FOURTEEN SECONDS IN, the first of what would become a familiar scene. Dario Saric collects a cross-court strike from T.J. McConnell, collapses the defense with a power drive, bounces a perfect pass to the wide-open man in the corner, and then watches the ensuing shot clank off the back of the rim. For most of the first quarter, it would go like this, the Pacers daring the Sixers to shoot, and the Sixers begging them to continue doing so. By the time Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot mercifully drained a three-pointer from the right corner with a minute and a half left in the first quarter, the Sixers had missed their first 10 jump shots of the game.
"It's not hard for me to see what this team needs," Brett Brown had said a couple of hours earlier after a reporter asked him about the Sixers' prospects looking ahead to next season.
In the Sixers' final home game of the season, it wasn't hard for anybody to see, unless by "hard to see" you mean "difficult to watch." That, it most definitely was.
As Brown reiterated his vision for his team prior to Monday's home finale, you couldn't help but wonder if you were listening to a tactful piece of lobbying on the head coach's part. He painted the familiar - albeit heretofore unrealized - picture of a 14-foot two-man game featuring Ben Simmons at point and Joel Embiid at the five, and he emphasized that such a formula doesn't leave a lot of room on the court for guys who can't shoot. That's a commodity that the Sixers are rather heavy on at the moment, the effects of which were on display throughout Monday's game, with Indiana's perimeter defenders routinely sagging off of guys who play positions that generally require some sort of contestation. Luwawu-Cabarrot and Alex Poythress finally started to make them pay combining to hit five of seven from three-point range over the final 14 minutes of the first half, but Luwawu-Cabarrot and Poythress aren't exactly the stuff of marketing campaigns.
In theory, the players who will be knocking down those shots aren't wearing Sixers uniforms yet. They'll hope to add one in June, where their current odds say they'll be drafting somewhere in the four-to-seven range, but drafting for need is a dangerous proposition in any sport, not the least of which is the one whose draft produces the fewest starting-caliber players each year.
There are a lot of really good NBA players who don't profile as the kind of perimeter threat the Sixers need, and there are a lot of former NBA players who once upon a time profiled as such and are now pursuing other endeavors.
Thus, it should be noted that Brown made sure to mention the word "free agency" in one of of his many digressions before Monday's game, and, even if this wasn't his intent, we'll use this space to offer Bryan Colangelo a hearty seconding of that.
It's always easier to spend other people's money in April, when things like opportunity costs and five-year plans feel a lot less real. It's also a lot easier to offer a guy a contract than it is to convince him to accept it. Nevertheless, the words are worth repeating, however empty they may be. For this offense to evolve within the framework of Brown's vision, it needs someone capable of both expanding the defense and taking advantage of the open looks that are bound to occur when a couple of incongruously skilled seven-footers (or, at least, near-seven-footers) are on the court together.
Maybe that happens in the draft, but you're courting disaster as an organization if you're basing your plans on it. You don't pass on De'Aaron Fox for Malik Monk just because Monk has a better shot. You know who can't shoot? Guys who can't get on the court.
That's not to say that Monk isn't the better prospect, or that Fox is bound to fulfill the limitless potential offered by someone with such a beautiful mix of athleticism and IQ. If you grade Monk higher, you draft him. But if the best player on your board is a guy whose big question mark is a shot, you draft him.
Either way, the Sixers need to get as creative as possible and leverage their cap space to acquire a two-man who can actually be the kind of guard his official title implies. In their situation, there's nothing wrong with overpaying a veteran on a one-year deal if nothing longer-term makes sense. The overarching philosophy still needs to prioritize elite-level players and the long-term cap flexibility required to strike when one becomes available. If that's this offseason, great. But if not, a healthy Jerryd Bayless can't be the only hope for giving Simmons and Embiid the room they need to make the offense work.
"We need shooters," Brown said. "That's kind of the bottom line. We need to get Ben Simmons the ball, we need to have Joel be Joel, and get a bunch of shooters around them."
Ostensibly, he was talking about the need for Justin Anderson to improve his shot, but they'd be wise to consider other options.