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The 76ers’ Point-Guard Predicament

Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the 2015-16 season, the Philadelphia 76ers have a problem. No, I’m not talking about the fact that their expected win total is hovering somewhere around 20. For better or worse, that’s all part of the plan which Sam Hinkie and the rest of the management team have put in place. Rather, the trouble is that no one outside the organization, and likely even within it, knows who the starting point guard is going to be.

Now, in a vacuum, this isn’t really a huge problem. As I mentioned, the Sixers aren’t quite yet at the stage where little things like wins are considered much of a priority. However, what’s considered a priority this season is player development, primarily that of their two young big men, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. What goes hand in hand with the development of young big men is competent point-guard play, as the Sixers saw firsthand last season.

Strangely enough, the avatar for competent point-guard play for the Sixers in 2014-15 was Ish Smith. Smith began receiving significant minutes with the Sixers in a 2/23 contest against the Heat. Before then, Noel averaged 8.4 points on 44.7 percent shooting. Following Smith’s arrival, Noel’s numbers dramatically improved to 13.3 points per game on 48.6 percent shooting.

While Smith certainly has his shortcomings, he utilized his exceptional quickness to dart into the lane, while then displaying good vision to feed his teammates around the rim. It becomes exponentially easier to excel on the offensive end when you have a guy drawing multiple defenders and spoon-feeding you buckets:

Noel himself said of Smith (seemingly with a bit of shade thrown toward former AAU teammate Michael Carter-Williams), “He is the first true point guard I have ever played with.”

Reminder: this is Ish Smith we’re talking about (he of the eight different teams in five seasons), not prime Steve Nash. The bar for competent point-guard play isn’t exactly insurmountable.

And yet, there’s still no guarantee the Sixers will clear that hurdle this season. Like an old-school Italian grandmother, the Sixers’ current point-guard strategy appears to be to throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks. Here’s a run-down of the six-headed hydra they’ll be entering training camp with.

Tony Wroten – The man dubbed “Wreckin’ Ball” Wroten by the Sixers announcing team has always profiled better as an “instant offense” type off the bench rather than a true point guard. He put up some gaudy assist totals at times last season, handing out 6.3 dimes per game as a starter, but his head-down, charge into a crowd style also led to plenty of turnovers as well (4.5 per game when starting). Wroten provides a lot of entertainment value for the viewer at home, but not a lot value in terms of putting teammates in the best position to succeed, and the fact that he’s coming off a torn ACL is a negative.

Isaiah Canaan – Generously listed at 6’0″, Lil’ Sip has the size of a point guard, but functions more as an off-the-ball spot-up shooter. Canaan sports just a 1.4 AST/TO ratio at the NBA level and has never consistently demonstrated the ability to beat defenders off the dribble and initiate offense. His three-point shooting can help provide spacing, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s making those around him better.

Pierre Jackson – Pappy Jack is a sensational pure scorer, having broken the D-League scoring record with a 58-point performance and scoring over 29 points per game during the 2013-14. Like many players with a score-first mentality though, Jackson isn’t always looking to find the open man, as his 1.55 AST/TO ratio that season would illustrate. Add in the fact that he’s combing off a brutal Achilles injury as well, and it’s tough to know what to expect from Pappy this season.

Kendall MarshallSigned recently by the Sixers to a multi-year deal, Marshall likely represents the best fit for the Sixers among this crop of players. Marshall combines excellent court vision and passing skills with enough outside shooting to help space the floor in an Okafor post-centric offense. The fly in the ointment, however, is that Marshall is expected to miss part of the season while still recovering from an ACL tear in January. Whether or not he’ll return to being the player he was with the Lakers in 2013-14, when he dished out 8.8 assists per game and shot 40 percent from 3, is anyone’s guess.

Scottie Wilbekin – The former Florida Gator is an intriguing option, as he certainly has the ability to space the floor, having shot 37.6 percent from three in college and hitting 15 of 33 treys this past Summer League. While he’s also an able defender, it’s still yet to be determined whether he can run an offense at the NBA level after the Sixers used him primarily off the ball in Summer League.

T.J. McConnell – The undrafted rookie is likely the first cut from among this dirty half-dozen, having only a “six-figure” guarantee in his offseason contract. McConnell certainly fits the pass-first mold that would mesh nicely with the Sixers’ big men, but he wouldn’t appear to have the size or athleticism to be a difference-maker in the NBA.

Hopefully for Sixers fans, one or two of these guys will emerge and help Okafor reach his ROY potential and Noel expand his game as a power foward. While it’s unlikely any of these point-guard options are a long-term fixture, they could still have a huge effect on the Sixers’ future for years to come.

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