Philadelphia 76ers: Veteran Free Agents To Target

December 22, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center Marreese Speights (5) reacts after scoring a basket against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half  at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

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The potential of the Philadelphia 76ers’ roster is seemingly limitless. But some veteran help and guidance is going to be essential in their growth as a team.

Although it’s stating the obvious, the Philadelphia 76ers have an extremely young and inexperienced roster.

Joel Embiid has played a total of 31 games, and is just 23. Ben Simmons has yet to take the floor and is still only 20. Jahlil Okafor has now completed two seasons in the NBA and is 21. Also, Rookie of the Year contender Dario Saric is 23.

This past season saw the team improve from 10 to 28 wins, despite a multitude of injuries up and down the roster. The three Sixers to have played in at least 80 games — T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas and Saric — are all 25 years and under.

Looking ahead to next season, the Sixers will potentially possess two of the top four selections of the upcoming draft. With the presumed return to full health for Embiid and Simmons, the Sixers’ roster as presently constituted will remain extremely youthful.

Last offseason, Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo sought to address the lack of veteran presence. These were his veteran signings last summer:

Henderson and Rodgriguez provided help in the backcourt, starting 41 and 30 games respectively. Bayless’ season, on the other hand, was a complete wash, playing just three games due to wrist surgery. Moving forward, it’s unlikely Rodriguez gets re-signed this summer. Another veteran free agent acquired midseason, Tiago Splitter, will also likely walk.

At his recent exit interview, Colangelo addressed the Sixers’ needs moving forward. Among other things he stated:

“We’ve got a lot of needs. We’re far from being a complete team right now.”

Head coach Brett Brown added:

“There’s a veteran element that you can’t dismiss. There’s examples that veterans provide…I think we need fours, and we need veterans to make the team complete.”

In looking forward to this summer, here’s a look at some of the veteran free agents the Sixers should consider pursuing.

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Jodie Meeks, Orlando Magic

Meeks has endured two miserable seasons, playing a meager 39 total games. He played just three games in the 2015-16 season due to foot surgery, and missed the beginning of this past season due to additional surgery on the same foot. Furthermore, Meeks missed a sizable chunk of this past season due to thumb surgery.

But when Meeks was available, he demonstrated why he is a career 37.6 percent shooter from three-point range. In his 36 games last season with the Orlando Magic, Meeks averaged 9.1 points in 20.5 minutes per game, hitting at a 40.9 percent clip from behind the three-point line.

In just 36 games for a very underwhelming Magic team, Meeks hit three or more three-pointers on 11 occasions this season. Over these 11 games, Meeks shot an astounding 60.0 percent from downtown. Interestingly, the Magic had a 7-4 record during these games.

His best performance came during a road win against the New York Knicks. Playing 32 minutes, Meeks scored 23 points, which included 6-of-7 shooting from behind three. Impressively, Meeks was a +16 while on the floor.

As can be seen, running off screens and spotting up behind the three-point line is Meeks’ bread and butter. Recently when forecasting next season, coach Brown stated:

“We want to play fast, we want to embrace a three-point line.”

Considering this statement, it’s very noteworthy that Meeks’ best season of his eight-year career came during the 2013-14 season with the Los Angeles Lakers. His coach that season was current Houston Rockets head coach and offensive guru Mike D’Antoni. Brown’s ambition to play fast and embrace the three-point line is a calling card of any D’Antoni-coached team.

During that season, Meeks averaged 15.7 points per game, including 40.1 percent from behind three. Notably, Meeks’ usage rate was just 19.0.

This past season saw the Sixers ranked 25th in three-point percentage and 27th in field goal percentage. Granted, any player who has missed the amount of games Meeks has these past two seasons is going to carry a degree of risk.

However, considering Meeks’ strengths, and the manner in which Brown wants the Sixers to play, the pros certainly outweighs the cons. This past season, Meeks shot 46.1 percent on three-pointers at least four feet away from the closest defender.

On a team featuring the likes of Embiid, Simmons, Saric and the like, a shooter such as Meeks could thrive surrounded by such talent.

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Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz

At age 29, Ingles was somewhat of a revelation in Utah this season, his third in the league. With the Jazz suffering a plethora of injuries throughout the season, Ingles experienced a raise in playing time, from 15.3 to 24.1 minutes per game. As a result, Ingles’ impact skyrocketed. For the season, he posted 7.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 44.1 percent from the three-point range.

Ingles’ three-point shooting was particularly exceptional for attempts classified as wide open (6+ feet from closest opponent), per On 1.4 attempts per game, Ingles converted at a 52.3 percent clip. Last season, the Sixers ranked fifth in the league in this category with 13.0 attempts per game. With Brown’s ambition to play fast and attack the three-point line, Ingles would fit like a glove.

But it’s not just Ingles’ shooting that would attract the Sixers this summer. Ingles’ ability as a playmaker and ball handler would be a terrific complement to a young roster, Simmons in particular in his debut season. Last season, Ingles had 16 games where he dished out least five assists. Recently, in just his fourth career playoff game, Ingles dished out a career-best 11 assists in a crucial win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Ingles’ most impressive overall game last season was during a home loss to the Golden State Warriors. Coming off the bench, Ingles posted 21 points, five rebounds, four steals and three assists in 35 minutes. His shooting was a feature, which included hitting 5-of-9 from downtown.

