Priorities: Centers First

Spencer Hawes, with one of his many haircuts. Credit: HoopsWorld

With the recent trade talk surrounding the Sixers, a few scenarios have been presented to fans to chatter about around the water cooler, all involving Andre Iguodala. As seen in the poll on the sidebar, the Sixers have some options that other teams are clearly willing to take. As a Sixers fan, I see that as a problem, when every trade is wanted desperately by the opposition.

Monta Ellis, Chris Kaman, and the Orlando pu-pu platter are certainly not prefect fits for the Sixers. I, personally, would not take one of these trades as they are rumored to be constructed. I value Andre Iguodala much more than the average bear – I tend to think he’s a top 30 NBA player and that none of the trades give us a player near that range.

But if we do trade Iguodala, and that looks to be the case, the number one priority should be to recoup a big, preferably a center. And there are 3 main reasons why.

1. A Glut of Shooting Guard Options

The Sixers have 3 players under contract who fill this position already: Evan Turner, Jodie Meeks, and Lou Williams

Since there isn’t too much of a distinction between the swing positions in today’s NBA for the most part, Turner will cause the most debate among these picks. I believe Turner is better suited to be a “2” than a “3” – his game is a perimeter-based game. He’s not a post player and he naturally gravitates toward the ball on the perimeter. He’ll be an above-average NBA defender in time (one-on-one, you can argue, he’s already there, but his team-defense abilities need work), but I believe he’ll continue to struggle guarding larger players. The Paul Pierces and LeBron Jameses of the world are too big and physical for Turner now, and I don’t expect this to change. Unlike Iguodala, who also is out-sized by these kinds of players, Turner doesn’t possess extraordinary length of lateral quickness.

Jodie Meeks may not be an all-NBA player, but he is a perfect little role player. He shot almost 40% on threes and, combined with his excellent free throw shooting, had a 60% true-shooting percentage, one of the tops for guards in the NBA. While he provides almost nothing but points when it comes to “counting stats” (rebs, assts, stls, etc), he’s also a decent defender with the right matchups. Under the current circumstances, Meeks starts, but he could just as easily produce off the bench.

Lou Williams masquerades as our backup point guard despite being a me-first* player. Lou does what he does off the bench largely because we have an Iguodala-type player to handle the ball when he’s on the court, allowing him to be a placeholder point guard of sorts and worry solely about scoring. He cannot defend twos, but against them he can score at will and be most effective, when he doesn’t have to worry about distributing the basketball.

*Not meant in a bad way – Lou looks for his shot first, as he is a designated scorer. Monta Ellis, on the other hand, eh… there’s a reason Golden State wants to trade him.

2. A Lack of Draft Options

Vucevic at 16 after being a second-rounder? Credit: Bleacher Report

Two centers are projected to be picked in the top 8 in the draft, while up until recently the next projected center didn’t arrive until the mid 20s on most NBA mock draft. A glaring need at center for many teams moved the next class of centers up the draft boards.

In my post earlier today, I mentioned that Sam Amick had his latest mock draft posted, with the Sixers taking a European big. Unlike previous projections, which had the Sixers taking Donatas Motiejunas, this one had the team taking Nikola Vucevic, one of the largest players in the draft. Mind you, not one projection had Vucevic drafted this high – the Sixers largest need is just at the largest position, and this mock draft has the Sixers desperate for size.

Now, obviously, this draft was just one man’s opinion. But this is clearly the highest Vucevic has been projected – heck, he wasn’t a first-rounder until the NBA combine. While Vucevic can be a solid NBA center someday, and I don’t know a lot about him, I don’t want the Sixers to reach for a pick in a weak draft, especially when that hole can be filled in some other way.

3. A Lack of Good NBA Centers

What are those tentacles on Chris Kaman's head? Credit: Slam Online

Spencer Hawes started at center in 81 games for the Sixers this year. However, he started in name only, as he spent more time off the court than on the court. Hawes played only 21 minutes per game, 22nd among NBA centers. And when he played, it wasn’t pretty. Among qualified NBA centers, Hawes ranked 55th in True Shooting Percentage*. It’s easy to see why: his shooting triple-slash line (not to be confused with baseball’s version) was terrible, at a paltry .465/.243/.534 (FG%/3FG%/FT%). Behind him? Solomon Jones, Lou Amundson(?!), Johan Petro, and Ben Wallace. Look at that company! I mean, Ben Wallace was the best defender in the league for 5 years during his prime, and today remains a good defender. The rest of the list is just god-awful.

*Chris Kaman ranked 52nd. Cool down, fans, he’s not that great, especially with the reputation as an offensive center. And he’s never consistently healthy.

Hawes isn’t all that great. However, the standard for NBA centers is so low that, as I wrote earlier this year during a stretch of relatively strong performances, Hawes would be worth a qualifying offer. Why? Scarcity – the NBA has a lack of capable centers, so any big bodies will do. It’s why Hawes is worth $4 million and why Nikola Vucevic is skyrocketing up draft boards, and it’s why I thought Darko Milicic would be a good gamble. It’s why Greg Oden will receive multiple offers as a free agent this offseason with the potential for multi-year offers despite a massive injury history.

The Sixers obviously have more than one hole to fill, and the team needs a bigger scoring punch. But the front office needs to get its priorities in order. And center, if at all possible, should come first.

Tags: 2011 Offseason Chris Kaman Evan Turner Jodie Meeks Lou Williams Monta Ellis Spencer Hawes

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