Justin Patton

Elton Brand will look at buyout market, but he sounds pleased with Sixers' new bench

Elton Brand will look at buyout market, but he sounds pleased with Sixers' new bench

CAMDEN, N.J. — Tobias Harris is by far the biggest name the Sixers added before Thursday’s trade deadline. The subtraction of former No. 1 Markelle Fultz warranted a few headlines too.

But general manager Elton Brand also acquired four other players — Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, Jonathon Simmons and James Ennis, transforming the Sixers’ bench.

At a press conference Friday, Brand detailed the roles he expects those four can fill. 

With Marjanovic, the tallest player in the NBA at 7-foot-3, it’s not too complicated. 

“He’s bringing great frontcourt depth behind Joel [Embiid], for sure. He wasn’t a throw-in. ... We look forward to having him on the court, create a mismatch out there, and defend the rim. One of our key needs was rim protection, and he certainly brings that.”

The 39-year-old Brand actually played with Scott during his time on the Hawks. He praised Scott’s toughness and three-point shooting (39.1 percent this season).

As for Simmons and Ennis, Brand expects the pair will bolster the Sixers’ depth on the wing.

Ennis, who averaged 7.4 points and 2.9 rebounds this season for Houston, doesn’t have any elite skills, but the five-year veteran should be able to provide a little bit of everything for the Sixers. Simmons, the player the Sixers acquired in the Fultz trade, has a reputation as a strong perimeter defender.

“Very athletic, tenacious defender,” Brand said. “He can shoot, he can score. Very physical, rugged defender. I think the city is really going to like him a lot.”

The notion that Simmons “can shoot” is not backed up by the stats — he’s 22.9 percent from long distance this season, 31.2 percent for his career. Simmons did have surgery to address a torn ligament in his right wrist in the offseason, which appears to have affected his shot. 

“We studied it,” Brand said. “We think he’s close to being back where he was pre-injury. Again, we’re excited to have him.”

Before taking any questions Friday, Brand issued an opening statement. His words were bold, but they didn’t feel incongruous after the deals he’d made the past two days.

“We believe we’re in position to contend now, and our moves reflect that belief," he said.

Are those four new pieces off the bench enough for Brand, or does he think more help is needed via the buyout market?

“We’re always going to look to see how we can improve our team,” he said. “I think last year we got lucky at the buyout market. I think we’re good now, but if something comes up we’re surely going to look at it.”

When pressed later about whether more wing depth specifically was required, his response was clear.

We’re always going to look. But I like our team, I like where we are, and I think we’ve added enough depth. But we’re still going to look, of course. 

Meanwhile, there remains a real possibility rookie Zhaire Smith and 21-year-old big man Justin Patton have an impact for the Sixers this year. Patton has grabbed 22 points and 12 rebounds in two G-League games as he works his way back from a Jones fracture in his right foot.

Though there would appear to be less of a rush now to get Smith back on the floor, it couldn’t hurt for the Sixers to have an excellent athlete with the potential to be a very good NBA perimeter defender. Brand isn’t deviating from he what he said about Smith back in December — he said Friday that Smith is still progressing well after suffering a Jones fracture in his left foot in August, then enduring serious medical complications after an allergic reaction — and the Sixers still expect him to return this season.

External additions, though, sound less likely. Brand has proven he’ll probe the market and pounce on any chance to improve the Sixers, but he feels better about where the team stands, and how the bench looks, than he did a couple days ago. 

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Sixers' starting 5 looks incredible, but bench still needs to be upgraded

Sixers' starting 5 looks incredible, but bench still needs to be upgraded

For the past couple months, we’ve all been asking how the Sixers should upgrade their bench.

And after Wednesday’s trade for Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott, we should still be asking the same question. 

General manager Elton Brand has assembled, on paper, the best starting lineup in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers’ depth, however, took another hit. The team gave up three capable bench players in Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala, and Wilson Chandler (Chandler is a bench player in an ideal situation) and got two in return.

Marjanovic is not, of course, your typical “capable bench player.” At 7-foot-3, 290 pounds, he’s the biggest player in the NBA, and a historically efficient scorer. He just doesn’t see the floor a ton because, despite his earnest effort, he looks like he’s running through molasses when he attempts to play perimeter defense.

