Sam Hinkie Revisited

samA year ago, I penned the story In Hinkie I Question which examined every aspect of Sam Hinkie’s rebuilding plan up to that point and what needed to be done for Hinkie to gain my stamp of approval.

I broke down the story into four parts; the teams draft picks, the teams tanking ability, the organizations draw to free agents and the teams tradable assets. Based on the information I had at the time, I made an educated verdict on Hinkie’s plan and found that he was taking a lot of risks which had me skeptical that he’d be able to turn this franchise into a winner once again.

Now a year into his plan, you’ve seen the wheels on Hinkie’s long-term goals start to move. Good or bad, there is a definite direction that the team is now headed­­. With this in mind, I’ll re-examine Hinkie’s plan based on the same model of my past story. Has Hinkie gained my stamp of approval? Find out after the jump…

No.1: The teams draft picks

Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse – 2013: No. 11

What a difference a year makes. As we all know, Carter-Williams became the first Sixer since Allen Iverson in 1996-97 to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award last season. He was also the first player not picked in the Top 10 to win the award (No. 11) since Mark Jackson did it in 1987-88 (No. 18) with the Knicks.

Carter-Williams averaged 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.9 steals last season and really ran away with the Rookie of the Year award, winning 104 1st place votes to Magic guard Victor Oladipo’s 16.

Sure, there’s still a lot of flaws in his game and the Sixers’ offensive pace may have inflated his numbers a bit, but for Carter-Williams to come out as the 11th pick and outperform his draft class in the way that he did (even if it was a weak class) was impressive and commendable. Coming out of Orlando Pro Summer League last season, I thought that Carter-Williams looked destined to spend the majority of the season on the Delaware 87ers in the D-League rather than starting 70 games for the Sixers. He simply looked awful against NBA-level opposition, but then made a complete 360 starting with the Miami Heat on opening night. Regardless of if he ever becomes an All-Star level talent in the NBA, he’ll have a long career in the Association.

Nerlens Noel, Kentucky – 2013: No. 6 (Acquired in a trade of Jrue Holiday to New Orleans)

nerlensThe verdict is still out on the Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel trade, but you’re starting to see the beginnings of possibly one of the smartest trades in NBA history. With each passing summer league game, you saw glimpses of the dominating defensive force that Noel was before his ACL injury. He had 13 blocks in six summer league games and surprisingly was active in the steals column as well.

Many analysts have already pinned Noel as the dark horse to win next seasons Rookie of the Year award. He’s currently atop’s Rookie Ladder based on his summer league performance. If Noel does win Rookie of the Year it would be the first time in franchise history that the Sixers had back-to-back winners and the first time since the NBA-ABA merger that a franchise has accomplished the feat.

Noel wasn’t exactly healthy during summer league, missing games in Orlando and Las Vegas due to minor issues, so his health is still the No. 1 concern for the Sixers coaches and front office heading into next season. If he can put on some extra muscle by the end of the summer and focus on rebounding a bit more (his mechanics weren’t up to par in summer league) he’ll definitely be in the running for the top rookie award by the end of the season.

Joel Embiid, Kansas – 2014: No. 3

Embiid was touted as the top prospect in the 2014 NBA draft with the highest upside out of anybody in his draft class. A week before the draft it was released that Embiid had a stress fracture in the navicular bone of his right foot which required surgery. Questions surrounding the injury dropped Embiid into the hands of the Sixers at No. 3 and, while I’m not fully in love with the pick, it’s the pick that had to be done. Taking a risk on Embiid is better than drafting guys like Dante Exum, Noah Vonleh, Aaron Gordon or Julius Randle too high. For a team in rebuilding mode, you take the guy with the highest upside.

His same injury ended the careers of other big men like Yao Ming, Bill Walton and Kevin McHale (late in their careers), but then again Michael Jordan had the same injury early in his career and went on to become possibly the NBA’s greatest player. Embiid is just 20 and there’s no rush for him to return to the court. He’ll be eased back into basketball activity, much like how Nerlens Noel was dealt with this past season. Of course there’s still the devastating potential that he never fully recovers, but until that happens this has to be viewed as a great pick.

At 7-feet, 240 pounds many view Embiid’s ceiling as Hakeem Olajuwon’s, one of the top five centers to ever play in the NBA. A player like that comes around one every decade and that’s why he’s worth the risk.

