Written by Garrett Catalana – @GarrettCatalana
With just one preseason game left and just eights days away from the start of the regular season on October 28th, let’s take time to assess the 20-man roster and who will make the cut:
- Joel Embiid
- Carl Landry
- Tony Wroten
- Kendall Marshall
- Nik Stauskas
– Joel Embiid is out for the second consecutive season but since there is no IR or DL spot in the NBA, Joel will take up one of the 15 roster spots (1/15).
– Carl Landry is the only player on the entire Sixers roster who was born in the 1980s and should provide veteran leadership but he has been sidelined due to wrist surgery in the offseason. Landry was acquired in the Kings trade, along with Nik Stauskas and Jason Thompson He currently makes the most money on the Sixers active roster and is signed for two years and $13 million, but the Sixers have so much cap room that cutting him is merely a blimp on the radar. Landry hasn’t been cut yet (like Gerald Wallace) or traded (Jason Thompson), so it seems like the Sixers will be keeping him around at least at the start of the season, even though he won’t play until at least December (2/15).
– Tony Wroten tore his ACL in February this past season and has been rehabbing with the team ever since. Brett Brown gave an indication that he won’t see action until December. The Sixers are taking their time with this injury so that hopefully Wroten will regain all the explosiveness he had prior to the injury. He has a spot on the roster heading into restricted free agency at the end of the year (3/15).
– A relatively late signing, Marshall was signed to a “Hinkie Special,” with the intention of becoming the starting point guard once he returned from his own torn ACL suffered in February. His recovery is going along a little bit faster than Wroten’s is but Marshall also relies upon less his athleticism on the court. Marshall should be expected on the court sometime in late November (4/15).
– Nik Stauskas is recovering from a minor tibia injury but the team has been taking it slow so that the injury doesn’t linger over the entire 82-game season. He may be able to return to the court as soon as the last preseason game on Friday in Boston, but it appears that he will be on the court on opening night (5/15).
Roster Locks in the Frontcourt:
- Nerlens Noel
- Jahlil Okafor
- Richaun Holmes
– In just four games, Noel has been racking up the numbers in the preseason. He is averaging 13.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 block, and 3.0 steals per game in just 25.7 minutes. He seems to have refined his game and will look to continue his development playing more minutes at the four position (6/15).
– Jahlil Okafor has had a very up-and-down preseason, which is to be expected out of a rookie. He seems a bit out of shape and struggles with fatigue but the NBA skill is very apparent. He has also struggled with operating on the low post, which is a two way street: (1) it seems he has had trouble adjusting to the 24-second shot clock, and (2) the coaching staff hasn’t really figured out how to surround him in the half court to best utilize Okafor’s skills. With this type of rebuild, Okafor will have plenty of time for trial-and-error as the team will try to figure out how to utilize his skillset (7/15).
– I have been very impressed by Richaun Holmes’ sheer size and athleticism. At 6’10, 245 pounds, Holmes is athletic enough to play the four, but has the size and girth to play some center in small lineups (as compared to Jerami Grant, who is a 3,4 tweener at 6’8, 210 pounds). Taken as the second round pick in return for KJ McDaniels, I am very excited to see what Holmes can do as a rookie in some rotational minutes (8/15).
Roster Locks on the Perimeter:
- Hollis Thompson
- Robert Covington
- JaKarr Sampson
- Jerami Grant
– Hollis Thompson is the prime reason why this regime has emphasized player development. Thompson was an undrafted rookie out of Georgetown when the Sixers signed him to a “Hinkie Special,” with little to no expectations. Thompson, now in his third season, has defied the odds and has become a key rotation player for Brett Brown, shooting 40% from three in his first two seasons as a pro. He is someone who had no reason to be in the NBA, but has carved out his own niche, and may become a key rotational player for a contender moving forward (9/15).
