For weeks, Philadelphia 76ers team president Daryl Morey hinted that he wouldn’t be making a huge splash at the 2021 NBA trade deadline.
While the Sixers were one of the top rumored landing spots for Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, they instead pivoted toward another veteran ball-handler who was far cheaper to acquire.
On Thursday, the Sixers agreed to send Tony Bradley, Terrance Ferguson and 2025 and 2026 second-round picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder for George Hill. As part of the same deal, they sent Vincent Poirier and their 2021 second-round pick to the New York Knicks for second-year forward Ignas Brazdeikis.
The Thunder’s asking price for Hill is likely what swung the Sixers toward him instead of Lowry.
The Raptors reportedly wanted 2021 and 2023 first-round picks, rookie guard Tyrese Maxey and second-year swingman Matisse Thybulle in exchange for Lowry, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst (via NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Adam Hermann). The Sixers also would have had to include Danny Green in a Lowry trade for salary-matching purposes.
Michael Grange of Sportsnet reported the Sixers were making a “late push” for Lowry and were on the “one-year line,” but the deal ultimately fell through. According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, “the draft compensation was the final unresolved hurdle.”
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Lowry is unquestionably a better player than Hill, but Morey also had to weigh the respective costs of each one, particularly with the former heading into unrestricted free agency this summer.
“We took an option that we thought really upgraded our team this year on both ends and at the same time kept all our optionality alive in the future,” Morey said Thursday. “If George Hill becomes an integral part of this team—we think he will—we have the option to keep him and not have him go to free agency. We also kept all our important assets to upgrade the team going forward.”
Had the Sixers acquired Lowry, they would have run the risk of him leaving as a free agent this offseason. Giving up that many assets for a short-term rental could have been a death blow to their title hopes beyond this year.
Hill, meanwhile, is under contract for $10.0 million in 2021-22, only $1.3 million of which is guaranteed. If he proves to be an awkward fit, the Sixers could trade him away either this offseason or ahead of next year’s trade deadline and attempt to recoup some of what they gave up.
The on-court fit matters, too. Hill might not be a six-time All-Star like Lowry, but he can nevertheless play a critical role for the Sixers.
The 34-year-old shot a league-best 46.0 percent from three-point range with the Milwaukee Bucks last season, and he’s a career 38.4 percent shooter from deep. While playing alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee, he buried 50.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot three-point attempts and 43.5 percent of his pull-up three-pointers.
Although the Sixers added a pair of long-range threats in Green and Seth Curry in the offseason, they can always use more shooting next to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. They’re shooting 37.0 percent from deep on the season, but they’re currently 24th in made triples and 28th in three-point attempts.
Adding a knockdown shooter in Hill gives Embiid and Simmons yet another outlet on the perimeter.
“To get the shooting in a two-way player like sort of Danny, I sort of see him as an acquisition like we did with Danny Green,” Morey said about Hill. “A guy who’s been through a lot of playoff wars, guys who can hit shots at a high level such that when Joel is double-teamed or people have to collapse on Ben in the paint, those passes out will be shot at a very high percentage.”
Beyond Hill’s shooting, Morey also highlighted his ball security. Hill has been within the league’s 80th percentile or above in turnover percentage for nearly every season of his career, according to Cleaning the Glass, and he has never averaged more than 1.7 giveaways per game in any season.
The Sixers currently rank 27th in turnovers per game, in part because they lack traditional pass-first point guards. A majority of their offense flows through Simmons (3.6 turnovers per game), Embiid (3.2) and Tobias Harris (1.9), and Shake Milton (1.7) is their primary shot-creator off the bench.
Hill’s versatility as both an on- and off-ball threat could thus make him the perfect fit for the Sixers.
He figures to come off the bench and alleviate some playmaking responsibility from Milton, which should help get Milton going offensively. After shooting 43.0 percent from deep last season, he’s down to 30.6 percent this year, in part because he has to shoulder so much of the shot creation for the reserve unit.
However, Hill should also be able to work along Simmons, Green, Embiid and Harris, particularly late in games. Morey noted that head coach Doc Rivers can now put “five strong, playoff-tested guys who can play both ends on the floor at one time.”
Seth Curry is shooting a team-best 43.6 percent from three-point range, but he isn’t a defensive stopper by any means. Reserve swingman Furkan Korkmaz is likewise a threat to go off from deep on any given night, but he can be a similar liability defensively.
If Curry is getting roasted defensively on a given night, the Sixers could slide Hill into his place alongside the other starters for the final few minutes. He also gives them another defensive option to throw at opposing backcourts, which could be particularly critical in a playoff series against James Harden, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets.
“I think Brooklyn’s gonna go into these playoffs as the favorite, but I think we’re right there,” Morey said. “I don’t think there’s really a clear favorite in the league. I think there’s probably 5-6 teams that have an extremely good chance to win it and we’re one of them.”
Oddsmakers appear to agree with Morey’s assessment, as the Sixers are currently a +1200 to win this year’s title, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Those are the sixth-best odds in the league, trailing only the Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Bucks and Utah Jazz.
Had the Sixers given up Green and Thybulle in a deal for Lowry, they wouldn’t have been able to cobble together a lineup with five two-way threats. Removing two major defensive pieces from the rotation could have been detrimental in the playoffs, even though Lowry is no slouch on that end of the floor.
It appears as though the Lowry-Hill debate ultimately came down to asking price vs. expected contributions.
“I look a lot at championship probability,” Morey said. “And so it really comes down to, ‘This move will increase our odds to win the title this year a certain amount, but we’ll give up stuff that’ll lower our odds in the future.’ And we try to balance that so we’re maximizing that.”
“… So if there’s a move that ups our odds a little bit more this year but really hurts our odds in the future, then that doesn’t make sense. Like, we’re actually hurting our chance to win the title overall. If it’s a move that ups our odds a decent amount but doesn’t affect our future odds, then that’s a move that looks pretty interesting. And so I think this move very materially increased our championship odds and also kept our ones in the future preserved at a very high level.”
The Raptors wound up not trading Lowry at all, so he won’t come back to haunt the Sixers from Miami or Los Angeles. They can now only hope that Green, Thybulle and Hill outweigh what Lowry would have given them in the playoffs.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac.