The right choice? - or a long post on roster construction

Given how much we pined for Evan Turner for much of last year, it's been interesting to watch what's been going on in Philly this year, especially within the context of our own all to familiar 'what were they thinking drafting 8 PGs?!' meme.

To say that Turner has struggled this year is an understatement:

Christmas could not have been a very happy occasion at Evan Turner's household. His team, the Philadelphia 76ers, was well below .500 in the Eastern Conference. In the Sixers' last outing before the holiday, Turner had sat on the bench for the entire game, watching his team lose to the Boston Celtics. It was his second DNP of the season, the other having come three games earlier against the Los Angeles Lakers.


"This is rock bottom,'' he said. "It can't be any worse, in my mind. I've just got to keep working. I feel like it can't get any worse. The only way it can go is up."


Heading into Wednesday night's game in Phoenix, Turner was shooting 38.4 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from 3-point territory (albeit, on 14 attempts) while averaging a mere 6.3 points a game, 11th among NBA rookies. As a result, the Sixers have chosen to go with the likes of Andres Nocioni, Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks, a 2009 second-rounder, ahead of Turner in the rotation.

"He hasn't made enough shots for us for him to play," Sixers president Rod Thorn said.


The Sixers are still trying to discover what they have in Turner. He seems to be more comfortable and confident when he has control of the ball and there is playmaking ability in his game (he averaged six assists a game his last season in college), But Jrue Holiday and Williams appear to have nailed down the point guard slots, making Turner confront the unthinkable: After almost 30 games, where does he belong?

Do y'all find that as interesting as I do? Arguably the most sure-fire prospect in last year's draft has ended up struggling perhaps more than any other upper level prospect to fit in with the NBA. Turner was the kind of player you drafted, gave him the keys, and enjoyed the competent night in, night out production and leadership that he was supposed to offer. However, Philadelphia might have done well to have taken a page from the David Kahn school of drafting and roster management and considered the effect of doubling up existing skillsets.

To be fair, Rubio and Jonny Flynn are nothing alike as point guards. Where one excels because of his amazing court vision, passing ability, and innate feel for the game, the other relies on sheer athleticism, a quick first step, and determination (along with a developing outside shot) to get things done. However, when we compare Flynn to guys like Ramon Sessions, Bassy, or even Sundiata Gaines, it becomes a valid criticism to begin to wonder - why are we getting so many guys who play very similar games to each other?

Of course, current and recent Wolves history is replete with much better examples of this question, most notably Love and Big Al, but also Martell, Wes, and Beasley in addition to our plethora of points. The source of 328,720 hits for Bill Simmons over the past 18 months, reflecting on our seemingly ardent quest for roster redundancy could have perhaps served the 76ers well when they were choosing between Evan Turner, Derrick Favors, Wes Johnson, and DMC.

As has been discussed already, Iggy provides many of the same skills as Evan Turner - scoring (often through drives to the hoop and FTs), rebounding, passing, defense, leadership. Both guys seem to do better when they're very involved in an offense, and perhaps more to the point neither has really shown the prior ability to be highly effective playing off the ball for significant periods of time. In short, in drafting Turner the Sixers knowlingly doubled up what they already had in Iggy, albeit at 4 years young and tens of millions of dollars cheaper.

Part of me really wants to point out that the Sixers made the very same mistake we are so often accused of making (cornering the market on a certain type of player), but that belies something I find far more interesting and intriguing - why, if the Sixers knew they had two players who would essentially play identical roles, would they go ahead and draft Turner when Favors, Wes, or DMC represented a far better fit for their team? Did they gamble that someone (us?) would cave at the last minute and take Brand off their hands in order to swap picks? Did they have a plan lined up for moving Iggy at some point in future? Or did they really believe that one of those two guys would develop into something neither has ever shown excellence in in the past (playing as an effective off the ball perimeter player)?

The subtext to all of this for Philadelphia, such that I know about them, was written last year and is again being played out this year: Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams are their ball handlers of the future, that there were questions as far back as last year as to whether a player like Iggy or Turner was the best fit for Philadelphia (because Jrue is best with the ball in his hands), and that a highly productive big man rotation was (and still is) a huge necessity. Looking at the draft, Favors would've been a fantastic choice. So would DMC. And yup, even Wes would look perfect as a scoring compliment for Jrue and Iggy. And yet they still drafted Turner. I just find that so interesting.

