The 76ers were predicted to make a big step forward this season with the addition of Ben Simmons and the availability of Joel Embiid. The team has already added 16 wins to their resume since last year, so they certainly took that step. The impressive part about this, however, is that they did so without Simmons playing a single game and without Embiid for over half the season.
The emergence of Dario Saric as the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year has played a major part in their recent success. The role players have also elevated their production tremendously. The issue is that next year the Sixers hope to add Simmons, Embiid, and another top draft pick to the rotation, so there will be fewer minutes for many guys on the roster. Of the following five role players, which ones will produce for a future contending team and which ones will have their roles reduced?
Richaun Holmes: Contender
When the Sixers traded Nerlens Noel, many fans were worried about losing a defensive anchor who can also run the pick and roll. Little did they know, however, that the team already had Noel’s replacement at a fraction of the cost.
Holmes has been terrific since the Noel trade on both ends of the floor. In his last 13 games, he is averaging 12.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks while shooting 63% from the field and 40% from three. His offensive rating of 117 is also very impressive, showing how well the offense is run with him on the court. He arguably brings more to the team than Noel did with the range on his jump shot, too.
Jahlil Okafor is his only competition for minutes, but the team has continually shown interest in moving him. They were unable to do so before the trade deadline this year and instead chose to trade Noel, but it is expected that the team will again look to move him this offseason. Moving Okafor would be in the best interest of all parties involved, as it has become clear he does not fit very well on the Sixers and could play to his full potential elsewhere. Also, with how well Holmes is playing, the Sixers should do everything in their power to lock him up to back up Embiid for the foreseeable future.
T.J. McConnell: Contender
When the Sixers first picked up McConnell as an undrafted free agent, almost everyone following the team figured he would be a D-Leaguer at best. He not only exceeded those expectations, he completely blew them out of the water.
McConnell has proven this season that he is a legitimate NBA player, and would be a valuable backup on a contending team. As proof, the Cavaliers, who are currently in the hunt to defend their title, inquired about trading for McConnell near the trade deadline to give Lebron his highly coveted second playmaker.
Ever since coach Brett Brown named McConnell the starting point guard, the team has been on a role (by Sixers standards). They are 19-19 since McConnell was named the starter, and in that span he is averaging 8.7 points, 7.6 assists, and 1.6 steals while shooting 49% from the field. Those numbers may not necessarily be great, but his impact is made in more ways than the box score.
McConnel is very good at utilizing the pick and roll, and is a scrappy defender, similar to Matthew Dellavedova. He also can push the ball in transition, and seems to always make the right play on the fast break. McConnell has also come through in the clutch numerous times this season, including this shot against the Knicks:
Robert Covington: Contender
Robert Covington is another player that went undrafter and began his career in the D-League before the Sixers picked him up. He started his career as just a three point shooter, but over the past three seasons has developed into one of the best wing defenders in the NBA.
This season, Covington is having an elite year on the defensive end, averaging 1.9 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. Also, players that are guarded by Covington shoot 3% worse from the field. To add onto this already very impressive resume, he also leads the entire NBA in deflections. His shooting is inconsistent and he needs to continue to expand his offensive game, but there is no denying that any team would be lucky to have someone as good as Covington on the defensive end.
Nik Stauskas: Pretender
When Nik Stauskas came into the league, his jump shot was thought to be the most consistent part of his game. In reality, however, this has not been the case. He only shot 32% from three in his first two seasons in the league before he finally raised it to 37% this year. While that is a pretty good rate to be making threes at, it will most likely not be enough to keep him in the rotation long term.
Outside of his shooting, he really has not shown he can bring much else to a team. He is a sub par playmaker, only getting about three assists per 100 possessions. He also struggles mightily on the defensive end, which is where the Sixers have been most impressive. Players shoot 2% better when guarded by him, and he has a very unimpressive 111 defensive rating. Overall, Stauskas is the wing player who will most likely get the short end of the stick moving forward.
Sergio Rodriguez: Pretender
Coming into the season, the Sixers were very excited about adding the international veteran. Rodriguez was known as a crafty point guard who could create offense and spread the floor. This year, however, has not gone quite as well as the team hoped it would for Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is shooting an inefficient 39% from the field. He, like Stauskas, also struggles mightily on the defensive end. His defensive rating is also 111, and players shoot a whopping 7.1% better from the field when guarded by him.
The Sixers have made it clear they want Ben Simmons to run some point guard in his rookie season next year, and with McConnell already ahead of him on the depth chart, it is clear that Rodriguez will be the odd man out in the rotation. Add in whoever the Sixers draft in this year’s guard-heavy draft, there is almost no room for Rodriguez in the rotation at all.