Can Sixers do better than Asik for Young?

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Can Sixers do better than Asik for Young?

It was bound to happen. It’s bound to continue. The rumors about potential trades. The speculation about which players might be involved. It is how things go in the NBA, particularly with a team that has assets it could be willing to unload.

The latest report by ESPN -- unconfirmed by CSNPhilly, it should be noted -- speculated that Philadelphia could be “a viable destination” for marginalized Houston Rockets center Omer Asik. The potential price? Thaddeus Young (see story).

The salaries match up. Asik’s cap hit for this season and next is approximately $8.37 million. Following next season, he would become a free agent. Young will make $8.85 million this season and $9.41 million next year. He has a player option for 2015-16 for $9.72 million.

One of the main benefits for the Sixers would be an extra year of possible cap flexibility, since Asik is under contract for just one more season after this while Young could potentially be on the books through the end of the ’15-16 campaign. That’s not nothing. The increased freedom, particularly for a team that’s rebuilding and will already have quite a bit of cap space for the 2014 offseason, is attractive. But is it enough?

Sixers president and general manager Sam Hinkie, who previously worked in the Rockets’ front office, is obviously well-acquainted with Asik and his abilities. Asik is the sort of in-the-paint presence the Sixers currently lack. For his career, Asik averages 53.3 percent shooting from the field, 5.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He doesn’t get to the line that often (2.4 free throw attempts per game), and he doesn’t shoot very well when he does (53.4 free throw percentage).

Asik averages 0.9 blocks per game and 0.4 steals. He’s not a great passer for a big man, averaging 0.6 assists. And unlike Spencer Hawes, Asik doesn’t take shots from distance. Ever. He’s attempted exactly one three-pointer in his career.

Back when he played for the Bulls, Asik was regularly on the court late in games because of his defensive abilities. He’s big. Asik is listed at 7-foot, 255 pounds. If he got regular starter's minutes, particularly in Brett Brown’s system, you’d expect his rebounds, steals and blocks per game to spike significantly.

(The Sixers could certainly use someone in the middle. While they average the second-most points in the paint, they surrender the eighth most.)

But, again, is that enough to unload Young, who’s having a solid season? I’m not sure it is.

Young is averaging 15.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.6 blocks. He’s also taking more three-pointers than he has in four years (see story), and he’s hitting them at a career-best percentage. He’s a good all-around player.

Young is listed at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds. He’s undersized for a power forward, but he’s a willing and capable defender on the interior or perimeter. Between the versatility he’s shown this season, and his reasonable contract, he has to be worth something to a team that’s in playoff contention. Or at least he should be worth more than Asik.

It’s a plus that Asik’s deal would expire after next season. But if he did land in Philly, how would his presence affect Nerlens Noel’s development upon his return? Let’s say both are in a Sixers uniform next season. What kind of minutes would Asik require to be productive and happy? Houston has already learned that Asik can turn pouty if he doesn’t play enough. There were reports that he was scratched from several games this season because he was “so unhappy” with his reduced role that he was “in no state to play.”

Juxtapose that attitude against Young, who has proven to be a quality teammate and professional. Under Doug Collins, Young was asked not to shoot from long range, to treat the three-point line as a “barbed wire fence,” to put on weight, and to serve more as a power forward. He obliged on all fronts. This season, under Brown and his radically different system, he’s been asked to take shots from the outside when he’s open, to carry more of the offensive load, and to guard swingmen and power forwards depending on what’s needed on a given night. He’s obliged on all fronts.

None of that means the Sixers can’t or shouldn’t trade Young. As Young himself said before Monday’s game, “it’s a job” and “a business.” But that doesn’t mean the Sixers have to trade him right now for Asik.

“I see it. I see it pop up on my Twitter page and stuff like that,” Young said when asked if he was aware of the latest trade talk. “When you see that type of stuff, you can’t help but read the article. But, hey, it is what it is. If they see fit to trade me, I have to go. I have to move to the next city and take my family with me, pack my bags and be ready to play the next game the next day.”

He gets it. He understands that he could be here today and gone tomorrow. But if that’s the case, the Sixers should get something more than Asik and his contract that won’t expire until after next season. They can do better -- can’t they?

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.