Lonzo Ball? To the Philadelphia 76ers? It’s not as crazy as you might think

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Well, well, well, we’ve officially entered trade season, Philadelphia 76ers fans, and as your favorite team and mine prepare to add the finishing touches to their “championship or bust” roster, it’s time to start scouring the league, reading through rumors, and burn the midnight oil on the NBA trade machine.

And, in a true streak of luck for Daryl Morey and company, they may have a few more choice options than in years past to load up on a Rapidash to the postseason.

When you’re the best team in the Eastern Conference, it’s only natural.

But who could the Sixers target? While most have tabbed the team’s biggest needs as an additional offensive facilitator, a bigger wing player who can guard 2-4, and a stretch four/five who can knock down shots next to – or in place of – Joel Embiid, there are surely a ton of options to choose from and even more routes Morey could take to optimize his assets/draft picks/trade exceptions.

Could the Sixers go star hunting and pull of a monster deal for a player like Bradley Beal or Zach Levine? Or go the utility route and target a do-it-all piece like P.J. Tucker, who could wear a ton of hats and play a ton of minutes in the frontcourt? How about target a backcourt player like J.J. Redick, Wayne Ellington, or Lonzo Ball, who could log minutes alongside Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Tyrese Maxey, and Shake Milton on or before the March 25th deadline?

Wait, hold the phone. One of those names is not like the others and should not in any way be on the Sixers’ radar moving forward… or should he be?

A recontextualized Lonzo Ball could do the Philadelphia 76ers wonders.

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Allow me to lay out a hypothetical player to you, and you can tell me if you’d want him in the Philadelphia 76ers’ starting five. This player is 6-foot-6, can play multiple positions, and is averaging 12.9 points per game, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.4 made 3 pointers a game through the first segment of the 2020-21 NBA season.

Sounds pretty good, right? Certainly good enough to be the fifth starter on a championship team.

Do you know who that player is? That’s right; it’s Lonzo Ball Danny Green.

But it’s also Lonzo Ball too.

Through his first 14 games of the 2020-21 NBA season, Ball is averaging 12.9 points, 4.9 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.3 steals a game in 30.9 minutes of action a night. While his 3 point shooting percentage – 33.0 – leaves a bit to be desired, Ball is, in fact, making as many 3s a game as Green, albeit on 7.6 attempts versus 6.3.

If you threw Ball into the Sixers’ current starting lineup in Green’s exact role, Doc Rivers’ squad would be at worst be the exact same team and at best would be a slightly more dynamic squad capable of moving the ball around more and having additional options to take over the game in a lead ball role.

If you look at Ball as a bust who never lived up to the hype coming out of UCLA and has since become an afterthought in the Anthony Davis/Brandon Ingram trade, you may think of the idea of shelling out a very legitimate asset – probably a protected first-round pick and a bench player like Terrance Ferguson and/or Tony Bradley – as crazy. But if you can recontextualize Ball as a two-way wing player who can rebound well, play on-ball defense on opposing players 1-3, and knock down a few 3 point shots a game with a hot and cold outside shot, well, then the idea of securing Ball as a shot-term piece with long-term potential is an idea that’s certainly worth considering.

And hey, if rumors are to be believed, it’s very possible the Sixers may be one of the 10 teams who have reached out to the New Orleans Pelicans about the eldest Ball brother’s services.

Again, Ball as a backup point guard? Bad idea – certainly not worth the price. The Sixers can barely find minutes for Maxey as it behind Simmons and Milton; why waste a legit asset on a player who is at best a marginal upgrade over the team’s current options? But, in a more expansive role –  playing off-ball at the two guard spot for a few minutes, at the three in a three-guard lineup a la Matisse Thybulle’s small forward minutes coming off the bench, and at the point thereafter – he becomes a utility piece, a backcourt P.J. Tucker, who can wear a ton of hats and make his team better.

Now sure, some will scoff at the idea of trading for a player like Ball in the final year of his rookie deal only to explicitly move him off-ball. They’ll say many of the points I’ve already highlighted and fail to see the merits in such a move even when laid out for them. If that’s you, I don’t think there’s a word I could write to change your opinion. But if you’re open-minded to the idea of fielding a hybrid roster – a roster where, say, a team’s point guard will log minutes at the four spot, and their guards play each position interchangeably – there is merit to such an idea even if it’s nothing but that.

You see, in Ball’s 77 games with the New Orleans Pelicans – 5,660 minutes in total – he’s played 1,048 minutes next to Jrue Holiday and 252 minutes and counting next to Eric Bledsoe. While Ball didn’t exclusively play off-ball next to the Milwaukee Bucks’ future and former point guard, he did execute a pretty effective two-man game. He’s also played 824 minutes alongside Zion Williams, who technically isn’t a point guard but has averaged a 29.3 usage rate since entering the league and often pushed Ball onto the wings as an outlet pass when he mixes it up in the painted area.

In that regard, Ball has more experience playing in a Sixers-esque scheme than many of the other players the team could potentially target over the next two-ish months.

Next. Matisse Thybulle is making defense fun again. dark

If the Philadelphia 76ers want an additional ball-handler and shot creator, Lonzo Ball is about as good a second-tier option as there is on the market. If the Sixers just want a marginal upgrade over Danny Green who is a full decade younger and could be extended to whatever contract they see fit via his full Bird Rights, Ball is their guy too. Ball can’t really help with minutes at the four or five – unless Daryl Morey wants to try super, super, super small ball – but hey, there are only so many players in the NBA who can play all five positions, and one just so happens to be named Ben Simmons. Pair those two up, and you might have a lineup that looks a little odd on paper but could be wickedly effective on the court.