Another attraction for the Sixers is Ingles’ relationship with coach Brown, having worked together for the Australian Olympic team. Last season, Ingles expressed his thoughts on Brown:

“I think he’s probably the best guy for that job, to rebuild a team…He’s a huge part of why I’m here today.”

On top of his now three seasons in the NBA, Ingles spent several years in Spain and Israel, which included winning the 2014 Euroleague championship as a member of Maccabi Tel Aviv. Ingles played in all 82 games this season, and has missed just four games in his three seasons in Utah.

As a secondary ball handler, excellent three-point shooter and very capable defender with his long wingspan, Ingles would be a terrific complement for the up-and-coming Sixers.

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P.J. Tucker, Toronto Raptors

Tucker endured a long wait to finally make a home in the NBA. After being drafted in the second round in 2006, Tucker played just 17 games for the Toronto Raptors and didn’t reappear until the 2012-13 season, when he was signed by the Phoenix Suns.

In his time in the league, Tucker has developed a reputation as a tenacious defender and capable three-point shooter. Tucker was recently acquired by the Raptors via trade to solidify their defense and toughness during their playoff push. Tucker’s shooting has impressed since arriving in Toronto.

In 24 regular season games, Tucker averaged 5.8 points per game at a 40.0 percent clip from downtown. Overall, Tucker was an impressive +77 while on the court in these 24 games. With the Raptors about to commence their second round playoff series against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, Tucker’s toughness and defensive mindedness will be crucial in trying to pull off an upset.

At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, Tucker’s physical makeup enables him to guard opposing players in a variety of places on the court. Despite his shorter stature, Tucker was able to pull down 10 or more rebounds on 10 occasions, including a season-high 17 against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Tucker’s best scoring performance last season came in a home loss to the Denver Nuggets. Playing 42 minutes, Tucker posted 21 points and eight rebounds, which included 3-of-5 shooting from downtown.

Tucker’s ability to play hard-nosed defense and hit the corner three are terrific attributes for any team. In his final 24 games of the season with Raptors, Tucker converted at a 46.7 percent clip on three-point attempts considered wide open (6+ feet from the closest defender).

At 32, Tucker’s defense and determination would be a terrific addition for a young Sixers team.

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Marreese Speights, Los Angeles Clippers

Speights just completed a very solid season with the Clippers, his first in Los Angeles. Playing in all 82 games, Speights averaged 8.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in 15.7 minutes per game. Across the board, Speights’ shooting numbers were impressive — 44.5 percent from the field, 37.2 percent from behind three and 87.6 percent from the free throw line.

The most notable increase in Speights’ game last season was his frequency from behind the three-point line. Over his first eight seasons in the league, Speights had attempted a total of 141 three-point attempts, converting at a 30.5 percent clip. This last season alone, Speights launched 277 attempts from downtown. Considering the significant increase in volume, Speights’ accuracy was highly impressive.

Speights made mention of this increased proficiency:

“I always had a soft touch and would always shoot threes by myself in practice, but I never had the confidence to shoot it in a game because I knew if I missed, I might come out. That changed at the All-Star break last year.”

Here Speights is referencing his last season with the Golden State Warriors, where he attempted just 23 three-pointers over his first 43 games. He then flipped the switch, attempting 39 over the remaining 29 games of the regular season. Speights also added:

“Doc (Rivers) has given me opportunity, and the players have welcomed and helped me on and off the court. It has helped me with a lot of confidence, and that is something I play off of.”

For his part, Clippers’ head coach Doc Rivers noted:

“You can see a lot of game plans for him to pop for the three, and then when he rolls, it really messes their defense up. … Everyone is used to guarding fours that can shoot. The league is still catching up to fives who can make threes. That’s the new thing.”

Speights standout game this season was his 23-point, 10 rebound effort in a home win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. His 27 minutes off the bench featured Speights going 3-of-7 from downtown while recording a +10 while on the floor.

Another factor behind Speights’ improved shooting has been his improved conditioning. Having lost around 30 pounds last summer, Speights played in all 82 games, the first time in his career. As Rivers stated early last season:

“He’s lost weight, and let’s be honest; there’s no way Marreese should be playing for the minimum, and I think his weight was probably one of the reasons.”

Considering the manner in which the Sixers want to approach things moving forward, Speights’ skill set and championship experience with the Warriors would be an invaluable addition.

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The Best Fit

The next step for the Sixers front office will be determining the likely value for these players on the open market, and then selecting which player best fits their needs.

The following are estimates as to what these four players may realize during the upcoming free-agency period:

  • Jodie Meeks: One year, $5 million
  • Joe Ingles: Three years, $30 million
  • P.J. Tucker: Two years, $15 million
  • Marreese Speights: Three years, $30 million

Signing Speights would be a reunion of sorts, having been drafted 16th overall by the Sixers in 2008. His ability to back up both the 4 and 5 spots would provide great flexibility for coach Brown to work with.

Meeks certainly carries with him a risk, which is why any offer would likely be on a short-term basis. However, his upside is likely the highest amongst this group of players, particularly when factoring in the style of play the Sixers are promising to implement.

Overall, Ingles appears to have the most to offer from this group. His ability to play both on and off the ball, provide terrific on-ball defense, and to also stretch the floor as a legitimate perimeter threat ticks many of the boxes that Colangelo and Brown will be searching for this summer.

Furthermore, his existing relationship with Brown would provide a seamless fit for both the team and Ingles.

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