There’s a West African proverb that was popularized by Teddy Roosevelt: “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” It appears Sam Hinkie is a big believer in the merit of that statement.
After going Zero Dark Thirty on the media for the past month and a half, irritating the beat writers and confounding the national media, Hinkie came out guns blazing on Draft night. Assets were moved at a furious pace from beginning to end, but the big moves are as follows:
- All Star point guard Jrue Holiday was traded for Nerlens Noel and a 2014 1st rounder from the New Orleans Pelicans
- Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams was drafted by the Sixers with the 11th pick.
So what does it all mean?
Trading Jrue: Not Untouchable After All
I’ve had numerous discussions with friends, colleagues, and even strangers about what the Sixers would do in Sam Hinkie’s first crack at the draft. The general consensus was that many fans were hoping to jettison some dead weight (looking at you, Hawes) and possibly grab a higher pick using some combination of Thad, Turner, and the 11th pick. Jrue was “untouchable” in the eyes of most.
How Jrue Holiday reached that lofty status among Philadelphians always seemed peculiar. To be fair, he’s 23 and very talented, with plenty of room to grow into an even better player. It’s going to be an absolute delight to finally watch him play with a quality pick and roll partner in Anthony Davis, as well as playing next to Eric Gordon in the backcourt. That team will be a League Pass favorite, and one I expect to challenge for a playoff spot.
But Holiday is not a true difference maker in the NBA, especially considering the depth at point guard across the league. You’d be hard pressed to say he’s in the top five players at his position; Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Derrick Rose are guys I would take over him off the top of my head. Opinions may vary, but a guy who is maybe the 8th best guy at his position is not untouchable in any sense of the word.
Jrue is a good enough player to keep the Sixers in playoff contention, but he was never going to be the guy who could carry a team on his shoulders. His ideal role is the second best player on a championship team, which he might someday fulfill if Anthony Davis can reach his ceiling. For the Sixers, he was a moveable asset that fans clung to because he was the only flash of hope during a miserable season. Happy trails, Jrue.
Nerlens Noel: Risk Worth Taking
After thinking about Jrue’s value, the next step is looking at who Philadelphia got back for their best player. The shiny new toy in question is Nerlens Noel, seven-footer from Kentucky. Immediate outcry was to be expected. Trading an All Star for another big guy with knee problems? Didn’t we travel down this road already?
Get that out of your system. Andrew Bynum and Nerlens Noel have very little in common, other than being large human beings who play basketball. Whereas Bynum has a degenerative arthritis condition that cannot be fixed by doctors or intense rehab, Noel injured his knee like this:
Noel going full tilt to contest a fast break shot may have ended poorly for the 19 year old, but the injury looks a lot more like freak accident than possession of a brittle body. It’s a “clean” injury that can be recovered from as long as the correct time and effort are given to rehabilitate the knee. Modern science has limited the impact of what ACL tears mean to athletes. Not everyone is going to come back and push for league records like Adrian Peterson, but knee injuries are no longer the career death sentence they once were.
Ironically, the play that ended Noel’s college career and caused his slide last night is a perfect example of why he’s such an exciting prospect. Noel possesses all the superlatives draft junkies love to discuss: wingspan, athleticism, and a high motor. You don’t just pluck guys that big who move that fast off trees, and 4.4 BPG and 2.1 SPG speak highly to his defensive ability.
Noel’s ability to recover from a major injury and develop an offensive game are question marks, but he’ll immediately be the most athletic big man on the roster and bring a defense/rebounding presence that has been lacking in the city of brotherly love for a long time.
Michael Carter-Williams: Can’t Teach Tall
After pouring out a little liquor in Holiday’s memory, there’s a lot to be excited about with the Sixers’ other first round acquisition.
A 6’6″ point guard out of Syracuse, MCW oozes potential. He’s got the length, athleticism, and the distribution ability to succeed at the NBA level, with a gracious personality to match. The sting of losing a quality player and character such as Holiday was numbed slightly by Carter-Williams’ charisma Thursday night.
If he’s going to help lead a franchise turnaround, he’ll have to improve his jumper substantially. Carter-Williams was a 29% shooter from behind the arc in college, a line which only moves further back in the pros. Lacking the elite quickness of a Rondo, he’ll have to become a reliable shooter to take full advantage of his abilities.
Shooting aside, his height and length are major assets. It doesn’t take James Naismith to figure out that it’s easier to play basketball when you’re taller. Carter-Williams will often be matched up with guards who are a few inches shorter than he is, allowing him to see the floor and hit open players with ease. If he can punish people for dropping under screens, he has as high of an upside as anyone in this year’s draft.
2014 Pelicans Draft pick: Stockpiling Golden Tickets
I’ve never felt more compelled to sing this song than last night:
Next year’s draft has been clamored for by scouts and hoops junkies for years now. High school phenoms like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle will (likely) join returning stars like Glenn Robinson III and Marcus Smart in a star-studded class.
The beauty of the Holiday-Noel trade is that the Sixers essentially got three picks in return for one player. On top of receiving Noel and the 2014 New Orleans pick, the Sixers also made their team worse in the short term, increasing their chances of grabbing a high pick in next year’s coveted lottery.
Escaping Mediocrity: The Men With The Plan
During his initial press conference in May, Sam Hinkie stated two main goals: “to build a leading basketball operation” and “do whatever is necessary to build a championship caliber team.” After last night’s events, it seems like they’re well on their way.
Above all else, last night was about changing the direction of the Sixers franchise. Post-Iverson, the Sixers have avoided rebuilding at all costs, holding their broken down car together with duct tape and elbow grease. Malik Rose’s nickname for Elton Brand, “Old School Chevy,” was the perfect summation of the team as a whole: fairly reliable, never too great yet never too bad.
Following yesterday’s draft coverage was like following a whole new team. After rumors swirled in the afternoon that management wanted to get their hands on C.J. McCollum, they went in an entirely different direction come game time, adapting to a touted prospect slipping in the draft. This was the most encouraging sign of the evening: rather than being stuck on a destination and a plan, they responded to what the market dictated.
Sam Hinkie, aided by a forward thinking owner in Josh Harris, finally ripped all the old band-aids off of the Sixers. No more patch jobs, no more letting bad players and contracts hang around for fear of change. This is a full scale rebuild. Noel and Carter-Williams have a long way to go until they’re legitimate contributors, but that’s okay. The team will be losing with a purpose – young players getting developmental minutes – instead of trying to push for low playoff seeds with career role players like Damien Wilkins.
If they fail, the process and the philosophy behind the draft night acquisitions is still sound. Instead of trying to grab the 8th seed and a ceremonial slaughter at the hands of Miami next spring, the Sixers got worse in the short-term to strive for greatness in the future. After watching Ruben Amaro and Paul Holmgren manage the Phillies and Flyers like they’re playing career mode on XBox, the foresight of Sixers upper management is a refreshing change of pace.