Friday, June 28, 2013

Sam Hinkie Razes To Rebuild: Jrue Holiday, Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams

Rim, Defended
Tonight, in his first draft as Sixers' GM, Sam Hinkie took the sole reason for watching the 2012-13 Sixers and sent it packing.

Jrue Holiday is 23 years old. He's 6'-4", 205, cares about defense, tried all year despite being on a going nowhere team, and was an All-Star in his fourth season. He threw down a 17.7/4.2/8.0 slash line on a team with no consistent interior threat, that was coached by a man who seemed sexually attracted to open long 2-point jump shots, and he's durable, too. Potentially alone among the Sixers, he ranks in the top 10 in the league at his position.

Hinkie sent him packing. And it was the right move.

I love Jrue, I really do. I'd love to have him on my fantasy team. I think he's going to post 20% more in New Orleans and make that team his, and save them from the eternal health tease that is Eric Gordon. But the thing about the NBA is that, with very rare exceptions, the Main Guy on a terrible team isn't usually there by the time they get good. Bad habits develop (mostly around Hero Ball), they get paid too much to stay, they have shorter careers due to killing minutes to just keep their teams close, and they get worn to a nub by good teams who throw the kitchen sink at them to prevent upsets.

With the sixth pick, New Orleans took 6'-11" Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel, who posted a 10.5 / 9.5 / 4.4 line as a 19-year old freshman, and who could have easily been the #1 pick in a pretty weak draft, had he been healthy. (Noel has, sigh, knee issues.) So the deal is Noel and a 2014 first round pick for Holiday, and while the price seems pretty high and will be slammed by some as All Star And Pick For Skinny Health Risk, it's the reality of life in the NBA. You don't get a big with #1 pick potential without giving up major assets.

When he's right, Noel is a defensive hammer with the potential to become a top 5 modern center -- which is to say a mobile guy who can guard all over the floor and remain relevant when teams go small. He's all of 201 pounds right now, but he's crazy young, so there's every chance that he can add 20-30 pounds of muscle with sane conditioning and workouts and have a long and effective career. His offensive game is trifling at best, with free throw issues, but there are building blocks here. He can catch the ball, run, doesn't freeze like a deer in the headlights on ball pressure, can finish by jumping out of the gym, and makes his team better. This is the kind of guy who helps his team early with defense, then gradually gets to the point of having a few post moves and put backs. He rebounds and gets steals without fouling, and that is huge. There's a lot to like here.

(Oh, and one last thing? If Noel going sixth makes him good and determined and angry for his entire damned career, I could live with that. It's done wonders for Paul Pierce.)

The elephant in the room, of course, is the knee. Sixer Fan, assuming he exists, wants to spend his time waiting for a center with a knee issue like he wants to donate both kidneys... but that move didn't come down on Hinkie's watch, and assuming Noel has He Who Must Not Be Discussed Because He's No Longer A Basketball Player's lack of health and heart is just kind of sad. But there's a much better reason to like the move.

Noel sends the perfect message: we are building something, and it's going to take a long damn time. (Don't kill yourself about the 2014 first round pick: it's top 3 protected and the Pelicans are going to be a playoff team next year.) Holiday's got a $41 million contract that is more than fair, but by the time this franchise is ready to compete, Jrue would be 26 with an absurd amount of minutes on the odometer, because that's what happens with guards on terrible teams. And winning games in 2013, assuming that you win enough to give yourself a poor chance at not getting a top 3 pick, is a bad idea.

Oh, and one more thing. By going all-in for Noel, Hinkie showed that he had zero interest in going for He Who Must Not Be Discussed. That alone thrills me to no end.

With their other first round pick at 11, Hinkie then grabbed Michael Carter-Williams from Syracuse. I've seen as much of CW's game as anyone in this first round, and like Noel, he's a defensive ace; the steal numbers are off the charts (2.8 a game while playing zone is crazy). He's also big and young (6'-6", 185, won't be 22 until October) with a taste for rebounding. And the bummer here is the jump shot, of course; 39.3% from the floor and sub 70% from the line as a sophomore isn't going to do it, and he wasn't taking and making so many threes that it's a mirage. He's got handle and hustles, looks like a guy capable of a lot more, and went from an afterthought in high school to a starter on a Final 4 team... but on a club that looks starved for offense, he might be more of the same.

Personally, I think it's a great pick, because I think he's barely scratched the surface of what he can do as a pro, and there was no one else on the board with more long-term potential. When you watch him drive and finish, he looks elite, and when the shot is dropping, there's all kinds of stuff to like. With Holiday gone, he's also got a clear path to starter minutes, so we're going to find out in a real big hurry whether he's worth Contract #2. And assuming that the club doesn't move Evan Turner, it also gives that asset a last chance year with Jrue gone to see if he can be worth future consideration.

So Hinkie didn't stand still, didn't set up his club to stay on the 30 to 38 win treadmill, wasn't afraid and shuffled assets like a man who fully understood just how big this job is. Oh, and he got Spurs assistant Brett Brown, who has spent the last 7 years at Gregg Popovich's elbow helping to develop players better than everyone, to take the plunge as coach.

Nothing that was done tonight was a short-term win. That's all good, even if this team loses 60 games in 2013... so long as they lose with heart, while finding pieces. For once, the plan here looks like it exists for more than a few dates in next year's playoffs.


snd_dsgnr said...

I'd like that trade better for the Sixers if the pick was unprotected. The 2014 draft is going to be stacked, and the Pelicans are probably going to be back in the lottery.

DMtShooter said...

I liked the deal earlier, when I was misreading it as the Sixers giving up the first. I love it with them getting the Pelicans' pick. If it were unprotected, it would be absolute robbery...

Also, the Sixers are going to have one of those top 3 picks anyway, and Charlotte and Sacramento still exist. The Pelicans would have to fall off the earth to have a very high chance at a top pick in 2014... and if they do, 2015 looms.

snd_dsgnr said...

Well there are at least two players in the 2014 draft who project to be franchise player superstars, so you can go ahead and pencil in Charlotte to pick third.

Probably doesn't matter anyway, Jordan might be the worst drafter in the league.

DMtShooter said...

I enjoy watching NBA TV commentators trying to deliver enthusiasm for Bobcats picks. It's more fun than anything else involving that team.

The Truth said...

I wouldn't worry about prior knee history. When has that ever been a problem for big players in the NBA? Plus I'm sure his new knees will respond well to the 40-50 pounds that he needs to put on.

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