Aaron Baynes

2020 NBA free agency: 6 bigs the Sixers could target this offseason

2020 NBA free agency: 6 bigs the Sixers could target this offseason

Another big man may not be high on the priority list for the Sixers this offseason, but a lot can change between when/if the season resumes and when next season starts.

Will the Sixers try to move Al Horford’s contract? Does the team trust Norvel Pelle to take on a bigger role next season? Would Kyle O’Quinn consider returning after he reportedly asked to be waived?

Here are six bigs that could fit the Sixers in free agency depending on how everything shakes out.

Marc Gasol

Gasol is most known around these parts for being a thorn in Joel Embiid’s side. A former Defensive Player of the Year, Gasol is big, smart and physical — a combination that has caused Embiid serious difficulty. He’s not the offensive player he was in his prime, but he can still shoot it (40.2 percent from three), pass it (3.4 assists) and is an excellent screen setter.

At 35, it will be interesting see what kind of offers Gasol will get. The only scenario in which the Sixers would likely be able to make it work is if they successfully trade Horford and his massive contract. Is it worth taking a shot on Gasol with the team’s mid-level exception? With the Sixers having other pressing needs, it’s a tough call. Gasol would make an excellent Embiid backup and mentor.

Aron Baynes

Baynes had a solid run in Boston and was having a strong season in Monty Williams’ system in Phoenix. The Sixers were the first team to experience Baynes’ evolution as a three-point shooter in the 2018 playoffs. He was hitting 35 percent on over four attempts a game before the 2019-20 season was suspended. He also has proven to be a solid post defender and screen setter.

This is going to be all about what Baynes’ preferences are. If he wants to get paid like a starting center, the Sixers aren’t the team for him. If he’s willing to accept a backup role to Embiid on a lesser deal, there’s a possibility. It seems more likely Baynes could find a better situation, but he’d be a solid option for the Sixers if he can’t.

Alex Len

Len hasn’t lived up to the status of being the fifth overall pick, but he’s become a solid rotational NBA big. His career numbers per 36 minutes are solid: 14.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks. Though he struggled to hit threes this season, he’s had some success for a big (33 percent for his career).

Still just 26, there could be a team that views Len as having a higher ceiling. Being so young, he also could value playing time and money over being a reserve on a contender. Like Baynes, if he can’t find a better situation, the Sixers could do worse in a backup center.

Noah Vonleh

Vonleh is another top-10 pick that hasn’t quite panned out but has shown he can be a serviceable NBA player. After a strong campaign for the Knicks in 2018-19, Vonleh had a tough year for the Timberwolves. He was eventually shipped to the Nuggets in that crazy four-team deal ahead of the trade deadline.

Signing Vonleh would be similar to when the Sixers signed O’Quinn this past offseason. He won’t have a definitive role but could be a nice insurance policy if there are injuries and Pelle struggles. Though he’s only 24, the price shouldn’t be high given his struggles in Minnesota this season.

Dario Saric

If you’re reading this, you should know all about this guy. Saric hasn’t been the same player since he was dealt to the Timberwolves in the Jimmy Butler trade. Still, he’s played a solid role for Williams in Phoenix. Saric has flashed the combination of skill and grit he did here, but his lack of athleticism has limited him.

Saric is a true four. Though you could get away with using Saric as a small-ball five in certain lineups, you wouldn’t want him back there for an extended period of time with a true NBA center. Saric did love his time here and played the best basketball of his NBA career. He's a restricted free agent so the Suns would likely have to rescind his rights for the Sixers to have a chance. If the price is right, you can’t rule out a reunion.

Markieff Morris

The Philly native was having a good year in Detroit before being bought out and signing with the Lakers. He’s struggled with his shot during his eight-game stint in L.A. but was hitting just below 40 percent of his threes with the Pistons. Morris plays with an edge and could bring that physical style and attitude back home.

