The NBA offseason hardly started, and the Philadelphia 76ers have remedied almost all of their problems.
Last year, the 76ers finished 28-54, 18 games better than the year before that one. Joel Embiid had 31 outstanding games before being shut down with a knee injury, but Philadelphia looked like a team that could be frightening down the line — and that was without Ben Simmons suiting up for any action. When healthy, Simmons is a potentially franchise-changing player, and that means the Sixers would pair two future stars in the frontcourt. They also saw encouraging flashes from Dario Saric, who averaged 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds and made a legitimate case for Rookie of the Year. The last guy who stood out was Robert Covington, who was one of four players to average at least 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks a game this year, according to Basketball Reference.
As great as some of this guys were (or can be), they create the 76ers frontcourt logjam. Embiid, Simmons, Saric and Covington all spend time at the four or the five. Their guard play was nothing special. T.J. McConnell and Sergio Rodriguez got a majority of the minutes at point guard while Nik Stauskas spent time at the two. The 2017 NBA Draft was the perfect stage to address their lopsided depth chart, and that’s when they made the decision to trade up for the first overall pick.
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With that, they grabbed Markelle Fultz, a 6-4 combo guard out of Washington. Since the start of the most recent college basketball season, Fultz has spent almost that entire time as the consensus number one pick and is one of a few guys with star potential. There’s nothing he doesn’t do on the court. Fultz is a three-level scorer who uses his radical athleticism and crafty ball handling to slice to the rim, and it helps that he’s also a knockdown three-point shooter. Fultz led the Pac-12 with 23.2 points a night, and that also placed him sixth on the NCAA’s overall leaderboard. He also boasted a true shooting percentage of 55.8, which is low for such an elite scorer.
A red flag against Fultz is his atrocious foul shooting. He shot 64.9 percent as a freshman, and it’s odd seeing guards shoot that low. (Had Fultz shot 75 percent, his scoring clip would’ve jumped to 23.8, placing him fifth overall in the nation.) Even though Fultz is more than capable as a playmaker, his ability to put the ball in the basket is better for the 76ers. They already have a “point guard” in Simmons, who’s expected to facilitate most of their offense because he’s an outstanding passer with extraordinary vision. Although Fultz averaged 5.9 assists a night with the Huskies, he had the ball in his hands a lot. Now that he won’t need to bear such a crippling load, it’ll be entertaining to watch him run circles around the defense.
Fultz can be just as game-changing on defense, too. His length on the perimeter is incredible and allows a seamless transition between guarding ones and twos. Fultz used his go-go gadget arms to pick off 39 steals and tally 30 blocks, which worked out to averages of 1.5 and 1.2, respectively. It sucks that the Huskies compiled such a dreadful season because seeing Fultz lockdown during the tournament would’ve been an extraordinary thing to watch.
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He’s undoubtedly going to shore up a defense that was only slightly below average, believe it or not. By year’s end, the 76ers ranked 17th in defensive efficiency with 108.9 points allowed per 100 possessions — that was better than Houston, Washington, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Portland. All of those teams made the postseason and, although it may not mean much, it shows that Philadelphia wasn’t a gang of pushovers.
They did an incredible job guarding the three-point line, and Fultz is only going to help that. Opponents made 35.7 percent of their shots but put up 24.9 attempts on average which was fifth-lowest in the NBA. During a time where teams are feening for the three ball, limiting them is big.
Defense wins championships, but it’s offense that wins games. And the 76ers lacked severely on that end of the court. Joel Embiid getting hurt didn’t help, but only he could do so much. Philadelphia finished 25th in scoring (102.4), 27th in shooting (44.2 percent) and 25th in three-point accuracy (34.0). While Fultz helps in the grand scheme of things, he’s at his best while attacking the cup and he won’t be able to do that with poor spacing. Cue J.J. Redick.
On Saturday, the former Los Angeles Clipper inked a one-year, $23 million deal to join the Sixers. It was an incredible signing in every way. During his four years in sunny Southern California, Redick shot the three at a 44 percent clip and has buried at least 200 threes in each of the last three seasons. Only Damian Lillard, James Harden, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry made more triples over that span.
There was a noticeable spike in marksmanship once Redick changed his scenery. Despite that, he still shoots it at 39.8 percent for his career. Playing alongside Chris Paul attributed to his accuracy just as much as anything else. Let’s not forget the Clippers were a dangerous offensive team if everyone was healthy. Opponents had to worry about Paul and Blake Griffin combining for at least 40 points a night while DeAndre Jordan wreaked havoc on the glass. Redick fell in flawlessly. He moved around screens with ballet-like elegance and was a nightmare to cover when one of the greatest point guards of all-time is throwing balls his way. It may not reach that level in Philly, but shooters make shots. And Ben Simmons is still a hell of a passer.
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Last season, Redick shot 44.9 percent on catch-and-shoot triples. The 76ers were at 35.3 (sixth-lowest), but they attempted more of those looks than 26 other teams, per Synergy.
The good thing is that Redick isn’t tied down. If it doesn’t work out between the two, they can split up. And Redick won’t have to worry about finding employment because snipers will always have a place in the NBA. Even though he’ll be 33 at the start of the season, players who rely on the long ball for most of their offense can outlast a lot of their contemporaries because the strain on their bodies isn’t as severe. On top of his on-court production, Redick brings veteran leadership to one of the youngest team’s in the league. While he may not be your typical locker room guy, he can provide insight to all the younger guys.
Of course, just one vet isn’t enough. Amir Johnson, a 30-year-old who last played with the Boston Celtics, also inked a one-year deal on Saturday, but his was for $11 million. Johnson is someone who’s going to have an immediate, positive impact on that team, despite not being the most useful player. He suited up for 80 contests last year with the Celtics and was on the floor for about 20 minutes a night. In that time, he threw up 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds.
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I don’t know if these signings make the Sixers a playoff team. We don’t know if Embiid will be able to stay healthy for the entire season, and we also don’t know how Simmons and Fultz are going to fare in their rookie seasons. There are going to be growing pains. There are going to be peaks and valleys. However, Philadelphia has a very nice thing going for them, and I don’t see them messing it up anytime soon. Not only have they already executed a few solid deals, but there’s also still time for them to add other role players because the offseason is in its infancy.
Even if they stayed quiet for the rest of the summer, they addressed some of their biggest problems — outside shooting, a combo guard who can create and a veteran presence.
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