Things haven't been going super smoothly for the Philadelphia 76ers recently. Since their Christmas Day victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, they've gone 8-11, and they have a road record of just 9-19 on the season. With 30 games remaining in their campaign, the Sixers sit at sixth in the East; a full 13 games behind the top-seeded Bucks -- not where most expected them to be prior to the season's start. In an effort to soothe some of their issues, the Sixers made some moves prior to the NBA's trade deadline on Thursday. First, they from the Golden State Warriors in exchange for a trio of second round picks. Then they shipped James Ennis III to Orlando in exchange for a second-rounder and waived Trey Burke.
While Burks and Robinson III may not be household names, they will provide a much-needed boost off of the bench as both are capable scorers and floor-spacers. On the season, Glenn Robinson III is averaging 12.9 points in 31 minutes per game and shooting 40 percent from three-point range, while Alec Burks is averaging 16.1 points in 29 minutes per game and shooting 37 percent from three-point range. Heading into the deadline, the Sixers were 28th league-wide in bench scoring with just 29.1 points per game produced by the reserves, 19th in the league in team 3-point percentage (35 percent), and 24th in 3-point makes per game (11). Burks and Robinson III should certainly help them improve in those categories.
The additions should also help to sure up the reserve corps for Brett Brown, as the team didn't have to give up any main members of their rotation to add Burks and Robinson III. Yes, they traded Ennis and cut Burke, but these moves could be considered "trimming the fat," as both had become bit players, buried on Brown's bench. The players that have gotten regular minutes off of the pine for Philadelphia -- rookie Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Raul Neto, and Mike Scott -- are all still there, as is Shake Milton, who has seen increased run in the injury absence of Josh Richardson. The team is deeper now, and Brown has more shooting to sprinkle around Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Al Horford.
My colleague Colin Ward-Henningerfor the trade with the Warriors, and he specifically noted how Burks and Robinson III should play well off of the Sixers' two All-Stars:
"Burks and Robinson aren't the most eye-popping names on the trade market, but they directly address one of Philadelphia's biggest needs: Shooting... With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons drawing so much attention on the inside, the 76ers needed to upgrade the shooters around them, and they've done that with this trade. Both Burks and Robinson are in the 56th percentile in catch-and-shoot situations, scoring 1.08 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports Technology, which means they should be a good fit as floor-spacers."
This is an accurate assessment as the Sixers definitely needed to bolster the bench and add more shooters. It is fair to wonder exactly how much the additions actually move the needle for Philadelphia in terms of their chances of winning a championship this season, though. According to a projection from SportsLine's Data Scientist Stephen Oh, the addition of Burks and Robinson III doesn't improve Philadelphia's title chances at all. In fact, their odds dropped slightly.
They added shooters, but the Sixers still need a secondary playmaker behind Simmons. Plus, to expect a pair of role players to come in and fix all the issues for a team that clearly has several isn't fair, or realistic. The Sixers have the league's 20th best offense as Embiid and Horford have struggled to coexist and Ben Simmons, for all that he does well on the floor, is still limited by his aversion to shooting. These aren't quick fixes. While Burks and Robinson III can be nice ancillary weapons, the Sixers are only going to go as far as their top guys -- namely All-Stars Embiid and Simmons -- can carry them, and so far this season neither looks prepared to be the top player on a title team. Similarly, Horford and Tobias Harris , the guys that were signed this summer to help share that burden with Embiid and Simmons, have both been inconsistent.
Brett Brown has said multiple times that the Sixers, as currently constructed, are built for the playoffs. After making major financial investments in Simmons, Harris, and Horford over the offseason, Philadelphia's front office wanted to allow the current group at least one playoff run together before shaking things up in a major way, again. Thus, they weren't shopping Harris or Horford leading up to the deadline, despite the group's underwhelming results (seriously, 9-19 on the road?!), and clunky offensive fit so far. The Sixers have undergone three major roster overhauls since the start of last season, so there's something to be said for continuity at this point in the season, though by keeping the starting unit intact they limited how impactful their deadline day moves could be. Sure, Burks and Robinson III will help, but ultimately if the Sixers are going to live up to their lofty potential it's going to have to start at the top of the rotation and trickle down, not the other way around.