Morris could be repetitive with Mike Scott already signed for next season. Though Scott struggled this year, he’d come on a bit before the season was suspended and looked more like the player we saw during last year's playoff run.

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Sixers waste brilliant Al Horford performance and get torched by Devin Booker and the Suns

Sixers waste brilliant Al Horford performance and get torched by Devin Booker and the Suns

BOX SCORE 

Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns ended the Sixers’ run as the lone unbeaten team in the NBA Monday night.

The Suns’ guard torched the Sixers for 40 points on 15 for 19 shooting and the Sixers fell to Phoenix, 114-109, dropping to 5-1 on the season.

The Sixers wasted an excellent game from Al Horford, who had 32 points on 13 for 20 shooting, and another strong offensive performance from Tobias Harris (24 points and 10 rebounds). 

They’ll play the Utah Jazz next, on Wednesday at 9 p.m. (NBCSP). 

No answers for Booker

The Sixers just couldn’t stop Booker. Josh Richardson, the primary defender on him, had a frustrating game overall, with eight points on 3 for 11 shooting, five assists and four turnovers.

Brett Brown sees Richardson as the Sixers’ “mortar,” which sounds ideal in theory. In practice, Richardson doesn’t seem to have completely found his spots yet offensively. That’s not a reason for panic — Richardson and the Sixers have 76 more games to figure it out and have lost just one of their first six. 

Ricky Rubio, not renowned for his three-point shooting, made 3 of 5 behind the arc for Phoenix. 

An interesting offensive shift 

The Sixers entered the game running the fewest pick-and-rolls in the NBA, but Brown ran several in the first quarter with Harris as the ball handler and Ben Simmons as the screener. Brown later ran a pick-and-roll with Simmons as the screener later in the quarter, this time with Richardson as the ball handler, and the Sixers’ guard converted an open three off it. Simmons commands plenty of respect as a roller, and set good, physical, legal screens Monday. 

As a team, the Sixers will most likely finish the season with the most post-ups in the NBA — the Lakers are the only team who might end up in the same ballpark — and that makes sense for many reasons. They’ll have size advantages just about every night, Embiid is hard to handle when he gets deep position, and Horford and Simmons are excellent passers from the post. 

Still, a bit more pick-and-roll isn’t a bad idea, especially on nights without Embiid. Harris has historically been an efficient pick-and-roll player and he thrived in that setting Monday. He’s very good at shielding off his defender once he gains a step, then taking his time to get the shot he wants. 

Horford is also skilled both as a roller and in the pick-and-pop, with the ability to knock down open threes and to make plays for his teammates when the jumper isn’t available.

The best “backup center” in the league

At the moment, Horford is playing like the best “backup center” in the NBA. He totaled 57 points and 11 assists during Embiid’s suspension.

In addition to the stats, Horford has been valuable as usual outside of the box score in setting strong screens, defending the pick-and-roll well and just playing smart basketball. 

And, at 33 years old, he can still elevate. His 32 points Monday were more than he ever scored as a Celtic, and just two shy of his career high.

Brilliant on one end, stymied on the other 

There have been lapses here and there, but Simmons has been a more engaged defensive player this season.

He was ready to go right from the opening tip in Phoenix.

Simmons tied a career high with seven steals on an excellent defensive night. 

Offensively, he was stymied by the Suns, who dropped deep into the paint and gave him a ton of space to shoot jumpers, which he did not. Simmons’ longest made field goal through six games is from seven feet out. He posted six points on 2 for 8 shooting, six assists, five rebounds and four turnovers. 

Will Neto stay in the rotation? 

When Embiid returns, Brown will have a number of decisions to make, among them whether Raul Neto stays in the rotation.

The Brazilian point guard helped turn the game Saturday against the Trail Blazers, and he played well in his first-half stint Monday.

Neto hit Horford in the corner with a nice pass at the end of the first quarter.

And Horford didn’t need any help at the conclusion of the first half, nailing a very long three. 