Scott usually matched up against Muscala in the Sixers’ two meetings with the Clippers this season, and you’d expect he’ll play a similar role as Muscala did on the Sixers. He’s a 6-foot-8 power forward whose strength is his outside shooting (39.1 percent from three-point range this season). The other parts of his game are passable. In an ideal world, he’d play 15 to 20 minutes per night for the Sixers. 

Yet, when you examine the Sixers’ current roster, Scott and Marjanovic both might be asked to regularly extend beyond their ideal range of minutes. T.J. McConnell is another name who continues to fit that description. Jonah Bolden has earned a role behind Joel Embiid and Amir Johnson is still around, for the time being, in case of emergency. But the depth chart at guard is thin.

As things stand, Furkan Korkmaz, a three-point specialist making 32.5 percent of his three-point shots, would likely be the team’s first wing off the bench. It’s a suboptimal situation.

Come March, it would surprising if there aren’t a couple new faces on the Sixers’ bench. The possibility of big man Justin Patton playing for the Sixers this season is now much more concrete after his 13-minute outing with the Blue Coats on Tuesday. And Patton has been joined at Blue Coats practices by Zhaire Smith, the incredibly athletic rookie who has endured an unfortunate cocktail of injury and serious medical complications stemming from an allergic reaction.

Two-way player Haywood Highsmith even deserves to be on the periphery of the current discussion. Shake Milton would be if he hadn’t broken his finger in Tuesday's game. 

Smith or Patton could be traded before Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline. Korkmaz, an unrestricted free agent in the offseason after the Sixers declined his third-year option, could be on the move too, if the Sixers are fortunate enough to find a trade partner willing to include him in a deal. And Markelle Fultz, a player with seemingly low odds of helping the Sixers in the near future, is reportedly on the market and drawing interest from the Hawks and Magic (see story).

The Sixers can’t enter the playoffs reliant on multiple rookies to play major roles and expect to contend for a title, even with their formidable starting unit. 

And, based on Brand’s audacious early track record, things are going to change, whether via trade, the buyout market or both. Until then, questions will linger about the Sixers’ depth and whether the team is too fragile to win when its starting unit is anything besides perfectly healthy and in sync.

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Justin Patton returns to play Tuesday in Blue Coats' game vs. Austin Spurs

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Justin Patton returns to play Tuesday in Blue Coats' game vs. Austin Spurs

Updated: 2:53 p.m. 

The "other guy" in the Jimmy Butler trade returned to the court Tuesday.

Justin Patton, the 7-foot center the Sixers acquired along with Butler in a blockbuster trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, played 13 first-half minutes in the Delaware Blue Coats' 119-108 loss to the Austin Spurs. He posted eight points on 4 for 10 shooting, three rebounds and three assists.

Patton suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot in September while with the Timberwolves. The No. 16 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft out of Creighton, Patton suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot the summer after being drafted. He played one game for the Timberwolves and 38 games for their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves, averaging 12.7 points and 5.7 rebounds.

As you'd expect, Patton was rusty in his first action of the season. The Spurs' DeJuan Blair blew by him for a series of easy baskets in his first stint. In general, Patton wasn't especially sharp defensively.

Yet there were a number of positive signs. Patton seemed to move fluidly and his jumper looked smooth. He knocked down his first shot, a jumper from the left elbow, and drained a long two in the second quarter.

If Patton returns to the Sixers, he provides another athletic, versatile backup center option, albeit a raw one who has yet to prove himself in the NBA. 

"I’d say I’m a multi-dimensional player," Patton said in an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia in December. "I don’t rely on just one thing. I’ve fine-tuned a lot of things in my game that are going to make the game easier for me, such as my jump shot and my dribbling. But when you have an IQ like mine, it’s not going to be hard to adapt and get better with any situation."

It might be difficult for Patton to supplant Jonah Bolden, who has earned regular minutes over the past month behind Joel Embiid. As Thursday's trade deadline approaches, it's also possible Patton could be involved in a trade  — his return to the court certainly boosts his value. Patton is an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Back in December, Patton said he was excited about the prospect of playing in front of Sixers fans. 

I come from an environment where it’s pretty tough also. I’m not really afraid of that. It’s going to be fun to play in front of [the fans.] It’s going to be fun on the good days and the bad days. I’m just ready to get the bad days out of the way and hopefully have a lot of good days.

Zhaire Smith, who suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot and then endured a series of serious medical complications stemming from an allergic reaction, has been practicing with the Blue Coats. General manager Elton Brand said in December he expects Smith to return this season.

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