Sixers-Suns: 5 things you need to know

suns-sixers-slideshow.png

Sixers-Suns: 5 things you need to know

The Sixers (8-20) return from their holiday layoff to continue their road trip against the Phoenix Suns (17-11).

Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. (CSN) at US Airways Center.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. On the road again
The Sixers pick up their six-game road swing in Phoenix. Things clearly haven't gone as planned for the Sixers away from home, as they come into the game with 12 straight road losses and a 1-12 mark on the road overall.

It doesn't get any easier against a surprising Phoenix squad. The Suns, tabbed by pundits to be among the league's worst teams prior to the season, are currently the sixth seed in the stacked Western Conference.

The Suns will be on the second night of a back-to-back set after a season-worst effort in a 115-86 loss to Golden State on Friday night. The Suns posted season lows in shooting percentage (36.0), three-point percentage (17.4) and points.

However, Jeff Hornacek’s squad should receive a boost from returning home where it is 10-4 this season.

2. Keep your guard up
In order to reverse their fortunes on the road, the Sixers must start by containing the Suns’ dynamic backcourt.

Phoenix is led by its guard tandem of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. With both players boasting the versatility to run the offense and score, the combo guard duo poses a serious threat.

Bledsoe and Dragic lead the Suns in scoring with 18.4 and 18.0 points per game, respectively. They also combine for 11.8 assists per game.

With neither player measuring taller than 6-foot-3, Michael Carter-Williams and Hollis Thompson must use their length to frustrate them at both ends of the floor.

3. Walk the line
The Sixers can also help themselves by attacking the basket against a Suns team that is prone to fouling.

The Suns allow 25.8 free throw attempts per game, which ranks 28th in the NBA. Opponents also connect on 20.0 of those chances, the second-highest mark in the league behind only the New York Knicks.

The Sixers shouldn’t have trouble forcing the issue. They average 50.6 points in the paint per game.

However, that doesn’t always equal trips to the charity stripe. The Sixers are 17th in the NBA in free throw attempts a game at 22.3.

4. Injuries
Nerlens Noel (knee), Arnett Moultrie (ankle) and Jason Richardson (knee) are all out.

Centers Alex Len (ankle) and Emeka Okafor (neck) are out for the Suns.

5. This and that
• The Sixers’ seven-day layoff between games is their longest of the season.

• The Sixers are 1-9 against Western Conference teams this season.

• The Suns are 2-4 in the second games of back-to-backs this season with the two victories coming in the last two opportunities.

• The Sixers are 7-10 this season when Carter-Williams plays and 1-10 when he doesn’t suit up.

• The Suns make a league-best 10.2 three-pointers per game at home.

• The Suns have plenty of Philly ties. Hornacek is a former Sixer. Meanwhile, Philadelphia natives and twin brothers Marcus and Markieff Morris are on Phoenix's roster. Dionte Christmas, another Philadelphia native and former Temple standout, is also a member of the Suns.

With Kings' unprotected 2019 pick, Sixers' future assets the envy of the NBA

With Kings' unprotected 2019 pick, Sixers' future assets the envy of the NBA

It's difficult to understate how sweet the Sixers smell after the Kings' trade of DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans.

Yes, it removed another suitor from Jahlil Okafor trade talks, but that's not nearly as important as how much the Sacramento-New Orleans trade benefitted the Sixers moving forward.

And while many Sixers fans are rightfully jumping for joy today about the pick swap the Sixers have with the Kings in the 2017 draft, let's not forget about the 2019 pick.

Because no matter what happens with pick swaps, the Sixers own the Kings' unprotected 2019 first-round pick, which could legitimately be first overall given Sacramento's direction.

That 2019 pick now has immense value for several reasons:

Stripped-down Kings roster
Without Cousins, the Kings are right now probably one of the three worst teams in the NBA.

Their core is Darren Collison, Buddy Hield, Arron Afflalo, Garrett Temple, Kosta Koufos, Willie Cauley-Stein, Tyreke Evans, Ben McLemore, Anthony Tolliver. This team has 25 games left. How many can it win? Five?

Collison is their best remaining player, and he's a free agent after the season. This is going to be an incredibly challenging rebuild for the Kings, unless Hield and Cauley-Stein turn into stars.

Who is signing in Sac'to?
Sacramento is one of the league's smallest markets, and there has been front office discord there for years, along with a coaching carousel. Aside from Brooklyn, you can't find a worse free-agent destination. You can't find a tougher sell. 

Divac repeatedly said he'd never trade Cousins. Then he traded him. You tell me if agents and star players are going to trust the Kings enough to sign there without a no-trade clause.

