CAMDEN, N.J. — Daryl Morey did not shy away from acknowledging Friday that projection played a big role in his one move before this year's trade deadline.
He sounded quite confident in how the Sixers go about forecasting, too.
Asked about the team dealing away Matisse Thybulle and acquiring Jalen McDaniels as part of a four-team trade, Morey emphasized his belief that the former Hornets wing will be the better player to have in the postseason.
“It was a little bit easier to keep him on the floor, if that makes sense,” he said.
Why exactly is that the case?
“I think the constraints,” Morey said. “I think it’s pretty straightforward. If you’re making it harder for the team on offense, I think it makes it harder to keep you on the floor defensively.”
Thybulle’s offensive weaknesses did indeed hurt at times in the playoffs. Swarming Joel Embiid with help defenders is now the norm, and Thybulle’s presence on the court tended to clarify for Sixers opponents which role player they should be fine with leaving open for jumpers.
Anyone who’s followed the Sixers the last few years has understood those concerns, as well as all the scintillating defensive talents and flashes of offensive growth on the other side of the equation. What’s new here is McDaniels, a 25-year-old who’s never appeared in a playoff game. Morey thinks he’ll do well on a competitive team, which the 15-41 Hornets have not been this season.
“We really think Jalen’s sort of a hidden gem,” Morey said. “Sometimes when teams struggle that much, there are players who really just need an opportunity to show what they can do on a better team. We feel like Jalen’s a player like that. Obviously we’ll see how he plays down the stretch going into the playoffs.”
As for what else motivated the trade, Morey was firm when questioned about the Sixers dropping below the luxury tax threshold.
“The focus was just make the team better,” he said. “We feel like we did that. I think as part of my job, I have to look at the bigger picture and we have a lot of guys we’re going to re-sign. The moves we did both improve the team now and make it easier to keep this team together going forward.”
The Sixers have one open roster spot, though Morey noted that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll make a single pickup and then be done on the buyout market.
“Some of that flexibility that we’ve got allows us to add multiple buyouts, if they come,” he said. “We’re actively looking at that. Nothing to announce yet, but we’re actively looking at several players right now.”
While Morey avoided committing to backup center as the specific position the Sixers will address in the buyout market, he understands continued concerns about the team’s play without Embiid.
According to Cleaning the Glass, the Sixers this season have a plus-9.0 net rating (excluding garbage time) with Embiid on the floor. In non-Embiid minutes, they sport a minus-4.0 net rating.
“I think we have a lot of versatility with the lineup,” Morey said. “(Head coach Doc Rivers) does a very good job figuring it out. Just to be fair, I think what most people worry about is when Joel is off (the court). ... I think we’re going to improve that. That hasn’t been as good as we want it to be.”
Clearly, one avenue for improvement would be McDaniels enhancing the Sixers’ second unit. Morey said McDaniels has “starter potential” and that the Sixers — who have his Bird rights — would like to re-sign him this offseason. However, the hope for now is simply that he’ll be a strong complementary piece.
“I think he’s what every team is looking for —especially with the offensive firepower we have — as a long, athletic defender,” Morey said. “We felt like we needed defense. He’s gritty, can run the floor in transition.
“And then offensively — I know Doc was just talking to him — the game will be a lot easier for him. A lot of his shots were very difficult playing with (Charlotte). And with Joel and James (Harden) both bringing attention and great passing, the offensive side will be a lot easier for him.”
At a basic level, McDaniel’s three-point shooting track record is not encouraging. He’s at 32.2 percent this year and 34.2 percent in his career.
After drafting Tyrese Maxey in 2020, Morey expressed similar shooting optimism. He believed the Kentucky’s product’s numbers would improve with the Sixers and that his 29.2 percent mark in one college season didn’t accurately capture his ability.
“We spend a lot of time on that,” Morey said. “Obviously shooting, you could argue, is half the game — something around that. We spend a lot of time on figuring out which players will, in a different environment, shoot better. We feel comfortable (with McDaniels). I think he’s had a little bit of a down year. We don’t really stress about high 30s, low 30s, stuff like that.
“We look at their mix of shots, how open they are, how well they do if an average player got that same mix of shots. And Jalen looks, especially given his defensive prowess, like he’ll be a solid shooter in this league.”
The Sixers will see soon enough whether their projection comes to be. With 29 regular-season games to go, they sit third in the Eastern Conference and have the NBA’s most difficult remaining schedule, according to Tankathon.
“I think we’ve put ourselves in position to win the title,” Morey said. “That’s what you want to do when you get to this point. I think we’ve made an upgrade, we’re hoping to continue to make some upgrades, and we want to be playing our best basketball going into the playoffs. We have a very tough stretch in March and I think that stretch should help us get … sort of battle-hardened as we go into the playoffs.”