6 observations from Sixers-Raptors

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6 observations from Sixers-Raptors

BOX SCORE

Believe it or not, the Toronto Raptors wrested first place in the Atlantic Division away from the Sixers on Wednesday night with the 108-98 victory (see Instant Replay).

At 5-8 and riding a four-game losing streak, the Sixers are a half-game off the pace in the division.

Here are a few things that caught our eye in the epic, first-place showdown:

1. Michael Carter-Williams returns
After missing four straight games, rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams returned to the lineup for the Sixers. Before the game, coach Brett Brown said Carter-Williams would have no restrictions and he wasn’t kidding. The rookie logged 34 minutes.

2. Banging in the post
Toronto big men Jonas Valanciunas and Tyler Hansbrough were a bundle of energy (and elbows) in the low post. Though neither player made much of a dent into the stat sheet, they mixed it up with Sixers big men Daniel Orton, Lavoy Allen and Spencer Hawes. Fortunately the battle in the post didn’t go beyond clean, hard basketball. A few times the players got all tangled up and fell into a heap on the floor. But that was it … just some big guys pushing each other around.

3. Defend the house
Certainly the mission of any team in the NBA is to force the opposing offense to take shots from the yard, which is the area outside of the paint and inside of the three-point line. If a team is going to beat you, the reasoning goes, let them do it with long two-pointers.

The Sixers did a good job of forcing the Raptors into taking shots from the yard in the first quarter. But after chucking up eight of them in the first, the Raptors took just nine more from the yard for the rest of the game.

That hardly compares to the efficiency of the Houston Rockets, though. In last week’s overtime victory, the Rockets took just five shots from the yard in the entire game. Somehow they figured out how to lose.

4. No Thad
The Sixers played without veteran Thad Young, who was not with the team on Wednesday night because of “personal reasons.” Young would have been valuable for the Sixers in pick-and-roll defense and in running the fast break. Instead, Hawes started the game at power forward with Orton at center.

5. Hawes’ career night
On Jan. 1, 2010, Spencer Hawes shot 12 for 20 with four three-pointers in a one-point loss to the Lakers for a career-high 30 points.

Since then the 30-point game had not been threatened by Hawes.

That is until Wednesday night.

Hawes shot 10 for 13 with three three-pointers and 10 rebounds for 28 points, just missing the career high. Meanwhile, Hawes notched his eighth double-double of the season, second-most in the NBA.

6. Homecomings, of sorts
Cardinal Dougherty and Villanova product, Kyle Lowry, had 13 points and 10 assists in his former sometime home court. Lowry entered the game averaging 12 points and six assists per game. His steady hand at point guard helped keep the Raptors’ turnover tally to a paltry nine.

Additionally, Raptors assistant coach Tom Sterner was close to his hometown of York and his old stomping grounds of Lancaster, where he attended Millersville U. and coached at Lancaster Catholic and Franklin & Marshall College. Sterner was a scout for the Sixers two years ago.

Reports: Sixers to be 'serious suitors' for Barnes, interested in Waiters

Reports: Sixers to be 'serious suitors' for Barnes, interested in Waiters

The Sixers didn't get a chance to speed up the process as much as they would have liked during the draft, but it appears they're going to try during free agency.

According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Sixers plan to be "serious suitors" for Golden State Warriors restricted free agent forward Harrison Barnes.

The 6-foot-8, 225-pound Barnes averaged a career-high 11.7 points and 4.9 rebounds last season for the Warriors and shot 38.3 percent from three. The four-year veteran didn't produce as well in the playoffs, averaging 9.0 points on 34.2 percent shooting from three and 38.5 percent shooting overall. He would give the Sixers an outside threat who can finish around the rim. The question is whether he'll be able to create his own shot and flourish without the star-studded Warriors lineup around him.

Meanwhile, the AP's Michael Scotto reports the Sixers (and Kings) are interested in Thunder restricted free agent Dion Waiters. Waiters, 6-4, 225, has averaged 12.8 points and 2.5 assists per game in his four-year NBA career. He is a Philadelphia native and played high school ball at Life Center Academy in Burlington, N.J.