– Robert Covington has been an absolute diamond-in-the-rough find for the Sixers. I’d argue he has the most valuable contract in the entire NBA, making just over $3 million over the next three seasons. Hopefully with the addition of Okafor in the post and other shooters surrounding him spacing the floor, Covington can greatly expand his role on the team. Covington has the skills and body-type to stick around in the NBA for a long time and if he progresses he may also become a key cog on a championship contender (10/15).
– Similarly to Thompson and Covington, JaKarr Sampson came out of nowhere to contribute to an NBA team in his rookie season. As someone who has the size and athleticism to defend any player from PG to PF, Sampson has a chance to make an NBA career out of playing good defense and being able to contribute enough on the offensive end. This year will be critical for him and his development (11/15).
– After a rough ending to his rookie season, Jerami Grant will be looking to improve in his second season. A freak athlete who is a 3,4 tweener, Grant will have a more defined role moving forward with some stability at center (Noel, Okafor) and shooting guard (Stauskas, Sampson, Thompson). It will be interesting to see how Brown uses Grant in both smaller and bigger lineups, but his role going forward may be contingent on how well he can shoot on the perimeter (12/15).
Rest of the Roster: 3 Spots Remaining
- Furkan Aldemir
- Christian Wood
- Jordan McRae
- JP Tokoto
- Isaiah Canaan
- Pierre Jackson
- TJ McConnell
- Scottie Wilbekin
– The other player of this group with any sort of meaningful guaranteed money is Aldemir ($2.8 million) and the rest are on essentially nonguaranteed contracts. With the two main point guards out until late-November, the last roster spot will probably come down to whether Brown wants to keep an extra point guard or an extra big. That question will be reliant upon whether Brown feels two of the point guards have stepped up enough or if feels that just one point guard and the combination of two-guards taking some point guard minutes (Sampson, Thompson, Stauskas) will be adequate enough until Wroten and Marshall return.
– Jordan McRae has been poor in the preseason shooting just 28% from the field 9% from three and looking very lost on defense with his defensive rotations. JP Tokoto has done nothing to stand out and the form on his jump shoot would make Herb McGee cringe. He hasn’t done enough in his limited playing time to garner a roster spot. Both players are on one year, non-guaranteed contracts and have no realistic shot at making the roster.
– Aldemir is known for two things and only two things: rebounding and screen-setting. He is basically invisible on offense and has trouble against bigger centers on the defensive end. On the other hand, you know what you are getting with him which is important for back ups and his style of play sets up well with Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor in front of him. Besides injured Joel Embiid, there is no other true center on the roster. With two team options following 2015-2016, I think the team will keep him around for this season to see if develops into anything meaningful (13/15).
– Christian Wood is the most interesting player on this roster from a pure size and talent perspective. He had a first round grade but went undrafted because of off-the-court concerns. He was signed to a “Hinkie Special” and seems like an ideal type of player in this type of player development regime but because of recent hamstring and knee injuries, he hasn’t been able to play as of late. With four injured players already for at least a month (Landry, Embiid, Marshall, Wroten), will Wood have shown enough to keep him around?
– This leaves four point guards with two roster spots remaining. Those four are Pierre Jackson, Isaiah Canaan, Scottie Wilbekin, and TJ McConnell. All four are on “Hinkie Specials” and all definitely have their limitations in being NBA point guards. Three of which are more scoring point guards rather than traditional pass-first point guards, Wilbekin, Jackson, and Canaan. McConnell is the only of the four who plays like a more traditional point guard, which may be beneficial in his case to make the roster.
– Canaan seems like a lock to make the roster at the outset because he’s the only one of the four with NBA experience and familiarity in the system. He can also space the floor with his three point shooting ability but is a liability on the defensive end and not a great distributor. Still, Canaan will have to man the ship until Wroten and Marshall return (14/15).