Dario Saric, International – 2014: No. 10 (Traded Elfrid Payton to Orlando for Saric, Pierre Jackson and a 2015 first-rounder; pick was acquired in the Jrue Holiday trade)

If Saric was Hinkie’s guy all along, this was a phenomenal deal. From a fan standpoint, it’s upsetting to draft a guy who won’t play for possibly two more years (as he’s overseas on a deal with Turkish powerhouse Anadolu Efes), but with the incredible upside Saric has at just 20 years old, he’s exactly the type of player the Sixers want to bring in right now.

Saric was the Adriatic League MVP last season, averaging 19.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game for Cibona. In the leagues championship game he scored 23 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, and five blocks which displayed the type of versatility he can potentially bring to the Sixers down the road.

He’s drawn comparisons to Hedo Turkoglu, whose had a very productive 14-year career in the NBA. If he can come anywhere near Turkoglu’s peak years where he averaged nearly 15 points, five rebounds and five assists per game, while shooting 40 percent from the outside than this would be a genius move by Hinkie.

Like Embiid, you can’t really judge this pick until several years from now, but on paper it made sense to take him. Acquire as many positive assets as you can now while nothing is expected from the team, and hopefully down the road at least a couple of them will play at an elite level in the NBA.

Second-rounders: Arsalan Kazemi, International – 2013; K.J. McDaniels, Clemson; Jerami Grant, Syracuse; Vasilje Micic, International; Jordan McRae, Tennessee – 2014

Cleveland Cavaliers v Philadelphia 76ersArsalan Kazemi had a phenomenal summer league in Orlando last summer, but looked sluggish this summer and lacked the tenacity of a year ago. Jordan McRae was a beast in Las Vegas this summer, making the Second Team All-Vegas after being selected with the third to last pick in the 2014 NBA draft. K.J. McDaniels dropped to the Sixers in the second round, after receiving first round attention by most draft analysts leading up to the draft. He locked down No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins in Vegas, holding him to just 10 points in 28 minutes.

It’s unclear what to make of Hinkie’s second round selections at this time, but it looks like he may have gotten a couple steals out of McRae and McDaniels for the time being. Grant underwhelmed for the majority of summer league and Micic will spend his time in Germany until 2016. There’s a chance Kazemi joins the team later in the season, but after his poor showing in Orlando this summer that’s still up in the air at the moment.

If McRae and McDaniels end up starting this season, which there’s a good chance might actually happen, then Hinkie’s second-rounders have to be looked at as a success until proven otherwise. Some teams can go years without finding a quality second round pick and the fact that the Sixers potentially found a few gems in back-to-back years speaks to Hinkie’s evaluation of talent.

No. 2: Tanking ability

For reasons outside of Hinkie’s control, the Sixers tanking scheme may be in serious jeopardy. The NBA is pushing for a lottery overhaul to deter teams from throwing away their season and the Sixers aren’t happy about it.

The NBA’s proposed changes would give all 14 lottery teams a relatively similar chance at the No. 1 pick. It’s not surprising that the NBA is looking to punish a team like the Sixers who has taken the idea of tanking to new heights.

By not selecting first-rounders who can actually play in 2014-15, the Sixers have positioned themselves to be one of the worst teams in the league once again next season. This is a team who’s coming off of a 19-63 season that included a 26-game losing streak. Adam Silver doesn’t want other teams to join in on the glorification of losing, so he’s looking to put a somewhat end to it now before it gets out of control.

I can’t fault Hinkie for attempting to use the loophole of a broken system, but if these changes are put into effect I’m also not going to sympathize with him either. Tanking is a risky business model in the NBA and for his sake he’d better pray the changes are delayed before Philadelphia fans run him out of town.

No. 3: Free Agency Draw

Oklahoma City Thunder v Atlanta HawksI said it a year ago and I’ll say it again…

“No matter how much money Hinkie is willing to offer to the top free-agents in the next few years, Philly isn’t high on the list of destinations for most players and unless Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker are taken in next years draft, I don’t see the top guys wanting to come here. A certain type of player will go to a team simply because they offer the most money, but in today’s NBA it seems like the top talent goes to the team which gives them the best chance to win or offers them the best lifestyle both on and off the court.”

The Sixers have all the cap space in the world right now, but they’re sitting on it instead of making any sort of attempt at assembling a competitive basketball team. They might be waiting for a player the caliber of Kevin Durant (who’s a free-agent in 2016) to come along, but the level of absurdity that they’re refusing to spend is outrageous.

