They improved their toughness. They improved their defense. They improved their three-point shooting. They maintained and perhaps even improved upon the assets they have to navigate the NBA trade market.
They did all of this with one late-first-round draft pick and a contract that they barely had on their books.
In short, the Sixers had a very good Thursday night.
The acquisition of three-and-D grinder De’Anthony Melton from Memphis for the No. 23 pick and Danny Green was such a no-brainer that you didn’t see it coming. If you had designed an algorithm to identify the perfect player for the Sixers at their current juncture, it would have placed this 24-year-old fifth-year guard near the top of the list.
-He is a tenacious defender and excellent rebounder who will give Doc Rivers the option of pairing James Harden or Tyrese Maxey with some perimeter toughness whenever the other is on the bench.
-His offensive skill set is precisely the one the Sixers need to complement Harden’s passing ability. Over the last two seasons, Melton has shot 49% from the corners and 39% from three-point range overall while playing primarily off the ball.
-He is still in the early stages of his athletic prime and under contract for the next two years at a more than reasonable salary figure ($9.1 million in 2022-23 and $9.7 million in 2023-24).
Really, Melton is everything that Sixers fans have spent the last few seasons talking themselves into believing that Matisse Thybulle would be. Which brings us to the biggest unknown about the deal: What’s next?
Heading into the night, Thybulle’s future with the team was one of biggest questions confronting the Sixers. That was mostly a product of the limited nature of the options at their disposal for upgrading a roster that was at least two and probably three or four players shy of looking sensible around Harden, Maxey, and Joel Embiid. Apart from the No. 23 pick that the Sixers sent to Memphis, Thybulle was the one player on the roster who held the kind of value that might facilitate a trade for one of the aforementioned pieces. Given the team’s needs, and the fact that Thybulle’s lack of a jump shot precluded the team from counting on him to fill one, there did not appear to be many avenues where the Sixers could accomplish their goals and hang on to their second-team All-Defensive wing.
That overall calculus has not changed. At the very least, though, the acquisition of Melton creates a new variable that expands the Sixers’ possibilities. By effectively using their first-round pick on Melton, the Sixers come out of the draft still holding two assets that could appeal to teams on the trade market. Thybulle is one. Melton is the other. It’s worth noting that Morey was the general manager who initially drafted Melton into the NBA — only to trade him two months later before the start of training camp. The NBA offseason has just begun, and Morey’s work is a long way from done.
At the moment, though, there’s no indication that the Sixers acquired Melton with an eye toward a future move. In fact, you can argue that his presence makes Thybulle even more likely to be dealt. Let’s assume that the Sixers didn’t acquire Melton with the thought that he can start on the wing. That’s a pretty safe assumption given his usage in Memphis and the fact that the Sixers are already undersized in the backcourt with Harden and Maxey. Also, keep in mind that the Sixers still need a scorer off the bench. There’s a realistic world in which Rivers decides to split up Maxey and Harden, pairing each with Melton. Whatever the case, the rotation still has a glaring need for a player who can replace Green, one who can guard bigger wings and knock down shots. That’s pretty close to non-negotiable.
Two options the Sixers have considered to fill that role are two former teammates of Harden’s: P.J. Tucker of the Heat and Eric Gordon of the Rockets. The addition of Melton’s $9 million could make it difficult for the Sixers to offer Tucker the kind of contract he will likely command on the free agent market without finding a trade partner for Tobias Harris. Gordon is still a possibility, with Thybulle as the centerpiece of a package that includes the requisite salary. Such a move would leave the Sixers with Harden, Maxey, Gordon, Harris, and Embiid in the starting lineup and Melton coming off the bench. The Sixers would still have the mid-level exception and some veteran minimum salaries they could add to Isaiah Joe, Paul Reed, and Charles Bassey in order to fill out the roster.
Again, the offseason is still young. One thing we were reminded of on Thursday night was how little we know about how Morey will end up playing his hand. At the very least, though, the Sixers moved themselves closer to a world in which they have a legitimate rotation. They are better now than they were.