promising is how Turner performed behind the arc this season.  He raised his three-point percentage to 36%, and shot nearly two a game.  Last season Turner only shot one per game at a rate of 22%.  Even though Turner’s three-point game is promising, his total field goal percentage dropped this season.  This means he missed a lot more midrange (something that Hinkie will likely eliminate from the offense due to the Daryl Morey regime) and close attempts.  Evan Turner is not a bad player by any means, but he is not who everyone thought he would be when he was drafted second overall.  Many saw him as the man who was taken 8 spots later, Paul George.  He’s a role player on a title contender, or a second/third option on a lottery team.  Where does this leave him?

Turner seemed very disgruntled at the end of last season, and was reported to be constantly fighting with his former coach Doug Collins.  There were also rumors on draft day that Hinkie tried to trade him for a late first rounder.  However, most teams backed off due to his contract, which carried a $7M hit this year, and had an $8M qualifying offer next season.  Be surprised if the Knicks see Evan Turner in a 76ers uniform when they visit the Garden late in the season.  Look for potential suitors to be the Spurs (assuming they lose Gary Neal), the Thunder (who just lost Kevin Martin), or the Rockets (who love their 3 and D wings now that Dwight Howard is in town).  I don’t know whom these teams would have to send back to match the salaries, but a $7M cap hit is not unreasonable, and Hinkie should be able to find the right deal.

Thaddeus Young, the other “NBA Player” on the Sixers’ roster is another interesting player who comes with many options.  Young is an efficient, young (25), undersized power forward who is on an average contract ($9M per year for the next 2 years, with a player option in 2015).  It is quite obvious that Young has hit his peak, as he has pretty much been the same player for the last 4 or 5 seasons.  He is crafty in the post and a hard working defender/rebounder, but that still does not fully make up for his lack of size at the position (6’8”).  His contract might be hard to move, as it is a pretty big hit under the new CBA for such a small big man.  Hinkie also may choose to keep Young, as he would fit nicely next to Noel (who wouldn’t).  Noel can make up for Young’s lack of rim protection and rebounding with his size and strength, where as Young’s post/face-up game could come in handy while Noel develops an offensive game.

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All in all, the 76ers’ roster is pretty terrible, and they should be a bottom 5 team this season, much to Hinkie’s enjoyment.  They did have quite the nice draft this season in securing their point guard of the future in MCW, and their center of the future in Noel.  They also took Nate Wolters and Pierre Jackson later in the draft, and one of which should emerge as a solid backup point guard, Reggie Jackson style.  Also, Hinkie selected Arsalan Kazemi, the Iranian PF out of Oregon.  Kazemi is one of the hardest working and motivated players, who could have a Carl Landry-esque upside.  He is a great rebounder, but that is about all he is currently.  The Sixers definitely have a ton of young talent on their roster, and it is known that they will not contend for a little while.  However, Knicks fans should be aware that if they deal Turner, Young, or Hawes and get some more young talent/assets that they could be a force in the east before we know it.