And really, why would a free agent even want to sign there? The Kings have a bad core, a bad environment, and a bad draft pick situation moving forward. There is little upside.

Sure, Sacramento will be able to lure mid-tier free agents like the Lakers did with Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. But that isn't going to make them substantially better.

Sixers' remarkable collection of picks
The result of all this is the Sixers' future becomes even brighter. Basketball fans routinely look at the Celtics as having the best assets moving forward because of their pick swaps with cellar-dwelling Brooklyn. But the Sixers' assets now are arguably better because in addition to the pick swaps, they have the unprotected Sacramento pick.

And they have the Lakers' pick, which becomes fully unprotected next year if it doesn't convey this year.

And they have their own picks in 2018 and 2019.

And they have the Thunder's 2020 pick. 

And they have Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric.

Today's a good day in Sixers land.

Here's a round-up of their future draft picks:

2017
• Pick swap with Kings

• Lakers pick (top-3 protected; becomes unprotected in 2018 if it doesn't convey)

• Two second-round picks

2018
• Their own first-round pick

• The Lakers' unprotected first-round pick if L.A. finishes 2017 with a bottom-three record

• Second-round pick from Cleveland or Brooklyn (whichever is higher)

• Second-round pick from Clippers or Knicks (whichever is higher)

2019
• Unprotected first-round pick from Kings

• Their own first-round pick

• Second-round pick from Knicks

• Second-round pick from Bucks or Kings (whichever is higher)

2020
• Their own first-round pick

• Thunder's first-round pick (top-20 protected in 2020, 2021 and 2022)

• Second-round pick from Nets

• Second-round pick from Knicks

Woah.

Sixers were right to reject Pelicans' reported Jahlil Okafor trade offer

Sixers were right to reject Pelicans' reported Jahlil Okafor trade offer

If the reports are accurate, Bryan Colangelo probably made the right decision not trading Jahlil Okafor last week.

After the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins early Monday morning in a shocking, post-All-Star Game blockbuster, ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported several interesting pieces of information regarding the Sixers.

"The Pelicans were very close on a deal for Jahlil Okafor about 10 days ago, offering a similar package except it didn't include [Buddy] Hield," Shelburne wrote

A few hours earlier, she reported on ESPN that the deal for Okafor would have netted the Sixers Tyreke Evans, a protected first-round pick and a future second-round pick from New Orleans.

The protection the Pelicans sought was heavy — they wanted top-20 protection, according to Shelburne.

That just isn't a meaningful enough return, even for a player without a role in Philly.

Why? 

• Evans is a free agent after the season who has had three knee surgeries in the last two years and can't shoot threes. 

• A second-round pick is just a sweetener, so moving on from that ...

• A top-20 protected first-round pick isn't that enticing at all. Of the players selected between 20 and 30 in the last draft, only Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Toronto's Pascal Siakam and San Antonio's Dejounte Murray even have roles. 

In the previous year's draft, the best picks between 20-30 were Bobby Portis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. 

The year before, Rodney Hood and Clint Capela panned out for their teams, but the eight others selected in that range have done little.

This sort of trade might have worked for the Sixers if they weren't already accumulating some roster depth. They don't need to go search for another late-first-round pick they can hopefully turn into the eighth or ninth guy in a rotation. With players developing like T.J. McConnell, Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes and Nik Stauskas, the Sixers are already building a decent second unit for the future.

There are a lot of people in this city ready to give Okafor away, but doing so just makes no sense for the Sixers. All it would solve is the center logjam and awkwardness, but the value in that New Orleans proposal just wasn't there for the Sixers. 

At this point, it's looking extremely unlikely Okafor is traded before the Feb. 23 deadline. The Blazers were interested but acquired Jusuf Nurkic from Denver instead. The Pelicans were interested but landed Cousins. 

The only team left we've heard connected to Okafor is the Bulls, who don't have much of intrigue to send the Sixers' way.

But still, hanging on to Okafor and trading him after the season, or on draft night, could yield the Sixers a better return than New Orleans was offering. Forget about Evans and forget about the second-round pick — that offer was basically a pick in the 20-30 range for Okafor. 

Not enough. 

The Sixers held out in hopes of New Orleans' making the pick top-10 protected or lottery-protected instead, but Pels GM Dell Demps knew the Sixers didn't have much leverage and thought to himself, "If I'm trading away a potentially valuable draft pick, I want a better player in return."

And so he got Cousins. That's how we ended up where we are today.

The Sixers' future is brighter because their pick swap with the Kings now holds more value, so last night was a win for them even though Okafor remains on the roster.