Training camp is underway and there will be some interesting roster battles to watch in Philadelphia.
Media day has come and gone. The Sixers are now in the midst of training camp and in case you haven't heard, there are a few new players on the team, including the return of the first overall draft pick from the 2016 draft. So rather than make the annual jokes about how every player is in the best shape of their lives coming into camp, there are some interesting battles to watch for as players compete for minutes in the rotation, and those decisions will potentially have an effect on the season's outlook.
1. Who will get the most minutes at backup Point Guard?
First overall picks almost never come off the bench and it's almost a given that Markelle Fultz will start at the "Point Guard" position. I put quotations around Point Guard because fellow rookie Ben Simmons will handle a lot of the play-making duties. So the question is who will be the backup to Fultz? Jerryd Bayless, who signed a 3 year, $27 million dollar contract last summer, was expected to be the off-ball point guard next to Simmons, only that it turned out Simmons would never play a game last season and Bayless missed all but 3 games. The team didn't expect to have the number 1 pick going into the start of last season --not that anyone is complaining of course-- but with the Fultz selection, it facilitated a chain reaction to where now there is a logjam at the guard and wing positions.
The linear train of thought would be to have Bayless come off the bench, he is the next ideal player in terms of fit to play next to Simmons, or play off-ball with whoever Brett Brown staggers in his rotation. Bayless Shot 43.7% from 3 in 2015-16 --his last healthy season-- but has also had down years shooting the ball (31% in 2014-15), with the natural variance of 3 pointers, his career 37% clip from behind the arc seems like his mean, and it's still good enough for defenses to respect the shot. Because of his ability to shoot, and play off-ball, the question is how many minutes, if any, will be left for TJ McConnell, who has shown over the last two years that he is a very good backup point guard in the NBA.
McConnell is a better at-the-point-of-attack defender than Bayless and is better at orchestrating the offense and making sure the team runs whatever Brett Brown calls. His assist to turnover ratio last year was 3.4 good for 5th in the league, per NBA.com, but the one problem has always been his jumper. He only took 55 three point shots last year, and managed to make 11 (20% 3PT) and not only that defenders usually have time to recover to McConnell's shot because it takes a while to load up his release. If McConnell can't reasonably space the floor, Brett Brown will have a tough time dealing with the spacing with Simmons' jump shot already an unknown. McConnell has become a fan favorite in Philly but he has an uphill battle to climb to carve out minutes, but then again, this is nothing new to him considering that he went undrafted out of Arizona.
2. The Shooting Guards, and Wings
JJ Redick said that General Manager Bryan Colangelo gave him $23 million dollars for a reason at his introductory press conference, and he will definitely be starting at the 2 guard spot to provide his elite shooting ability and floor spacing. I have a haunch that Redick will actually lead the team in minutes played this year, but there is still a dearth of depth behind Redick were the Sixers have made investments towards the future. This seems to be a make or break year for fourth-year player Nik Stauskus, who shot a career high from three last season (36.8%). He had struggled in his first two seasons in Sacramento and Philly respectively but last year he made some semblance of strides. He is still a shaky defender but it's not through lack of effort, and Brett Brown played him at point guard at times, due to injuries mostly. Can he turn himself into the player many thought he would be coming out of Michigan? This is the last year of his rookie deal and if he can't turn into that potential player, The Sixers will most likely not extend the qualifying offer this summer to save as much cap space as possible. Not to mention there is second-year player Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot waiting in the wings, as a potential 3 and D player who has more years left on his cheap rookie deal.
TLC started 19 games for the Sixers last year towards the end of the season and averaged 18.4 points per game in the last 7 games of the year, the problem with these numbers is A) he shot 31.9% from 3, which is not good from a prospective 3 and D player. B) It was in blowout losses to playoff teams or against teams whose season was already over. The fact that he also didn't play well in this year's Summer League, a time where incoming sophomores are supposed to be head and shoulders above the competition (I.E The Celtics' Jaylen Brown) didn't inspire any confidence in potential growth. But with that said, he is still 22 years old, has 3 more years left on his rookie deal, and at times did show flashes of being a potential 3 and D player.
The other wing drafted 2 spots after TLC in 2016, Furkan Korkmaz, has come over after staying a year overseas, and he looks to build off of a productive Euro Basket campaign. The 19-year-old seems like the prominent candidate to spend time with the Sixers' G-League affiliate, but his size, playmaking flashes, and more importantly, his shooting makes him an intriguing wing prospect for the Sixers down the line. Who knows, maybe he will find some minutes in the rotation at some point in the season. Last year we expected TLC to spend most of his time in the G-league but ended up carving out minutes in the rotation and started 19 games.
Krokmaz is rail thin at 190 pounds, so if he did get any time on the court, it won't be as the small forward, which is why I think it's a no-brainer that Justin Anderson will end up being the prominent backup Small Forward to Robert Covington. Yes people. Ben Simmons is in fact NOT starting at small forward and he never was, and I'm glad Brown confirmed as much at his annual Media luncheon last week.
Last year, the Sixers came into camp with too many big men on the roster, and not only that, big men that didn't fit together when playing next to each other. It's a different story this time around, there is an abundance of guards and wing players and this group is a little more interchangeable and flexible. It will be something to track during training camp, pre-season, and early on, in October and November.