– Pierre Jackson is a great feel good story on his return after a devastating torn Achilles in the Orlando Summer League in 2014. He worked his way back and was resigned by the Sixers as an undersized point guard with great scoring ability, as was evident during his stint with the Idaho Stampede of the NBADL in 2013-2014. Like Wood, he has been on and off the court with various ailments and with the numbers game it appears that he won’t make the roster.
– Scottie Wilbekin has been okay so far in the preseason, including a game-winner against Cleveland at home, with some solid shooting touch and good basketball IQ. But in this league, you need one definable NBA skill and I don’t see that with Wilbekin and don’t think he will make the roster either.
– Then there is TJ McConnell, the undrafted rookie out of Arizona. I had little to no expectations out of him and thought he would be the first cut made by the team but I have been impressed by his ability and his hustle. But to me, the best part about his game is his ability to initiate the offense and make effective passes to playmakers, like Covington on the perimeter and Okafor on the block. He has the highest basketball IQ of the four and has showed the greatest amount of hustle. His play has really changed by opinion of him and has really stood out. He has a serious chance to be the 15th man.
Realistically I think in all, there are four roster spots available for five players. Five players need to be cut and four of those players are known (McRae, Tokoto, Jackson, and Wilbekin).
The players still fighting for a spot are Canaan, Aldemir, Wood, and McConnell, with Landry as an unknown. I’m making the assumption that Landry is on the team to start the season, so the team depth is as follows with 12 players:
PG (2): Marshall*, Wroten*
SG (3): Stauskas, Thompson, Sampson
SF (2): Covington, Grant
PF (3): Noel, Holmes, Landry*
C (2): Okafor, Embiid*
Based on this, Aldemir makes the team as a traditional five (13). Canaan makes the team as the starting point guard (14), so there is one spot left up for grabs. That would be McConnell or Wood. If the Sixers want to be forward thinking, they would keep Wood and have Sampson and Stauskas as its backup point guards until Wroten and Marshall return. In that scenario, there are four injured bodies and one developmental player (Wood). If they feel that they need the extra body at point guard, McConnell is the choice.
Another possible option for the Sixers is to use the rarely seen NBA hardship exception. This exception uses a temporary 16th roster spot if at least four of the fifteen players on a team are hurt or sick and can’t return to the court during the next two weeks. A team qualifies for this if four players have missed three consecutive games during the two-week stretch. This exception can’t be used at the start of the season (no games have been played yet), but if Landry makes the team, along with Marshall, Wroten, and Embiid, they have four injured players.
The Sixers third game of the season is November 2nd versus the Cavaliers. It would only be after that game that the Sixers would be able to start to use the hardship exception, meaning none of those players (Landry, Marshall, Wroten, Embiid) can return to the lineup until after November 16th versus the Mavericks. The only player who could realistically come back by that point is Marshall and Brett Brown said on October 8th that Marshall was at least a month away from getting back on the court.
If the Sixers exercise the exception, a temporary 16th player is signed until one of the four injured players returns to the lineup, in all likelihood Marshall. The exception player doesn’t have to be the player cut, but any one of the sixteen has to cut (or traded) to get the roster back to fifteen.
If I were the Sixers, I’d keep Landry, Aldemir, Canaan, and Wood on the active roster following the preseason. Canaan would be the primary ball handler with support from Thompson, Sampson, and Stauskas at the very beginning of the season. Following the third game versus Cleveland, I’d use the exception for a point guard (McConnell or someone else) and have a true backup point guard until Kendall Marshall returns in late November, then decided which player needs to be cut at that time.
So after all this talk about the roster, this is my take-away for what the roster will look like following training camp:
Team Depth Chart:
PG (3): Canaan, Marshall*, Wroten*
SG (3): Stauskas, Thompson, Sampson
SF (2): Covington, Grant
PF (4): Noel, Holmes, Wood, Landry*
C (3): Okafor, Aldemir, Embiid*
Hardship exception player: 16th
The eight players who are the bubble have one last chance to prove they can make the team before rosters have to be cut down to 15 players. Let’s see who steps up.