The August trade of Thaddeus Young left the Sixers with yet another hole in their lineup.
Young, who was certainly going to start on the set-to-struggle Sixers, was not only the longest-tenured player on the team, but also by far the most experienced. In his absence, the team has the reigning Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams, who has played 70 total NBA games, set to start, and then a whole lot of question marks.
Nerlens Noel, who will make his much-anticipated NBA debut after a season on the shelf, is figured to join Carter-Williams in the starting lineup, either at the power forward or center spot.
Considering the way the Sixers are currently constructed however, starting Noel at power forward may be the best approach. Starting the lanky former-Wildcat at the four spot would allow the Sixers to start Henry Sims at center, and thus develop the two potential frontcourt pieces for the future through experience simultaneously.
In his 26-game stint with the Sixers last season, Sims started 25 games, and his play was promising. While that sample size is too small to make determinations about Sims’ potential as a player, his positive production may have just been a matter of opportunity. In the 20 games he played with the Cleveland Cavaliers prior to being shipped to the Sixers as part of the Spencer Hawes trade, Sims only played 8.4 minutes per game; not nearly enough time for a developing, undrafted player to feel comfortable on the court. Cleveland, under an owner-induced mandate to make the playoffs, was pushing to contend last season, and did not have the minutes to dedicate to a player like Sims. Player development is currently not a top priority in Cleveland as it has become in Philadelphia.
In the 8.4 minutes per game that he was granted in Cleveland, Sims numbers were pretty pedestrian. He averaged 2.2 points and 2.8 rebounds. He did little else to contribute to Cleveland. With the Sixers using last season to as de-facto talent tryout, there was increased opportunity for a player like Sims to come in, log some minutes, and make an impression on the organization, and that’s exactly what he did upon his arrival.
With the Sixers, Sims logged 27 minutes a game, and his production increased along with his playing time. He averaged 11.8 points, 7 rebounds, and he also demonstrated some ability as a passer, adding in an average of 1.8 assists also. Extrapolated out over the full season, that assist average would have put Sims in the top 10 for all centers, which is pretty impressive considering the lack of real perimeter threats he had to kick the ball out to.
Sure, some of Sims’ stats in Philadelphia were the result of Brett Brown’s push-the-tempo approach, which inflates attempts and averages, but Sims showed signs of being a solid, serviceable center, regardless of pace. The Georgetown product showed touch around the rim, demonstrating the ability to finish off of a drop-off or off of an offensive rebound, which he secured three of per game last season with the Sixers. He is active on the glass and even showed some signs of a shooting touch toward the end of the season.
Starting Sims at center would mean the Noel would begin his career at the power forward spot. Noel, who is a menacing paint presence and a great rim protector, needs experience at both spots on the professional level, as he will likely be asked to play both at different points; something his length and athleticism should allow for. Playing Noel alongside another center like Sims will work to get him accustomed to what is to come with playing alongside Joel Embiid. It will also force him to work on his perimeter play and close-outs on the defensive end, adding to his overall versatility. Rookie K.J. McDaniels, and second-year shooter Hollis Thompson could join Carter-Williams, Sims, and Noel in the starting set, providing the Sixers with an athletic, and extremely young first five.
Sims is likely not a long-term starting center option, but he may very well develop into a reliable rotation player at a position where depth is at a premium, making him potentially very valuable. Between Sims, Noel, and Embiid, the Sixers have a (potentially) very formidable frontcourt of the future; one that other teams may not be able to match up with.
Starting Sims at center this season, which for the Sixers will again be used to evaluate young talent, will give the 24-year old an opportunity to continue to develop and expand his game, and to build upon the promise that he started to show late last season. There is no better experience than competing against the rest of the league’s starting centers on a nightly basis, and with Embiid, the potential starting center of the future, sidelined for the season, the Sixers should give Sims the opportunity to prove that he could be a viable piece for the franchise’s future.