This year’s NBA trade deadline was chaotic and jam packed. There were a flurry of moves headlined by Kevin Durant going to the Phoenix Suns and Kyrie Irving going to the Dallas Mavericks. Twenty-eight of the NBA’s 30 teams made at least one trade.
The Philadelphia 76ers, helmed by president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, spent the trade deadline hampered by a lack of resources. They were not involved in any of the major trades around the league, instead being limited to making one move to upgrade the bench.
The team acquired wing Jalen McDaniels in a four-team trade that included sending Matisse Thybulle to the Portland Trail Blazers. McDaniels profiles as a similar player to Thybulle, but he brings more to the table offensively.
It became clear over the years the Sixers did not have confidence in Thybulle to be a functional two-way player. This greatly affected his ability to stay on the floor during the postseason. In McDaniels, the Sixers believe they have a two-way player who will be able to make an impact when the games really count.
“We wanted to make sure we gave Doc [Rivers] as many two-way players as possible,” Morey said on Friday (via Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice), “and we think Jalen is one of the up-and-coming solid defenders and gives [us] somebody that’s a little easier to keep on the floor in a lot of matchups.”
“Just easier to keep him on the floor. 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.”
Justifying the trade is easy enough considering all that McDaniels brings to the team. He is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan, giving him the versatility to defend both threes and fours while also being able to step out and defend the perimeter at times. The 25-year-old is an above-average rebounder for his position. He ranks higher than 84 percent of NBA wings in rebounding the opposition’s missed field goals, according to Cleaning the Glass. The Sixers are currently 25th in the league in defensive rebounding (31.9). The addition of McDaniels should help in that area.
Offensively, he is a middling outside shooter, connecting on 34.2% of his 3-pointers for his career. He has had some ups and downs, shooting as high as 38% from deep last season and as low as 32.2% this season. However, the willingness (2.5 attempts per game from 3-point range) and potential is there. He will certainly get a bevy of open looks playing next to Joel Embiid and James Harden. Outside of his 3-point shooting, he has the ball handling and athleticism to be a solid finisher around the rim. He is shooting 53.4% on 2-point field goals this season.
The McDaniels for Thybulle trade also helped the Sixers in their pocket book. The trade moved them under the luxury tax, giving them approximately $1.270 million of breathing room. Morey on Friday was asked about how much a desire to get under the tax played a role in their lone move at the trade deadline.
“The focus was just make the team better, we feel like we did that,” Morey said. “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 will need to make decisions this offseason regarding re-signing Georges Niang, Shake Milton and Paul Reed. In addition to those three players, McDaniels’ contract expires after this season, although the Sixers do have his bird rights. Morey believes he can be a big part of the team’s future.
“I think he’s got starter potential. We’d like to obviously have him have a great run, help us win a championship this year, and then re-sign him,” Morey said. “I think he’s someone, given his size, athleticism, he has everything we need, someone we can build around going forward.”
However, one thing the trade did not accomplish was fixing the glaring hole the team has at backup center. The Sixers so far this season have relied on a mixture of Montrezl Harrell and Reed, with Harrell getting the bulk of the opportunity. The results have been subpar. Harrell provides no defensive presence around the basket. According to Cleaning the Glass, opponents shoot a ghastly 71.2% at the rim with Harrell on the floor.
The Sixers did reportedly have interest in multiple different big men in the days leading up to the trade deadline. However, they ultimately were not able to pull the trigger on a deal to improve at backup center.
“We looked at all our needs and tried to look for upgrades wherever we could,” Morey said. “We made the move that we thought was the best available. We looked at everything, this was the best move.”
“I think we have a lot of versatility with the lineup. Doc does a very good job figuring it out, I think people just to be frank, I think what most people worry about is when Joel is off, how are we going to play when Joel is off? I think we’re going to improve that, that hasn’t been as good as we want it to be.”
Morey also mentioned having enough space under the luxury tax to pursue “multiple buyouts.” The Sixers do have an open roster spot, so expect the team to fill it with someone from the buyout market.
Most fans would like the Sixers to use the buyout market to improve at backup center. However, the market at that position is relatively thin. Nerlens Noel would provide a much needed defensive boost if he becomes available. He is listed on the injury report for the Detroit Pistons’ game on Friday as “not with the team” in a potential sign of him getting bought out. Dewayne Dedmon and Serge Ibaka have already been bought out. However, neither would be much of an upgrade over what the Sixers have.
The one move the Sixers made at the trade deadline was a positive one. They came into the deadline with an immensely small amount of useful assets, turning them into one rotation upgrade. However, they still have a crucial hole to fill at backup center. The front office will certainly be busy scouring the buyout market throughout the next few days and weeks.