Reading between the lines it seems to me that Philadelphia can't decide on who it wants to be - who it's going to build around. A team centered on Jrue, Iggy, and Favors (or Wes or DMC) would look pretty good, especially considering that Iggy is only 26 despite his pricetag. I guess it's not perfect, as both Iggy and Jrue still need the ball to be most effective, but it seems to make sense more than it doesn't. Every player is in a role that suits them, all of their skills mesh. However, the choice now is between Turner, Jrue, Iggy, and who knows who else. All these guys need the ball most effective. Who's in charge of initiating things? And what in the hell does this have to do with the Wolves?

Well...perhaps we got lucky that we didn't have the chance to draft Turner. I still have high hopes that Turner will become a great player, but missing out on him prevented us from facing the same choices Philly is facing right now: Rubio or Turner - who's the leader/play maker of your team? Sticking with Rubio enables us to stick with the current roster. Adding Turner would've made us consider what to do with Rubio, as arguably Jonny Flynn might hold more value as a scoring point guard with three point range playing next to Turner than a poor shooting Rubio who, ahem, also needs the ball to be effective.

Of course, I'm a big proponent of adding Iggy to this team, so I suppose I should question my own argument about Philly that I've just made...

I guess in my mind the big difference is Rubio and the passing of our bigs. Love, Darko, and Pek average 4.6 assists per game, whereas Brand, Hawes, and Speights average 3.3. If we consider Beasley our third big instead of Pek (Beasley's played 29% of our PF minutes this year) that number jumps to 6.1 assist per game from our bigs. Where this is important, again in my mind, is the distribution of either who those assists go to or, more generally, where the scoring is coming from on the team.

Philly's assist leaders (and assist rate leaders) are Jrue, Iggy, and Lou - who also happen to be 3 of their top 4 scorers (only behind Brand, with all of them scoring within less than four ppg of each other). Furthermore, those three players are all in the top four in FGA per game for Philly, and herein lies part of the issue in drafting Turner - you've added yet another player who's most effective with the ball in his hands and yet are asking him to play like a guy who's great at spot up shots. Why? Because you've already got three guys who are very effective with the ball in their hands - all three have a usage rating of 19% or more, with Lou leading the team and Jrue ranking fourth at 21.9.

In contrast, in both assist rate and assists per game, the Wolves have a much more traditional split - our ballhandlers (Luke, Bassy, and Jonny) set up our leading scorers (Love, Beasley, and Martell - our top three in FGA per game as well. For context, Ridnour is the highest ranking point in FGA per game, placing fifth on team). In turn, then, our points' scoring is set up by the passing ability of our bigs. This team really is constructed around a passing point - the highest usage rate of our three points is Bassy at 18%, good for 9th best on the team. Beasley, Love, Darko, Pek, and Brewer have the highest usage rates on the team, and one can imagine that Wes is slated to eventually take Brewer's shots. 

Have to admit, adding Rubio to a team set up this way makes sense. Good off the ball scorers, solid interior scoring options (with great kick out passing). Seems like a plan to me.

Adding Iggy or Turner to this mix? Honestly, it might work. I guess I've sort of convinced myself that on the Wolves' roster there still might be enough touches to go around, even with Rubio in the mix, for either Turner or Iggy to find effectiveness on this team. Having said that, a shooter/scorer like Wes or Mayo seems like a far better fit, given that we don't appear to lack to passing and ball handling ability with Rubio and our bigs already in the fold. For Philly, though, the question is what to do with all those ball handlers? They have neither the off the ball or interior scorers to afford the luxury of both Turner and Iggy. The core of that team is, in many ways, utterly redundant with itself. Outside of Brand's renaissance they have poor, poor interior scoring and passing options, and lack high level outside off the ball scoring options.

It's too bad that Turner's struggling, and it will be interesting to watch what happens with Iggy. Philly could be a good team, IMO, if it chooses to build around Jrue, Lou, and Turner. Jettison the pieces that aren't working, get some better off the ball scorers and better interior finishers/passers. Keeping Turner and Iggy is not going to work, though. A shoe has to fall in choosing between Jrue, Lou, Iggy, and Turner.






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