With NBA Summer League action is a distant memory and free agency movement all but over, we have now truly entered the Association’s off-season. The 76ers had a disappointing run this summer on the court and General Manager Sam Hinkie was very quiet on the free agency front which means the with training camp just two months away, the 7-6 still have a host of issues staring the franchise in the face.
Today I will focus on two pressing issues that I believe will have the greatest impact on the 76ers at the start of the 2015-16 season.
Hint: Both involve the 76ers’ backcourt.
The two issues examined below — Who will start at point guard? & Can Nik Stauskas become a starting caliber shooting guard? — are key reasons why the 76ers are major outsiders in the Bet365 NBA odds to win the Atlantic Division and likely will finish near the bottom of the Eastern Confernce standings (again).
Who will play point guard?: At this point Brett Brown has a plethora of options to consider as his starting floor general — Tony Wroten; Isaiah Canaan; Pierre Jackson and Scottie Wilbekin are all under contract and bringing back Ish Smith “the best point guard” Nerlens Noel has ever played with remains a possibility. So while depth may not be an issue at point guard for the Sixers, talent level certainly is a problem.
Wroten’s skill set is more suited to playing a 6th man / shooting guard role and when he did slide to the point in 2014-15 he was frequently out of control and pron to turnovers. Canaan showed flashed of solid play and a very good jump shot, but certainly did not show me enough for me to consider #0 for a spot in the first-five. The ultra quick Jackson is an intriguing option, but he’s undersized and has zero NBA or overseas basketball experience. During summer league action Wilbekin proved to be a solid (some may say streaky) shooter, but his ball handling skills need significant work so I am not comfortable playing the former Florida Gator at the point. That leaves us with Ish Smith ($980,000 last year) as the lead candidate for the job. That presents a quandary as Smith remains unsigned by the Sixers and is an unrestricted free agent. In his last 10 games with the Sixers during the 2014-15 season, Smith was good for 13 points and 6.7 assists per night while turning the ball over only 2.8 times per game. He excelled in the pick and roll with Nerlens and has 5 years of NBA experience. Smith is not an option that I am overly excited with, but right now bringing him back seems like the best move at point guard for 2015-16.
Can Nik Stauskas become a starting caliber shooting guard?: Despite a solid stretch of play last spring, the No. 8 overall selection in the 2014 NBA Draft did not have the rookie season many were looking for him to post. Many will blame the dysfunctional franchise that is the Sacramento Kings for Stauskas’ lack of development and thus playing time last season. Some will blame his rumored hot and cold relationship with DeMarucs Cousins, Sacto’s all-world player. A few others will tell you doesn’t have the skills and quickness to be a starter in the NBA. Included in that group is one NBA front office type who told me that Stauskas is not a starting two guard in this League, but “will be an excellent reserve for years.”
Whatever the reasons for Nik’s shaky rookie season in Sacto, that era of his career is now in the past. The focus (and pressure) now is on Stauskas working with Brett Brown and Billy Lange to develop into a shooting guard who can contribute on a nightly basis for this franchise. With Jordan McRae’s so-so performance in the Utah Jazz Summer League (15 ppg. on 30% shooting from field & 25% from deep), the starting SG job is Nik’s to lose. If Stauskas can become a starting caliber NBA shooting guard, the 76ers will be a very entertaining team to watch in 2015-16 and could haul in more wins than anyone expects. If Stauskas is a bust, it would be a major blow to the rebuild process that Hinkie is engineering here in Philly. Luckily this experiment cost next to nothing for the Sixers and Hinkie to conduct.
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