Daryl Morey knows shooting. He knew that is what the 76ers needed to get to another level. Without shooters, opponents could suffocate center Joel Embiid every time he touches the ball.
Opponents have continued to smother Embiid. But with the success of the shooters the 76ers have acquired since last season ended in a first-round sweep by the Boston Celtics, teams have paid for the double teams on Embiid.
That scenario will be tested again Sunday at 1 p.m. when the Sixers host the Washington Wizards in the first round of the NBA’s Eastern Conference playoffs.
When Morey officially took over as the Sixers’ president of basketball operations on Nov, 2, he made acquiring shooting a priority. In different trades, he added Seth Curry and Danny Green as the Sixers went 49-23 this season and earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“A lot of people don’t talk about it enough, just the shooting that was added,” Embiid said earlier this month after a Sixers victory. “Last year, we didn’t have that. There was not enough space.”
Last year, the Sixers shot 36.8% from three-point range. This year, they shot 37.4%. The NBA average this season was 36.7%.
Curry finished fifth in the NBA in three-point percentage (45%), and Green led the league with 90 corner threes, according to NBA.com stats.
Embiid, while still constantly double-teamed, did indeed have more space to operate and turned in an MVP-like season, averaging 28.5 points in 31.1 minutes per game. He also led the NBA with 10.0 post-up points per game, according to NBA.com stats. The shooting opened the floor and gave Embiid room to operate down low.
Morey’s mission was to find shooting and some veteran leadership, and he didn’t have much time to put his stamp on the team.
He resigned in mid-October as general manger of the Houston Rockets, a job he had held since 2007. Morey insisted then and still does now that he intended to take this season off, evaluate the landscape, and then make his next move.
The Sixers pursued him shortly after he resigned at Houston. Morey agreed to a deal two weeks later.
“It was the most intense period of my life,” Morey said in an interview. “I thought I would have the year off, if not longer.”
Even though time wasn’t on his side since this year’s condensed season began for the Sixers on Dec. 23, Morey knew he wanted shooting and went about getting it.
“Sometimes you overthink things,” Morey said. “We knew that with Joel and Ben [Simmons] that shooting is at a premium. We even knew historically when [the Sixers] played with guys like [JJ] Redick and [Marco] Belinelli that those lineups were very hard for the opponent to guard.”
So the first move was to acquire Curry from Dallas for Josh Richardson and a second-round pick on Nov. 19. Curry, brother of seven-time All-Star Steph Curry, brought plenty of shooting credentials even though he played for six other NBA teams. He has the second-highest career three-point shooting percentage in NBA history (44.4%).
On Dec. 8, Morey officially acquired Green from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with Terrance Ferguson and Vincent Poirier, who have since been dealt. Morey traded Al Horford, a 2025 protected first-rounder, the 34th pick of the 2020 draft, and the rights to Serbian point guard Vasilije Micic. The Sixers also received an $8.2 million trade exception..
Green not only brought shooting, but he also has been a starter on three NBA championship teams in San Antonio, Toronto, and last year with the Los Angeles Lakers. He immediately filled a leadership role.
“I was close to signing Danny several times [with Houston], and obviously, besides his shooting, he is a better defender than people understand. And, as you have seen, he is extremely smart,” Morey said. “He reminds me of other winning players I have been around like Shane Battier, who does whatever the team needs.”
Getting rid of Horford’s four-year, $97 million contract, which had three years left, was another bonus, but Morey said the real incentive was getting Green to Philadelphia.
Before acquiring Green, Morey signed Green’s Lakers teammate of a year ago, Dwight Howard, to a one-year guaranteed veteran’s minimum deal worth $2.56 million.
Howard had played for Morey in Houston for three years, ending in the 2015-16 season.
“We really only had the minimum, and we were looking for other players because I didn’t think we had a chance to sign him,” Morey said about Howard. “But he was just focused on playing for a title and thought playing with Joel gave him the best chance at that.”
Howard has been durable, appearing in 69 games with one absence because of a one-game suspension after receiving his 16th technical foul. Howard led the NBA in rebounds per 100 possessions (23).
“Dwight’s been great,” coach Doc Rivers said recently. “I didn’t know what to expect when we signed him, though last year I felt he fell into a role and played that role very well for the Lakers.”
Morey is known to swing for the fences, and The Inquirer reported that he attempted to acquire James Harden from the Rockets. Instead, Harden was sent to the Brooklyn Nets in a four-team trade on Jan. 13.
There were rumors the Sixers would make a big splash at the March 25 trade deadline, with local product Kyle Lowry mentioned prominently. Lowry stayed in Toronto, but Morey acquired guard George Hill, a veteran of 127 playoff games, from Oklahoma City in a three-team trade.
Hill, 35, is a plus defender and expected to have an important rotation role in the postseason. He also shot 39.1% from three-point range in his 16 games with the Sixers.
“Like Danny, I tried many years to acquire George Hill in Houston, either in free agency or trade, and it never quite came together,” Morey said. “I very much wanted to add another guy who is a veteran, who is smart, and can play defense on the perimeter.”
In addition, Morey selected Tyrese Maxey with the 21st overall pick in the first round, and the 20-year-old guard from Kentucky has shown flashes, especially late in the season.
While not totally reshaping the team, Morey, in his brief time, has improved the Sixers, making them a deeper unit than any of their playoff teams of the previous three seasons.