The idea of a championship contender relying on a rookie for significant minutes in the playoffs is instinctively objectionable, especially one who still makes “rookie mistakes” like falling for pump fakes and randomly tossing the ball into no man’s land.
But, given the Sixers’ current situation and the impressive talent they have in the rangy, athletic Jonah Bolden, having a rookie back up Joel Embiid in the postseason might ultimately be the Sixers’ smartest option.
The team reportedly is exploring outside options at backup center. On Wednesday, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps reported the Atlanta Hawks' Dewayne Dedmon “has drawn the Sixers’ interest.”
In a vacuum, Dedmon would be a nice addition for the Sixers. He’s proven himself as a valuable NBA player since an 11-game stint on the 2013-14 Sixers in Brett Brown’s first season on the job. Like Bolden, Dedmon is a good athlete who can stretch the floor (36.1 percent on 2.6 three-point attempts per game over the last two seasons). He’s posting 10.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and one block per game this season for the Hawks.
Trades, however, obviously don’t occur in a vacuum. Bontemps notes that, to land Dedmon, “the 76ers would likely have to do something they have so far been resistant to, per sources: trading 2017 No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz.”
Fultz’s trade value is, to put it mildly, not as high as it once was. He hasn’t played a basketball game since Nov. 19 and, though Fultz and his agent Raymond Brothers expect him to play again this season, we’ve yet to hear the Sixers say anything definitive. On the day the Sixers embarked on their current West Coast road trip, Brett Brown was honest in saying he didn’t know when the second-year guard would progress to on-court, basketball workouts in his rehab for thoracic outlet syndrome.
Even if the Hawks were willing to take a chance on Fultz’s potential and trade him straight-up for Dedmon, it’s not a move that makes a lot of sense for the Sixers.
The first reason is the presence of Bolden.
The 6-foot-10 Australian has thrived as Embiid’s backup since Jan. 15, when he took over that role on a full-time basis. Over his past seven games, Bolden has played 12.7 minutes per night and averaged 5.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. He’s even shooting an unsustainably high 55.6 percent (10 for 18) from three-point range since Jan. 15 — although that’s just balancing out his 3 for 17 start from long range.
When Bolden is on the floor, the Sixers have a 102.7 defense rating. That rises to 107.4 when he’s on the bench. With his length, excellent shot-blocking instincts, and ability to hang with perimeter players on switches, the old “eye test” supports the stats about Bolden’s defense.
The second reason is — even if we momentarily remove ourselves from the constant discussion about Fultz’s unusual situation and whether the Sixers should be willing to trade him in a win-now move — a backup center like Dedmon shouldn’t be the Sixers’ highest trade deadline priority.
You might recall Brown said on Dec. 21 that he wanted a “perimeter defensive player” to fill the Sixers’ open roster spot. General manager Elton Brand acquired such a player in the pesky, speedy Corey Brewer, but the Sixers are still clearly short on capable perimeter players. Paul Hudrick covered a few names who fit that description a couple days ago.
The playoffs might sound like a daunting proposition for a rookie who’s spent time in the G-League this season. But realistically, all the Sixers would need from Bolden in the postseason is 10 minutes per game of good defense behind Embiid and, as a bonus, the occasional three-point shot. Taking into account the Sixers’ more pressing need on the perimeter, Bolden is worth trusting in such a role.
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