Right now, the team has $32 million in cap room — double what any other team in the NBA has. NBA rules state that teams must spend 90 percent of their salary cap on players in a given season, which works out to $56.7 million in 2014-15.

The Sixers are at somewhere between 50-63 percent of the cap right now, depending on what they do with their unguaranteed contracts. Where they stand, they’ll need to add $15-25 million in salary just hit the salary floor.

If the Sixers can’t hit the salary floor, they’ll have to divide the remaining money amongst the team. Hinkie will likely attempt to facilitate a trade at the trade deadline next February, to take on a large expiring contract in exchange for a future first-round pick, but there’s always the possibility of this not happening.

In other words, it’s yet another risky play. The Sixers may be building a shiny new practice facility in Camden right now to try and lure the top tier free-agents, but history has shown that Philadelphia isn’t viewed as a place where these types of talents want to go. If Allen Iverson wasn’t able to draw these players into town, I question the ability of Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel to do so.

No. 4: Tradeable assets

A year later, Thaddeus Young is still the biggest trade asset on the Sixers. He’s linked to the potential Kevin Love to Cleveland deal which, depending on what the Sixers can get in return, would be a great time for No. 21 to make his departure. Hinkie was able to get some value for Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen at the trade deadline last season (as little as it was), so I’d be shocked if he isn’t able to get something in return for the 26-year-old Young before the deadline this year.

When Young gets traded, that leaves Carter-Williams, Noel and potentially Embiid as the team’s most tradable assets. That’s a large step forward in the right direction than a year ago. With the new CBA in place, teams are looking to add young talent on cheap deals to their rosters and these are exactly the type of players the Sixers are bringing in. The Sixers really only have two bad contracts (Young’s and Jason Richardson’s), but both are likely to be off the books by next summer.

It’ll be interesting to see how Hinkie continues to build this roster and what kinds of trades he makes down the line.

Final Verdict: Improvement with caution

In many ways, Hinkie has impressed me as general manager in the year that has passed. What has stuck out to me the most so far is his ability to draft while shedding salary and acquiring assets. In all of my years as a Sixers reporter and fan, I’ve never witnessed a draft quite like 2013 or a trade deadline quite like 2014.

As unwatchable as the Sixers were last season or will be this season, the team hasn’t been as interesting as it is right now in a long time. In just a year, it seems like the attention surrounding the Sixers summer league games was the highest that it’s ever been. For Hinkie to get fans to embrace this losing mentality wasn’t an easy task and he has believers all across the tri-state area.

But I still can’t pull myself to embrace the man quite like a good amount of Sixers fans, bloggers and reporters in this area have. It seems like the Sixers are heading in the right direction, but history tells me to proceed with caution.

Remember the Sixers of the 90s? I’ll simply go through the list of first-round picks the Sixers acquired this decade.

1992: No. 9 Clarence Weatherspoon Southern Mississippi
1993: No. 2 Shawn Bradley Brigham Young
1994: No. 4 Sharone Wright Clemson
1994: No. 20 B.J. Tyler Texas
1995: No. 3 Jerry Stackhouse North Carolina
1996: No. 1 Allen Iverson Georgetown
1997: No. 2 Tim Thomas Villanova
1998: No. 8 Larry Hughes Saint Louis

Seven first-rounders out of eight who all, considering how high they were picked, were busts when it was all said and done. Stackhouse who was a two-time NBA All-Star and who made the NBA rookie first-team was probably the best of the bunch. They hit the nail on the head with Allen Iverson, but he’s the lone exception. This was a time period where the Sixers were trying to lose and acquire they best talent they possibly could but ultimately failed.

I’m not sold that Carter-Williams will have a flourishing career as a starting NBA point guard, I’m not sold yet that Nerlens Noel can stay healthy and dominate against the NBA’s top centers, I don’t know if Joel Embiid’s foot will heal the way Michael Jordan’s did or the way Yao Ming’s did. Will a top free-agent sign with Philly? Will the league crack down on tanking teams and cause a devastating rift in the Sixers rebuild?

Once again there’s a lot of questions which make it difficult to fully embrace what Hinkie’s done here in Philly. The day is getting closer where he’ll need to answer to his actions and Philly fans will be his harshest critics when he does.

Jeff McMenamin is a writer for Philadunkia. Follow him on Twitter @SixersBlog

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