There weren't many highlights to savor from the season just past for the 76ers, so last week afforded a rare chance to look back fondly on 2013-14 as point guard Michael Carter-Williams was selected the NBA's rookie of the year.
Amid all the losing, all the steps backward in order to go forward eventually, there was at least Carter-Williams to enjoy, one lonely piece of the framework around which the building would take place.
In a way, it was similar to the year before, when the Andrew Bynum trade blew up and everything came apart for coach Doug Collins and the last holdovers in the front office. Through it all, there was point guard Jrue Holiday making his first All-Star Game and finishing the season with 17.7 points and 8.0 assists per game. If nothing else pointed to a better future - and not much did - at least there was Holiday.
Well, well, well.
What we have learned of general manager Sam Hinkie in his year on the job is that he thinks just like the smart-money trader who owns the team. Hinkie wants to buy things that are undervalued and sell things that are overvalued. Sometimes this basic philosophy becomes obscured by the buzz surrounding the analytics that determine those valuations, but that is the guts of it. Buy low, sell high.
Sometimes you make pennies that way. Sometimes you make dollars. But if you do it right, you usually make something, and eventually there is a lot in the bank. That goes for money, and it goes for basketball players, too. If the roster gets a little better with every move, even if a given move takes a while to pay off, that is the direction to take.
Hinkie's draft-day trade of Holiday a year ago was surprising at the time, but in retrospect - even though it hasn't fully played out yet - it was a brilliant, two-pronged move. Simply brilliant.
Not only did removing Holiday allow the Sixers to be bad enough to lose a lot of games this season, but Hinkie fleeced New Orleans for two first-round picks in return, one of which was the textbook definition of an undervalued gem. He got Nerlens Noel, who might have been the top pick in the draft, for the value of a sixth pick. As an interlocking bonus, Noel could rehabilitate his knee for an unhurried season because putting talent on the court in 2013-14 wasn't part of the plan.
No one outside the organization knows what Hinkie has in mind for the upcoming draft process, but he has three very valuable cards in his hand. He has two high first-round picks, and he has a young point guard who is probably overvalued on the open market.
A lot depends on what the organization really thinks of Carter-Williams. The Sixers had a full season to analyze his game and his potential. If he is traded, it won't mean they don't think he can be a good NBA player, just as trading away Holiday was no knock on Holiday's future. It would merely mean Hinkie sees a way to get more than he gives up. Once again, that's the whole idea.
Just for the argument, though, let's consider Carter-Williams and why the Sixers should trade him.
To start, there is no less reliable indicator of future success than the rookie of the year award. In the last 30 years, only three ROYs have won championships with the teams that drafted them. David Robinson and Tim Duncan were two of them, both with the Spurs, and the other was Michael Jordan, who can't be used as a comparison point for anyone.
Beyond that, Carter-Williams was this year's top rookie for the sole reason that the league had to give it to someone. The 2013 draft class was not a good one. It might be historically bad. Carter-Williams, taken with the 11th pick, was only the third ROY winner in the last 50 seasons selected 10th or lower. (Jamaal Wilkes from the 1974 draft and Mark Jackson from 1987 were the others.) Basically, this season's rookie class was dreadful.
Carter-Williams did lead all rookies in scoring, rebounds, and assists, which sounds great, but those numbers were inflated by the Sixers' pace of play - the highest number of possessions per game of all NBA teams in the last four seasons - by his being on the court for 33 minutes per game, and by the team's mind-boggling lack of other options.
The two questions about Carter-Williams' offensive game as he became a professional were his ability to shoot and his ability to take care of the ball. There was also the unknown matter of his ability to defend one-on-one, because he came out of a Syracuse system that plays zone as if it were a religion.
Well, Carter-Williams shot very poorly and didn't take care of the ball. His defense is harder to quantify because he was on the court with such a collection of losers, but he wasn't any great shakes there, either, going under screens instead of fighting over them against good shooters and struggling to stay on the ball against his man.
Offensively, Carter-Williams shot 32.9 percent on attempts taken three feet or more from the basket. He made just 26.4 percent of his three-point attempts, which is truly hideous, and yet took more than 200 of them. He also averaged 16.9 turnovers for every 100 offensive plays and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of less than 2 to 1. Analyze that.
He does have a lot of good attributes. He is long and quick and, as coach Brett Brown suggests, can get to where he wants to be on the court. All true, but the problem is what he does upon getting there. What the Sixers must decide is whether the rough edges of a rookie can be smoothed with time or whether Carter-Williams is who he is.
We will probably get that answer on draft day during Sam Hinkie's annual celebration of selling high and buying low. The market dictates what he does, and the market for decorated young point guards who appear headed for stardom has been overvalued before.