Thursday, December 10, 2015

Good Plan, Poor Luck: The Hinkie Sixers

On the off chance that the terrible people of the Philadelphia media are right, and Sixers GM Sam Hinkie is now a dead man walking, so that ancient Jerry Colangelo can mortgage the future to bring back Mediocrity Death Spiral...

A few small points about jus how close this team was to being very, very different.

In the 2013 NBA draft, the Sixers held the 11th pick, and wound up selecting the rookie of the year in point guard Michael Cater-Williams. Short of having the prescience to take Giannis Antetokounmpo or Dennis Schroder, there really isn't much that went after MCW that looks a lot better, even today, now that MCW is a timeshare in Milwaukee. This was also the far bigger news of moving point guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for the sixth pick, which turned into Nerlens Noel. Noel has his flaws, but when he's right, he's one of the ten best defensive bigs in the game, and when you pair him with something that resembles a point guard, he actually resembles a two-way player. In terms of commodities, he's among their best, and was a solid #2 pick in last year's rookie of the year contest, once he got on the floor.

In 2014, the Sixers were all-in for Andrew Wiggins. After losing out in the lottery, the Sixers settled for the best available player, which was Joel Embiid, but only because Embiid got hurt late enough in the process to throw off the Cavs... and yeah, that hasn't exactly worked out, what with the two surgeries and the lack of a single minute of actual NBA play.

But the astounding thing is that Embiid might still have more value than most of the players taken in that draft, because it has been an unstoppable turd shower. Aaron Gordon can't get on the floor, Dante Exum is jurt, Marcus Smart can't shoot, Julian Randle looks like empty calories, and so on, and so on. If I'm re-drafting this mess, maybe I take Zach LaVine at #3, and I have no idea if LaVine can play yet, either. In terms of whether this will turn into one of the worst drafts in NBA history, your hopes have to be hard on Wiggins and Jabari Parker, because no one else looks like they are getting near an All Star Game, well, ever.

So if you want to blame Sixers GM Sam Hinkie for how long and ugly this Process has been, you have to say who the team should have done instead. Because I don't think there's been any other better realistic option.

In this draft after Embiid, the team did something amazing; they got what could be the best guy (Dario Saric) while getting another pick in the process. The cost was Elfrid Payton, superfluous at the time but sensible once the deal was announced, and the moved for the rights to Saric. But since Saric hasn't played for the team yet, this must mean Hinkie's a fraud. Honestly, there's not a lot of merit in the intellectual arguments on the other side here.

In this year's draft, the team again failed to get lucky in the lottery, then watched the Lakers screw up the presumed order by taking PG D'Angelo Russell. Again staying with the presumed best available talent, they selected C Jahlil Okafor. Unlike past years, there are players who were taken later who are doing better than him (Kristaps Porzingis), but Russell has arguably played worse, and the other obvious point guard target (Emmanuel Mudiay, who went to Denver at 7) has been horrific from the field. Okafor's off-court issues have also brought out the critics, but honestly, once more with feeling... who would you have had the Sixers take instead? And it's not as if Okafor has looked terrible on the actual court, though he hasn't fit in well with Noel.

But the draft isn't the entirety of things, of course; there's also trades and free agency. In the former, Hinkie hasn't lost a deal. In the latter, who in the 2013 and 2014 draft classes might have actually made the team watchable? Dwight Howard would have been a disaster. Paul Milsap wouldn't have come here. The other 2013 free agents have been a wash, though maybe bringing back Andre Iguodala might have been useful. The 2014 FAs were all clear cases of top teams loading up for title runs, with guys like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldrige, Kevin Love and Jimmy Butler doing obvious things. There are no up and coming guys on this list, because teams lock those guys down. Free agent signings for anything but the last mile of your bench is not a real route for NBA talent acquisition.

Because that's the real issue with what's been going on in the Sixers Process. Every other team that you can point to and say the team should have been more like them -- Atlanta, Utah, Oklahoma City -- had much more to work with, better luck when they were picking, and better timing when they were bad.

People who want to tell you how Hinkie's a fraud or an idiot, or that Colangelo is going to be so much better, can't point to any specific fail with a better idea.

That's because there hasn't been one. Building an NBA team from nothing is just that hard, and unlikely. But if you'd like to tell yourself the dream that Colangelo is going to make it all better, feel free.

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