Philadelphia 76ers: Trade for OG Anunoby, the anti-Ben Simmons

“The Philadelphia 76ers are a guard away from being contenders.”

How many times have you heard something like this? Over and over and over again?  I’m not gonna lie, I’ve said it too, from CJ McCollum to Darius Garland, the idea of securing an All-Star caliber guard to complement Joel Embiid has always been front and center in my mind when it comes to trade talks.

What if Tyrese Maxey is that player?

Yes, I know it’s early. Yes, I know the sample size is small, but through the first four games of the 2021-22 NBA season, the 20-year-old guard from Kentucky has markedly improved his game in a number of ways, both on the stat sheet and to the naked eye.

For one, Maxey is taking two and a half times more threes than during his rookie season. Granted, he’s not making them at a particularly efficient clip, but that will even out with more attempts.  He’s also doubled his points, field goal attempts, and minutes per game over the last regular season while only turning the ball over 1.3 times a night, all of which are incredibly impressive if he can keep them up over the course of a full regular season.

Stepping away from stats for a moment, Maxey just looks more confident. He’s driving to the bucket far more often than as a rookie, is embracing contact in the painted area, and has earned the trust of Doc Rivers to steady the offense when Point Furkan Korkmaz starts to struggle.

Mind you, Rivers still kept the ball out of Maxey’s hands at the end of the Nets game, even as he watched the team get outscored 16-1, but it’s pretty impressive to see a 20-year-old break the future Hall of Fame coach’s notorious bias against playing youngsters.

So, if the Philadelphia 76ers want to roll with a Tyrese Maxey-Seth Curry backcourt moving forward, and are set at the four/five with Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid, that really just leaves small forward as a position of need from which to secure a true difference-maker moving forward; one who can shoot, defend at a high level, and take those clutch shots at the end of game.

By my estimation, the best player even remotely available in a Ben Simmons trade who fits that description was born Ogugua Anunoby, and his already team-friendly contract will look even better when passed through an advantageous exchange rate.

OG Anunoby may just be the Philadelphia 76ers’ best trade target.

OG Anunoby wasn’t supposed to be this good.

He didn’t pick up basketball until he was eight years old, was only a three-star recruit coming out of college according to ESPN, and effectively played his way into a bench role for the Toronto Raptors after largely underperforming as a rookie starter.

And yet, with each passing season, Anunoby has improved his number basically across the board at both ends of the court and is rapidly looking like one of the ascending forwards in the Association today.

Measuring in at 6-foot-7, 232 pounds, Anunoby is a big, long combo forward with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and an incredibly team-friendly four-year, $72 million contract that runs through the 2024-25 season if he picks up his player option.

On the court, Anunoby was the only player in the NBA last season to average at least 1.5 steals and .7 blocks while draining 39.8 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, signifying the sort of 3-and-D ability that every NBA team is on the lookout for.

But wait, it gets better. In addition to being the seventh-best small forward defender according to FiveThirtyEight and the owner of the 13th-best defensive RPM according to ESPN, Anunoby has developed a seriously impressive midrange game, where you’ll routinely see him hit impressive shots all on his own.

Factor in a few game-winning shots to push his team in the NBA bubble, and there’s a case to be made that Anunoby may just be the second-coming of Kawhi Leonard playing for the team that made him a two-time NBA champion.

… or the Philadelphia 76ers could swoop in and secure Doc Rivers his next Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Paul George, or yes, Kawhi Leonard.

In some way, Anunoby and Ben Simmons have a lot in common. They’re both really good perimeter defenders, rank among the best stealers in the league, and have an ability to cover quite literally any position on the court 1-5.

The difference? Simmons is an elite passer with a dominant transition game and the best handle of any player in the NBA measuring 6-foot-10 or taller, whereas Anunoby is an ascending offensive weapon who may eventually average 20 points, four assists, and seven rebounds a game.

Some teams would surely prefer the former, but for the Sixers, the latter sounds pretty darn good.

Starting at the four between Seth Curry and Tobias Harris, OG could be a viable partner in crime for Tyrese Maxey in the transition game, a spot-up shooter for Embiid to target when he’s cooking in a crowded kitchen beneath the basket, and an end-of-game scorer with sticky fingers, a dynamic offensive game, and, most importantly of all, a free throw shooting percentage of 70 on 340 career attempts.

Granted, is that a bit of a projection? Most definitely, but when you consider Anunoby is only 23-years-old, it’s one worth betting on.

So what would a trade between the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors centered around OG Anunoby look like? Well, long-time NBA reporter Marc Stein weighed in on such a deal in his “Eight (almost) fearless predictions!” column on October 19th, where he suggested that the two sides could come together on a package centered around Simmons, Anunoby, and Goran Dragić, the 35-year-old point guard Toronto got back alongside Precious Achiuwa in their sign-and-trade of Kyle Lowry to the Miami Heat.

That deal is… alright. Obviously getting back Anunoby is the key to the deal, but I have pause about landing Dragic because I just don’t see his fit with the team long-term. He’s older, on the last year of his contract, and is clearly on the downswing of his career.  If I could make one minor amendment to Stein’s suggestion, it would be to swap out Gragic out for Fred VanVleet, the Raptors’ recently extended combo guard who fits much better on the Sixers’ current roster.

While I personally am not the biggest fan of VanVleet’s game, as he’s one of the least flashy guards in the NBA, he’s still knocked down 38.1 percent of his 5.8 3 point shots per game over his career while averaging 18.4 points, 1.8 steals, and 6.5 assists since becoming a full-time starter in 2018-19. VanVleet can play either guard position well, and serve as a viable floor general in the half-court, even he’ll surely defer to Maxey in the full-court game.

In VanVleet, the Sixers would be adding another two-way guard who wouldn’t have to be subbed out in end-of-game situations, and could play off of any of the team’s current guards.

Now granted, the Sixers wouldn’t just get VanVleet for free. They’d surely have to give up one of their own young players to get a deal done, but would it really be the worst thing to lose a player like Jaden Springer or BBall Paul Reed to secure two players who would be fixtures of the team’s playoff rotation for years to come? Reed specifically may be an intriguing get for the Raptors because of his height and G-League pedigree, both of which are highly valued by Masai Ujiri and company.

Considering the Sixers don’t have an open roster spot or a player on a non-guaranteed contract, any trade they make either has to have the same number of players going out as coming back or a corresponding deal from which to offload a player. Losing a player like Reed would be unfortunate, but unfortunately, it’s just the name of the game.

Do the Philadelphia 76ers view Tyrese Maxey as their point guard of the future? Or do they project him more as an energizing sixth man coming off the bench? That, my friends, could play heavy into how Daryl Morey evaluates potential trades and whether or not he’ll venture into the frontcourt for a difference-maker. But if forward is on the table, OG Anunoby is undoubtedly one of the better ones to target, even if it’s unclear whether or not the Toronto Raptors would ultimately cave in order to secure the sort of marquee difference-maker they’ve been on the lookout for since Kawhi Leonard left town.