Philadelphia 76ers: The importance of cheap, controllable talent

Philadelphia 76ers, Mattise Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Philadelphia 76ers, Mattise Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers went big this summer. Like, really big.

The Philadelphia 76ers dished out a five-year, $180 million contract to Tobias Harris, signed Al Horford to a four-year, $97 million deal, and locked up Ben Simmons with a five-year maximum extension. Joel Embiid also rests upon a maximum contract that he signed in 2017.

Despite all of this cash, returns on investment have not been promising, as the Sixers currently sit sixth in the Eastern Conference and are facing an uncertain offseason likely to be marred with significant changes. Orchestrating change could prove difficult, however, for the Sixers’ personnel, and their contracts, are becoming more unappealing by the day.

The Sixers’ inevitable financial woes are likely to be exacerbated by the NBA’s suspension amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. The disappointing play of their stars, in addition to inevitable financial struggle, highlight the importance of young, cheap, controllable talent. Luckily, young talent abounds the Sixers, despite their recent allergy to keeping late-first and -second-round draft picks.

Cheap, controllable talent is crucial for the success of any team, especially a contender. Take Fred VanVleet, for example, who was the Toronto Raptors’ second-best player in their Finals series after going undrafted in 2016. While it is more unlikely than not that a player of similar draft status as VanVleet will be the second-best player on a championship team, cheap players can still be incredibly critical to a team’s success.

Some of the Sixers’ most valuable and impactful contributors play not on maximum contracts, but near-minimum deals.

Shake Milton is playing like the backup ball-handler for which the Sixers have desperately searched to backup Simmons, and being paid less than $2 million per year for the next four seasons to do so. Furkan Korkmaz is the team’s best shooter, exactly the type of player with which they should surround Embiid and Simmons and is on a minimum salary. Matisse Thybulle is one of the league’s best defenders and is only guaranteed approximately $5 million over the next four seasons. This list doesn’t even include Zhaire Smith or Marial Shayok, who are both balling in the G-League.

Milton, Korkmaz, and Thybulle are legitimate contributors on a championship contender and are playing way above their pay-grade, which is good for the Sixers. As their high-priced starting five disappoints, it’s their bargain pieces that have impressed, exceeded expectations, and often outshined the high-salaried Sixers.

Korkmaz’s shooting and Thybulle’s defense have already resulted in victories, and Milton’s scoring has kept the recent injury-depleted Sixers in games in which they originally had no business competing. The trio can flat-out play and have carved out substantial roles on the team in a relatively short time.

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The Sixers would be reckless to abandon those who have thus far been some of the season’s brightest stars. They should prioritize the development of Korkmaz, Thybulle, and Milton, as well as Smith, Shayok, and (hopefully) other young, cheap, controllable talent, for they are crucial for any championship team and can often blossom into stars in their own right.