Following a 52-30 regular season record and a trip to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the dark days of the rebuild in Philadelphia appear to be over. Nevertheless, fans were left wanting more after an unceremonious 4-1 series lost to the Celtics.
The general consensus is that with a promising young core and significant cap room, the Sixers should be major players in a robust free agent market. Given the team’s third-best 1.07 defensive points per possession and more pedestrian 11th-best 1.13 offensive points per possession, it would appear that improvements are more likely to come from the offensive end of the floor.
The following is how the Sixers shoot by range to the basket.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a team that considers Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons its future, the Sixers are at their best when they get to the rim. Nonetheless, the team still graded out quite well from deep and really only struggles in the mid-range.
However, while the 2017-18 version of the squad had the excellent shooting of J.J. Redick, the 2018-19 may or may not given Redick’s free agency. While the team is going to have to make a decision on whether or not Redick is overall worth bringing back, it is inarguable that Redick’s tremendous shooting, particularly from the 3 point line, was a boon for the Sixers. The following is his shot chart for the past season.
Comparatively, the two cornerstones of the franchise, Simmons and Embiid, are not quite able to stretch the floor as much. The following are the duo’s shot charts from the past season.
Both players show an ability to be effective in the paint, and Embiid is a quality shooter in the mid-range. Simmons is totally averse to taking longer shots, and while Embiid clearly shows a willingness to try and strech the floor, a consistent 3-point stroke isn’t quite there.
Given the lack of range from two of the starting five, the burden of stretching the floor falls to the remainder of the team. This wasn’t a problem for the team the past season, as in addition to Redick’s excellence, Saric and Covington are both capable 3-point shooters. While the most recent version of the Sixers would certainly snag a spot in the playoffs next year, the Sixers are rightfully looking to try and take the team over the top, as being dominant defensively and good but not great offensively isn’t quite good enough.
Perhaps no single player player embodies this quite like Robert Covington, who despite just being named First Team All-Defense, appears to be on the trade block due to offensive inconsistencies and a small forward market overflowing with talent. LeBron James and Paul George in particular represent massively talented free agent options who would add star power, reliable shot creation and a veteran presence to the youthful Sixers.
One other potential option at small forward is a trade for Kawhi Leonard, who may be on his way out from San Antonio. While the talented forward may or may not even be available, there is no denying a healthy Leonard would be a positive impact on the Sixers. Whether or not Leonard’s offensive impact is worth trading for to replace an already pretty good player is another question. The following are how Covington’s 2017-18 shooting and Leonard’s 2016-17 shooting by play type compare. Leonard’s 2016-17 season was chosen as his 2017-18 season was largely forgettable and any team trading for Leonard would be doing so with his 2016-17 version in mind.
From these graphs we can see that Covington is mostly limited to spotting up and transition plays, whereas Leonard is much more versatile, registering over a possession per game in all of iso, screens, spot up shooting, handoffs, transitions, posting up, and running the pick-and-roll. In addition to utilizing a wider variety of offense, Leonard is able to score more efficiently, notably holding a roughly 0.2 points per possession advantage in transition and spot-up shooting, Covington’s bread and butter.
While Covington is by no means a bad player in his own right, he is an unfortunate victim of the offseason being saturated with small forward talent. While LeBron James, and to a lesser extent Paul George, represent monumental upgrades that the team should do anything possible to make happen, Leonard may also have the capacity to turn the Sixers into legitimate championship contenders.
Though power forward and shooting guard could be targeted as areas of improvement as well, the relative lack of clear upgrades available pose a challenge. Given that Leonard will likely cost the Sixers their 10th overall pick in the upcoming draft and is something of an injury risk, whether or not Leonard is the best option to go about improving the team is far from certain. As easy (and correct) as it is to say the Sixers would be best of signing one or even both of James and George, it takes two to tango and there’s no guarantee that either players would end up choosing to come to Philly. Additionally, the salary cap is an ever present constraint, especially if the team wishes to retain the services of Redick. Nevertheless, the potential for improvement is clear and has to be taken advantage of.