Barnes, 24, made just under $3.9 million last season, while Waiters, 24, made just over $5.1 million. Because both are restricted free agents, the Warriors and Thunder can match any offer the respective players receive. Barnes turned down a four-year, $64 million last year and is likely to receive a max offer, which should be around $23 million.

Either would give the Sixers an upgrade, and given their meager payroll, they can certainly afford to overpay if needed. They should have about $60 million in cap space, as the new cap is projected to be $94 million. 

Golden State selected Barnes out of North Carolina with the seventh overall pick of the 2012 draft. Waiters was originally taken fourth overall by the Cavaliers in 2012. 

Sixers free-agent fits: Shooting guards — Waiters, DeRozan, Crabbe, more

Sixers free-agent fits: Shooting guards — Waiters, DeRozan, Crabbe, more

Over the course of this week, we will look at the Sixers' free-agent possibilites at each position. First up Monday was point guard. Today we look at shooting guards.

Sixers shooting guards for 2016-17
Nik Stauskas (guaranteed — $2,993,040)

Hollis Thompson (club option — $1,015,696)

Isaiah Canaan (restricted, qualifying — $1,215,696)

Current SG situation
As much as point guard is a huge need, the off-guard is also a concern for the Sixers.

Stauskas, the former lottery pick of the Sacramento Kings, was a major disappointment last season. Sauce Castillo was given plenty of opportunity to show that his rookie season was a fluke and just a result of the Kings' mercurial roster and coaching situation. Known as a shooter from his stellar career at Michigan, Stauskas shot 33 percent from three on 325 attempts last season. That's simply not good enough.

Thompson is a one-dimensional player. He's a shooter. A hot and cold one at that. Thompson doesn't bring enough to the table as a ball handler or a defender to be a long-term solution, but the Sixers may pick up his club option. Thompson is a career 39 percent shooter from three, but his overall field-goal percentage has gone down in each of the last three seasons.

We're calling Canaan a shooting guard simply because he is not a good enough ball handler to play point guard, the position his six-foot frame suits. Canaan is a streaky shooter that really brings nothing else to the table. I'm mostly complimentary of Sam Hinkie's tenure in Philly, but his continued love for Canaan was something I never understood.

This situation may change if the Sixers are able to sign 18-year-old draft pick Furkan Korkmaz. The Turkish sharpshooter was taken 26th overall and will need to be bought out from his club, Anadolu Efes. Korkmaz will certainly be a project but if he can shoot the basketball consistently, he might play.

Reach free agent

DeMar DeRozan (unrestricted)
DeRozan didn't disappoint in a contract year, averaging a career-high 23.5 points per game and helping lead the Toronto Raptors to the No. 2 seed in the East and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. There's still a great chance he could return to the Raptors (they can offer a year more than any team trying to sign him away from Toronto), but teams like the Lakers, Clippers, Warriors, Heat, Knicks and Magic are rumored to be interested in DeRozan. Even if DeRozan were to consider the Sixers, I don't think he makes sense here. He's 26, which means the Sixers would be wasting his prime years. Plus, he's not a great shooter. This team is being built around Ben Simmons, and a shooting guard that is just a career 28 percent shooter from three doesn't seem like a fit.

Possible fits

Dion Waiters (restricted)
It seemed possible that the former No. 4 overall pick would return to the Thunder, but a draft-night trade that netted OKC athletic guard Victor Oladipo makes Waiters' future there murky. There's been speculation that the Philly native would be open to a homecoming. He's certainly had his issues, but Waiters has shown the ability to score at the NBA level. He shot a career-high 36 percent from three last season (38 percent in the playoffs). He's also only 24.

Allen Crabbe (restricted)
Crabbe, also 24 and also a former first-round pick of the Cavaliers, had his best season at the right time. The Cal product played in 81 games last season, averaging 10.3 points in 26 minutes a game for the Blazers. In my humble opinion, Crabbe would be the Sixers' best option. Again, if you're looking to build a team around Simmons, Crabbe's offensive game fits perfectly. Crabbe can shoot (39 percent from three, 87 percent from the line), he moves well without the basketball and can pull up off the dribble/on the break. He's a California native, so he may not want to leave the West Coast, but the Sixers can offer him a starter's minutes and money.

