Two years into an ambitious rebuild, it seems the Sixers are set at the big man spots. The team has even cobbled together some solid talent on the wings. The point guard spot, however, presents a much murkier picture. Philly currently has five lead ball handlers on the roster (Tony Wroten, Isaiah Canaan, T.J. McConnell, Pierre Jackson, and Scottie Wilbekin), none of whom are the clear choice for the starting job. A snapshot of each of the candidates is provided below.
Sixers fans will be familiar with Wroten as he has been with the team for the past two seasons – an impressive feat for a player from this tumultuous era of Philadelphia professional basketball. While he may very well wind up being the opening day starter at point guard, Wroten is ideally a combo guard off the bench. Part of the reason for placing 6-foot-6 guard in a more limited role is that he ranks as one of the least efficient players in the league. For instance, he has shot a lowly 23.3 percent from 3-point land in his time with the Sixers. Wroten also suffers from frequent bouts of turnovers, which are symptoms of his continual quest for fancy passes and other highlight plays. His best offensive skill is a valuable one – drawing fouls – but it is made less valuable due to his inability to cash in on opportunities at the charity stripe. A very energetic player, Wroten consistently brings tenacity on the defensive end of the court, although he is often overzealous in his pursuit of steals, leading to defensive breakdowns.
This 6-foot guard known as Lil’ Sip arrived in the K.J. McDaniels deal executed at last season’s trade deadline. He started a few games following the move to Philly, but Ish Smith eventually seized the starting job. Canaan’s size and lack of quickness mean that he struggles to handle his matchup well defensively. Larger guards can post him up easily, and speedier guards can too often blow by him. Where Canaan shines is on the offensive side of the ball, where he can play effectively both on and off the ball. His best skill is his outside shooting, a skill made even more valuable when considering how the Sixers will play next year – namely, the floor stretch needed to allow Jahlil Okafor to become a dominant force in the post. Canaan’s eventual NBA fate is probably in a limited bench role, although he has a decent shot of being an opening day starter for next season’s Sixers.
The 6-foot-2 floor general signed with the Sixers as an undrafted free agent shortly after the draft. McConnell, who played college ball at Duquesne and Arizona, is particularly good at seeing the floor and dictating the tempo. Such a skillset presents an intriguing option for the Sixers. Having a point guard like McConnell could be helpful for the rest of the young Sixers since he would set them up in advantageous positions and make the offense run more smoothly. It is worth wondering, however, if the Sixers should give a roster spot – let alone a spot in the starting lineup – to someone who does not have all that much NBA upside. McConnell is an inconsistent shooter, and his ability to run an offense is not enough to justify real playing time in the best basketball league in the world. That being said, he performed well for both of the Sixers’ summer league teams, and he still has a shot to win the starting job.
Although the Sixers did not have the rights to Jackson this past season, it was no huge surprise that the former Baylor Bear signed a contract with the Sixers this offseason. Pappy Jack seemed to feel an affinity for the team based on his public statements, and he gave the impression he would be joining the squad once he got healthy. In 2014, Jackson had ruptured his Achilles playing for the Sixers’ Orlando Summer League Team, and the front office subsequently gave him a guaranteed $400,000 for his rehab. This guaranteed money may have had something to do with the apparent exclusivity of the relationship between the Sixers and the 5-foot-10 guard. Prior to his injury, which kept him off the court for all of last season, Jackson was a very successful player in the NBA Development League, where he set the D-League record for most points in a game. Pappy Jack is a player who can put up points in a hurry, and he is also adept at creating shots for teammates out of his penetration. Defense is where Jackson struggles most – despite making smart plays from time to time, he cannot truly compensate for his lack of size.
The Sixers’ most recent signee, Wilbekin had a strong showing in Las Vegas for the Sixers’ summer league squad. His string of great performances was highlighted by a game against the Knicks in which he hit 6-for-8 from three-point land, made 6-6 from the free-throw line, and only turned the ball over once. Wilbekin previously played under Billy Donovan at the University of Florida, after which he went undrafted in the 2014 NBA Draft. Wilbekin then signed with Cairns Taipans in Australia, the team with which he just opted out of his deal in order to sign a partially guaranteed contract with Philly. As is also the case with Pierre Jackson, if Wilbekin pans out as a player, his contract would be a tremendous bargain for the Sixers. During his time Down Under, Wilbekin showed off a knack for both setting up teammates and putting the ball in the hole himself, as well as his tough, physical defense. His stellar play earned him the honors of team MVP and team DPOY at Cairns (in his first professional season). It remains to be seen how much of this success will translate to the NBA, though. One roadblock could be Wilbekin’s lack of NBA-level athleticism. He could also struggle to stick around if character issues pop up like they did during his time as a Gator.
Even though every one of the aforementioned ball handlers has at least some guaranteed money on the books for next season, that does not necessarily mean they will all stay on the roster. Additionally, another point guard could be added to the mix even if that means the Sixers have to eat a little bit more money. Ty Lawson has found a new home, but don’t rule out the arrival of a high-profile point guard (or other player). The Sixers’ front office has made it known they are after the best players in the world, and they will pull the trigger if they find a good value move. For now, let’s look forward to a few months from now when Wroten, Canaan, Jackson, McConnell, and Wilbekin will duke it out at training camp.