A backup big man? A perimeter shot creator? A power forward?
Head coach Brett Brown has a preference for how he’d like to fill the Sixers’ open roster spot, and it’s not any of those types of players.
“A perimeter defensive player interests me the most,” Brown said before the Sixers’ win Wednesday over the Knicks. “If you box me in, I’ll give you that answer.”
That’s not to say Brown is satisfied with where his team stands in all other areas. He gave the backup center position a “C-minus” grade, saying of Mike Muscala “he’s probably more of a stretch four than he is a backup five. He could probably be twisted into a little bit of a hybrid.”
“We need always more from that area,” Brown said. “It’s been serviceable. I wouldn’t call it elite, and the numbers bear that out.”
In Brown’s view, though, a capable perimeter defender would fill his team’s biggest weakness, one that has been exposed time after time by “live dribble” guards like Spencer Dinwiddie, D’Angelo Russell, Kemba Walker and Mike Conley. Rookie Landry Shamet and 21-year-old Furkan Korkmaz have often found themselves switched onto stronger, quicker players.
“With our young guys, with Furkan and Landry, who we are now left with on the wing, at times they’re targeted,” Brown said. “There’s a bullseye on them and they know this. We’re trying to grow them defensively. We can’t expedite their birth certificates — their age is their age. Whether it’s through technique or recognition, they’re being hunted and everybody else around them has to give a little bit more help.”
There’d likely be less of a burden on Korkmaz and Shamet if rookie Zhaire Smith hadn’t dealt with an unfortunate odyssey of injury and illness.
To summarize: Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot in August, then had an allergic reaction in September that required a thoracoscopy. Then, following subsequent serious complications, Smith’s physical condition deteriorated and he lost significant weight (see story). He’s resumed basketball activities in recent weeks and is expected to eventually join the Delaware Blue Coats, the Sixers' G-League affiliate, as he works his way back into basketball shape.
Smith attended the Texas Tech vs. Duke game Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
The 6-foot-4 Smith’s “freak” athleticism impressed everyone who watched him in his single year at Texas Tech, at rookie minicamp and in summer league play. Brown suggested he could’ve helped fill a substantial hole for the Sixers.
I think some of it, not all of it, is a result of injury. I think some of it is a result of trade. When we lost two players in [Robert Covington] and Dario [Saric] and you brought back one, there’s something that’s missing, just from a bodies standpoint there. And then part of the attraction with Zhaire, although he is young, is if he can do anything, he can move his feet and guard. He’s like a mini-Avery Bradley to me. Then you get into some roster possibilities where we could fill it, and we didn’t. We understand the flexibility that we have. We’re all on the record saying that this is a fluid thing, that we’re trying to grow our team to make it as good as it can be.
While general manager Elton Brand said at the introductory press conference for Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton that he thought the Sixers could “do some real damage” with their open roster spot, he also said, “I’m taking my time.”
At that point, Brand said, “we need shooting.” More shooting would be great for the Sixers — as would a quality backup center, or a player outside of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler who can create his own shot.
But it sounds like the Sixers’ priorities have shifted. At least Brett Brown’s have.
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