By Dylan MacKinnon (Producer at 97.5 The Fanatic)
One of the questions coming into this season for the Sixers was about the late game closer. Do they have a candidate? Will someone step into the Jimmy Butler void and take the reins late in close games? So far, we do not have a clear answer. They have had a few games that were close late, but no one player has stepped in to show that late in games, they can be that go to guy. But there certainly are cases to be made for some guys. So lets look at each starter, and the case for them to be the closer.
Until he starts taking outside jumpers this is a no go. Should he be on the court. Definitely. But should he be the go to scorer. No. Last year, in clutch situations, which in this case are defined as either OT, or the last 5 minutes of games that are within 5 points, Simmons scored 51 points. That is the worst number of the 5 starters.
Not only that, but he shot .464 from the FT, which is not ideal to put it mildly. A closer needs to be able to hit their FT’s, and that is not something in his skill=set, not yet. To be fair, this year in a small sample size, he has been better. He hit two very clutch FTs to go ahead late in the Trailblazers game. But overall, we can not call him dependable in those situations, and many teams have even taken to fouling him intentionally in close games.
There is a ton to love about Ben. They are a better team when he is on the court, and watching their offense try and operate in the games where he was hurt shows that. But he is not a closer, and he won’t be one until he starts taking open jumpers, and starts hitting his FT’s.
Just looking at Richardson as a player, and his style of play, would make one think he has the skill set to be a closer. He is capable of creating his own shot, doesn’t turn it over that much, and is capable of shooting from anywhere. The problem is, he has not shown the ability to step up in “Clutch Situations,” at least not yet.
In his career, in these “clutch situations”, he is 11 for 35 on shots in the last minutes of the game. That is only 31.4%. That would be bad if it was his shooting percentage on 3’s in those situations, but it is for all field goal attempts.
The good news for him is that he has improved in every season. Last year he shot 36% from 3 in “Clutch situations.” But he still isn’t there. Could he grow into a clutch shooter? Sure. It took Jimmy Butler 5 seasons to get his FG% over 40 in these situations, and now he is known for being clutch. But for now, he can not be relied on. Not on a team that should have better options.
When asking who will close, Horford gets very few mentions. But the case for him is better than you would think. You may have noticed he has hit quite a few shots this season with the shot clock unplugged. Against the Trail Blazers he had baskets to close out both the 1st and 2nd quarters. One a hook shot, the other a 3. And then he would do that again in Phoenix, hitting 3’s to close out both the 1st and 2nd quarters. Now those are not “clutch” situations, but they do show that when time is expiring, he can hit a shot.
Those shots are not some aberration either. Since 2016, he has shot 23 for 48 from 3 in what we are calling clutch situations. That is good for 47.9%. And since 2016, when he got to the Celtics, he is 10 for 22 on shots in the last minute of close games. While no one would ever think of him as a go to scorer, anytime since he got to the Celtics his team has asked him to make a shot late, he has delivered at a high rate.
Should he be the go to guy when the shot clock is unplugged and they need a shot to either tie it or take the lead? Maybe not. But the numbers do not lie, and late in games he should not be written off. He has the clutch gene. His only problem is he’s not someone you will go to to handle the ball a lot, and he will usually need a good pass and a set play to get him open, as opposed to being the guy who makes his own shot. 85% of his shots in these situations are off an assist, meaning he still has to rely on someone setting him up.
It should also be noted that he may be more valuable setting a screen in those buzzer beater situations than shooting it. It was Horford who let Furkan get that open on his game winner. He is the best screen setter on the team, and it isn’t close.
The best thing Embiid has going for him when it comes to being a closer, is FT shooting. He is not only elite at drawing fouls, but he hits the shots he gets, hitting 81.3 from the line in those situations so far. In his career, he is 107 for 132 from the line in “clutch situations,” which is 81.1%. Getting the ball into the paint to him so he can draw a foul and get to the line should certainly be part of the game plan late in close games.
However, when it comes to him actually hitting shots if he isn’t fouled, he has been sort of lackluster. Last year he shot on 40.9% from the field in these situations, and was 5 from 20 from 3. The late Embiid 3 point shot page needs to be ripped out of Brett Brown’s playbook. He also turns it over too much. A turnover early in the game is bad, but can obviously be overcome. A turn over when the shot clock is unplugged and you are losing can end the game, and has this year.
And while he needs to be a huge part of the game plan in those last 5 minutes, in the waning seconds, he is less useful. Yes he can draw a foul, but relying on that happening when it may literally be your last chance, is a bit risky. They tried it against the Nuggets, and while he did draw a foul, the refs missed it and called it on him instead. And that type of stuff will happen, fair or not.
Embiid is not the guy who should be taking the last shot. At least not on a regular basis. He is not good enough of a shooter for that role. Unless you can draw up a play that gets him open near the basket. Having him on the court helps because he demands attention. But being a decoy for those last second shots may be his most useful role.
Given his skill set, Tobias Harris is the guy you would think is the on paper choice to be the closer. He does not need to rely on another player to create a shot, in fact of the 5 starters, he has the highest percentage of unassisted field goals, with 48.5% of his buckets being unassisted so far this season, the most of any Sixers starter. And while he has struggled from 3 this year, in general, he is the most capable starter of scoring from anywhere on the court. He is the best mid range shooter on their team, and when the season averages out, I imagine he will be the most dependable from 3 as well.
But in his career, he has gotten very few chances to be that guy. In fact he has taken only 50 shots over 8 seasons in the last minute of these “clutch situations”. He hit 20 of those shots by the way. Which makes sense. He has rarely ever been the go to guy in his career, and hasn’t stuck with any team long enough to earn that role. So there is not much to go off career wise to tell if he can be the closer.
And of course, he has struggled with his shot so far this year, shooting an appalling 21.7% from 3. But as bad as that is, it can’t last. He shoots around 36% in his career, and around 40% the last two years.
But one thing the Sixers have going for them is wiggle room. Like many good NBA teams, they know they will be in the playoffs, and know they will be a top 4 seed. They have the luxury to experiment a bit. So why not give Tobi a chance? What is the worst that can happen, they lose a couple games? He hasn’t blown us away this year, but he has flourished when given the chance to be the guy. Put the ball in his hands, and see if he has what it takes. If he fails, then at least you learn he lacks the clutch gene in a game that does not matter as much.
So Ben is no answer, Horford is too reliant on assisted shots to be the go to guy, Richardson has not been successful in the clutch, and Embiid cant hit the 3 late. That leaves Tobi as the Sixers best answer. Do we know for sure that he is capable? No. Has he struggled with his shot to start the year? Yes. Is he an option we can have absolute confidence in? Nope. But we also do not know if he isn’t capable, which makes him the best candidate of the starters.
But there is one other choice. A bench player, who has been their best 3 point shooter this year, and already hit one game winning 3. He is shooting 50% from 3 in the last 6 games. And his name… Furkan Korkmaz.
In all seriousness, if you need someone to shoot a 3 with only seconds left, him taking a shot out of the in bounds may be your best option, which is not an ideal situation for the Sixers to be in. So it is in everyone’s best interest that Tobias Harris break out of this shooting funk and establish himself as the closer.