The Philadelphia 76ers made a move this week that was focused more on today than tomorrow, sending popular forward Jerami Grant to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for veteran forward Ersan Ilyasova and a protected first-round pick.
“He was a locker room guy that the team will miss,” Sixers coach Brett Brown told reporters about Grant. “I think what you’re getting in Ersan is a veteran NBA player with a very clear skill set that complements our two interior 5-men.”
The pick Philadelphia will receive from Oklahoma City is a 2020 first-round pick if the Thunder are outside the top 20 picks. If it does not convey, it becomes a pair of second-round picks in 2022 and 2023.
Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said this was a move that was made with his big men in mind.
“This helps us both short term and long term,” Colangelo told reporters before the Sixers’ game against the Magic on Tuesday night. “It gives us a chance to improve our roster balance a little bit with a couple of different things we have been working on. Floor spacing was important, perimeter shooting has been something we want to improve.”
For his career, Ilyasova is averaging 1o.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, hitting on 36.9 percent from three-point range.
“We’re getting a guy that comes in and has a lot of experience at that NBA power forward position, stretch 4,” Colangelo explained. “I think it’s a good complement to our good, young bigs.”
It’s no secret the Sixers lack shooters. The trio of Robert Covington, Nik Stauskas and Hollis Thompson have struggled with consistency, and the hope from the Sixers’ brass is that Ilyasova can hit open jumpers with the amount of attention being placed on Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor down in the post.
“He can shoot,” coach Brown said with a pause. “He has a very identifiable NBA offensive skill in that he can stretch the floor and he has played that position, where he has had a big 5 and he’s been a stretch 4.
“Our focus is to get our big men the ball as much as we can and play off them.”
So, can Ilyasova come in and help make a difference for the Sixers right away?
Ilyasova scored 14 points in his Sixers debut on Wednesday night, knocking down 2-of-6 from long range in the process. He’s not shooting that well overall to start the season, but that shooting should soon return back to their norms. He’s a legit stretch 4 who moves well without the ball and should contribute right away by spreading the floor for Embiid and Okafor.
Coach Brown said it is palpable that Ilyasova could start over a similar player in rookie Dario Saric, and everything is on the table so that they can use his ability to stretch the court while Embiid is on the floor.
“We’ve just shoved Dario into a starting spot,” Brown admitted. “He’s 22, and we just drove him into the starting 4 spot without much experience. So Ersan gives us the luxury of giving us that type of decision.”
In trading Grant, the Sixers lost a young, athletic player who seemed out of position with the Sixers’ current situation. Grant, the 39th pick in the 2014 draft, was around during the famous “Process” and was one of the second-round picks the Sixers hit on, averaging 9.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in 52 starts for the Sixers last season.
Coach Brown commended Brant for his work ethic and growth over his two seasons with the Sixers. He also praised him for improving his foul shooting, jump shot, handle and ability to attack the rim, making him an attractive option for the Thunder and landing the Sixers something they have been lacking.
“He put in work,” Brown said about Grant’s improvement. “Through that sort of effort, him performing at a level that was appealing to other teams, Sam Presti in particular, we were able to parlay that into something we felt like we needed.”
Once the Sixers added guys like Ben Simmons and Saric this offseason, Brown admitted that it was going to be difficult for Grant to find a defined role on this team. Brown tried to move him into being a wing player, although once Simmons went down with a broken foot, Grant was back at his more natural spot at the 4.
But make no mistake about it, the Sixers’ development of Jerami Grant made him attractive to Oklahoma City.