Dark-horse candidates

Bradley Beal (restricted)
Bryan Colangelo has said that he's looking for the right pieces this offseason and was more willing to give more money for fewer years while he evaluates his younger players. Beal could be an exception. The No. 3 overall pick by the Washington Wizards in 2012, Beal just turned 23 on Tuesday. He's averaged 16 points per game and shot 40 percent from three for his career. He does have an injury history, which may scare off teams from giving him a long-term deal. Beal has missed a total of 81 games in four seasons, so basically a full year's worth of time. Beal is intriguing, but I'm not sure the Sixers should give him a max deal.

Eric Gordon (unrestricted)
Going off of Colangelo's desire to sign high-money, low-term contracts, Gordon would make some sense. Gordon, 27, has also struggled with injuries throughout his career. He could be looking for a prove-it deal. The Sixers could offer him a great opportunity to make big money, play a lot of minutes and help a young team that has struggled to put the ball in the hole. Gordon has scored 16.6 points per game in his career. He shot 38 percent from three for the Pelicans last season, down from the 45 percent he shot from distance in 2014-15.

Sixers free-agent fits: Point guards

Sixers free-agent fits: Point guards

Over the course of this week, we will look at the Sixers' free-agent possibilites at each position. First up is point guard.

Sixers point guards for 2016-17
T.J. McConnell (non-guaranteed, $874,636)

Kendall Marshall (non-guaranteed, $2,048,257)

Current PG situation
The Sixers' biggest hole is at the point guard spot. Brett Brown has deemed this position the most important on the court, yet it has been the most changing. 

Last season, the Sixers did not establish a consistent starting point guard until they re-acquired Ish Smith in December. Smith wasn't brought in as the long-term point guard of the future, though. He is an unrestricted free agent again this summer and should receive interest from other teams after a solid season stepping into the starting role. 

There are several young point guards on the market, but the Sixers would benefit the most from bringing in someone with veteran experience to be a leader on the court. While incoming rookie Ben Simmons can play point-forward, the team plans to start him off at the four spot and let him learn the NBA first before assigning him ball-handling duties. With that in mind, a good free-agent fit would be able to play off the ball when Simmons does run the floor. 

Of the current players, McConnell has developed into a backup option after emerging as the sleeper of last season's team. The Sixers would be getting a bargain with his contract value (see below). The sparingly-utilized Marshall has a non-guaranteed deal at just over $2 million for next season and the team could get more return spending that money elsewhere. 

Reach free agent
Mike Conley (unrestricted)

Even in spite of his injuries, Conley is the best point guard available in free agency. He averaged 15.3 points, 6.1 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.5 turnovers for the Grizzlies last season. Conley has a high basketball IQ and is playoff-tested. He will garner big money on the market, and the Sixers are not necessarily looking to break the bank this summer to fill the role. Conley could stay with the Grizzlies, who put together a Justin Timberlake-led video to express their interest in keeping him. He will turn 29 in October. 

Possible fits
Matthew Dellavedova (restricted, $1,434,095 qualifying offer)
Could there be another Australian on the Sixers next season? Brown, who coached there, is a fan of Dellavedova's game. Dellavedova, 25, averaged 7.5 points, 4.4 assists and 2.1 rebounds for the championship-winning Cavaliers. Dellavedova could have double value to the Sixers: he could run the floor and give Simmons a sense of familiarity being from Australia. 

Jeremy Lin (unrestricted)
Lin was a backup for the Hornets last season and could earn a paycheck this summer as a starter. He would like to find a long-term team, which may not fit into the Sixers' plans for the future. Lin, though, does have six years of experience and averaged 11.7 points, 3.0 assists and 3.2 rebounds mostly off the bench for the Hornets. 

Greivis Vasquez (unrestricted)
Vasquez's sixth season was cut short after only 23 games because of foot surgery last December. Coming off of injury, could he be available at a discount? When healthy, he is a high-energy ball handler. Vasquez averaged 5.7 points, 4.0 assists and 2.0 rebounds per game last season.