With the NBA’s free agency period beginning on July 1, the star-hungry Sixers are expected to chase LeBron James and Paul George. If James and George sign elsewhere though, the Sixers, who will start with around $26 million in cap space, will likely only be in the market for one-year deals, similar to last year, in order to preserve cap space for next summer (see story). With that said, they don’t project to be players in the restricted free agency market.
Whether the Sixers sign a star or not they’ll still have other needs on the roster, so what other unrestricted free agents could they target? After looking at potential upgrades from Amir Johnson at backup center on Wednesday, we continue our free agency preview by looking at potential power forward options off the bench.
Under contract: Dario Saric
Pending free agents: Ersan Ilyasova
With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror and the Sixers in the midst of a playoff push, the team was obviously in need of an upgrade behind Dario Saric as the Trevor Booker experiment at backup power forward wasn’t providing ideal spacing or much offensive upside at all.
Fortunately, Ersan Ilyasova had utilized his no-trade clause to turn down offers the Hawks presented him with and, a couple weeks after the deadline passed reached a buyout with Atlanta. Out went Booker, and in came Ilyasova for his second stint in Philadelphia.
The 31-year-old rounded out the rotation and provided a steady presence off the bench, averaging 10.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from deep. The Sixers went from sporting a lowly 103.8 offensive rating with Booker on the court to a 108 rating with Ilyasova as they went 20-3 for the rest of the regular season.
While he works hard and is a solid team defender (second-most charges drawn last season), his subpar quickness and athleticism hurt him when he gets switched onto guards and wings, and the Sixers like to switch a lot on defense. Still, Ilyasova seems like a strong candidate to return because it benefits the Sixers to have a shooter at that position on the court at times to maximize the spacing around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
Though there’s always a chance he gets a better offer elsewhere or the Sixers decide to go with a different option at backup power forward. Jonah Bolden, who sounds like is coming over, could get some opportunities there as well.
Potential free agent targets
Luc Mbah a Moute
This name look familiar? Mbah a Moute was acquired by the Sixers in the Kevin Love-Andrew Wiggins-Thaddeus Young trade from Minnesota in the 2014 offseason. One of the handful of veterans from the tanking years of ‘The Process,’ the Cameroon native started 61 games and averaged a career-high 9.9 points in 2014-15. Although he played for an 18-win team and would sign elsewhere after, that season sort of acted as a turning point for Mbah a Moute’s career. The 6-8 forward was given the green light to shoot it from beyond, attempting 202 threes. He only connected on 30.7 percent of them, but his previous career-high in attempts was 37.
Fast forward to today, Mbah a Moute has gone from a defensive tweener without an offensive game to a versatile, stretch-four who was an integral role player on the 65-win Rockets last season. Playing on a one-year, minimum contract, the 10-year veteran averaged 7.5 points in 25.6 minutes per game off the Rockets’ bench, while shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from deep. Where he would be an upgrade over Ilyasova on the switch-heavy Sixers would be on the defensive end, as he can guard both forward positions and even play some small-ball center.
Another former Sixer. Grant was drafted 39th overall by the Sixers in 2014 and traded to Oklahoma City two games into the 2016-17 season for Ersan Ilyasova. During his time in Philly, Grant shot just 27.8 percent on 302 three-point attempts. In his first season in OKC, he connected on 37.1 percent of his 114 attempts, but that dropped back down to 29.1 percent in 2017-18. He’s only a career 64.1 percent free throw shooter as well. Grant’s at his best on the offensive end when he has a head of steam and a path to the rim, whether that’s in a pick-and-roll or attacking off the dribble.
While the long-distance shot is questionable, the defensive versatility and prowess certainly aren’t. Standing 6-8 with a 7-3 wingspan and elite athleticism, Grant can defend on the perimeter and protect the rim. He would be intriguing as a small-ball option alongside a better shooter, like Dario Saric, but the Sixers would likely prefer to add someone who can stretch the floor.
If there was an award for best bounce-back performance, Scott would’ve been a candidate last season. After spending three straight seasons as a consistent bench player in Atlanta, Scott almost played as many minutes in the G League as he did in the NBA in 2016-17. He battled knee and ankle injuries, was traded to the Suns and subsequently waived, and had a felony drug case from an incident in 2015 hanging over his head.
But the charges were dropped in May of 2017 as a judge ruled Scott was a victim of a racial profiling scheme. Then, Scott lost 25 pounds, signed a minimum deal with the Wizards and went on to have the best season of his career. The 29-year old averaged 8.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 18.5 minutes per game, while shooting 40.5 percent from three on 163 attempts. Scott wasn’t only efficient from beyond the arc either, shooting 56.3 percent from the midrange and 52.7 percent overall. Although, Scott doesn’t provide much else besides scoring and isn’t a plus on defense.
Green is one of the more inconsistent, boom-or-bust players in the NBA. He’ll have stretches of games where it looks like he’s one of the better role players in the league followed by a stint where he’ll completely vanish. That’s been the book on him for a while now. In his 10th season, he averaged 10.8 points and 3.2 rebounds in 23.4 minutes per game for the Cavaliers, while shooting 47.7 percent from the floor and 31.2 from three. He’s not a great three-point shooter, but can score in other ways as he shot 54 percent from inside the arc. Defensively, he’s not an All-NBA caliber talent but can handle both forward positions.
Tolliver is the least versatile player of the group on both ends, but he’s definitely the best shooter. The 6-8 forward lives behind the three-point line and has shot at least 36 percent from deep for the past five seasons, knocking down an impressive 43.6 percent of his 365 attempts with Detroit in 2017-18. The 33-year-old averaged 8.9 points in 22.2 minutes per game for the Pistons last season. Similar to Ilyasova, he lacks the tools to be a versatile defender but he gives good effort.