However, Neto wasn’t as good in the second half, committing a turnover that led to a Mikal Bridges dunk near the end of the third quarter and getting scored on by Tyler Johnson a couple of times early in the fourth.

While there haven’t been many exceptional plays in which Neto is at the center of the highlight, the Sixers have mostly been better when he’s on the floor. That would certainly seem to merit playing time.

Korkmaz gets the nod, sets a career high

Furkan Korkmaz took Embiid’s spot in the starting lineup, and he had no hesitation in taking his first shot since his game-winner Saturday in Portland. It looked like he’d sunk it, too … but his three-pointer from the left wing went in and out.

He couldn’t retain all of the magic of that moment vs. the Blazers, though he did score a career-high 20 points. On the night, Korkmaz shot 6 for 13. 

Korkmaz got the nod over Matisse Thybulle, who didn’t have a great night and only played four minutes. The rookie isn’t playing with much decisiveness or confidence on offense, and the fact that he isn’t hitting shots is surely connected. Thybulle shot 1 for 3 Monday and is now 7 for 27 through six games (25.9 percent) 

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Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Joel Embiid details increased defensive responsibility

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Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Joel Embiid details increased defensive responsibility

CAMDEN, N.J. — This season, it sounds as if the Sixers will allow Aron Baynes to launch as many corner threes as he’d like.

In the Sixers’ playoff series against the Celtics last season, Baynes, a 6-foot-10 center who had made 5 of 24 three-pointers in the regular season and first round of the playoffs, knocked down 7 of 16 long-range attempts. As a result, the Sixers had Joel Embiid follow Baynes when he stepped out to the perimeter, instead of staying home in the middle of the defense. 

“Last year, I thought we kind of made a mistake as far as playing against Boston,” Embiid said Friday. “I wasn’t allowed to help off of Baynes, especially when he was in the corner. We had a lot of times when Boston was driving to the paint and I wasn’t in there or I was stuck in the corner because I wasn’t allowed to help."

Now, Embiid is the “commander and chief” of the Sixers’ new defensive scheme, as head coach Brett Brown puts it. That puts a lot of responsibility on him, but it also means he has to be in sync with his teammates. It’s a process everybody is still figuring out.

“With this new concept, it’s going to allow me to do basically whatever I want,” Embiid said. “If I want to go help, if I want to cut off people, it gives me that ability.

“But at the same time, it can also be horrible, because you gotta communicate. My teammates gotta cover for me, I gotta cover for them. So it’s going to take a little bit of time. Last year, we got really good defensively, so this change is big and we’re going to see how that goes.”

No surprises

A reporter asked Landry Shamet on Friday if he thought he’d surprised people with his impressive preseason. Shamet stepped into the rotation after Wilson Chandler strained his left hamstring in the preseason opener, averaging 11 points on 45 percent shooting in the Sixers’ final three preseason games. 

“If I have, I have,” Shamet said. “If not, then so be it. To me personally, the only thing I was worried about was just trying to get better. I didn’t surprise myself, that’s the way I look at it. I know what I’m capable of, and I have more in me. That wasn’t the best version of Landry Shamet even.”

The roster is set

The Sixers on Friday waived Emeka Okafor, Cory Jefferson and Darin Johnson, trimming down to their final roster of 15 plus two-way players Shake Milton and Demetrius Jackson. 

The full roster is here.

Quotables 
“I’m 230.”

-Joel Embiid on his weight. Embiid is listed at 260 pounds. He’s said he’s in the best physical condition of his career after his first healthy offseason. 

“The way teams were guarding me, everybody knows I’m a three-point shooter. The factor was what to do after that, so that’s where my focus was this summer. I got a lot better. My coaches have seen it, my teammates have seen it, even at points in the preseason. Putting the ball on the floor, I’m more comfortable; ball-handling has been a big key. That’s what I’ve done a lot and it shows out there, lot of hard work.”

-Robert Covington on his offseason improvement

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