The Nik Stauskas Trade, Luck, and “Optionality”

Updated: Friday, July 3, 2015 08:43 AM

Wednesday’s trade — which saw the Sixers acquire Nik Stauskas, a 2018 1st round pick, and the right to swap first round picks with the Kings in each of the next two upcoming drafts — has the chance to be nothing.

Stauskas, who struggled for much of his rookie season and finished the year with averages of 4.4 points per game while shooting only 36.5% from the field, could continue to struggle against NBA defenders.

The Kings, led by a legitimate franchise player and a future hall of fame coach, could turn their fortunes around, thus marginalizing the value of a draft pick still 3 years off in the distance and completely eliminating any benefit from a pick swap.

These are all possibilities.

I was listening to local sports talk radio not too long ago and heard a host talk about how Sam Hinkie, and analytics, don’t like to deal with luck.

(The same host then went on to say how the Sixers plan is faulty because they didn’t have a sure thing. There was a little bit of cognitive dissonance in the argument).

The truth is, the Sixers plan isn’t one that denies the importance of luck. Every team needs some luck to be great. Whether that would be the Warriors needing David Kahn to select two point guards ahead of Stephen Curry in the 2009 draft, or the Cavs getting lucky on that 1.7% chance at the top pick, which allowed them to get Kevin Love and convince LeBron James to return home. Luck is vital.

What the Sixers plan aims to do is  give them the most chances possible to get lucky, thus minimizing the reliance on luck in any one instance, and putting themselves in the position to capitalize once they do get lucky.

The Kings trade is a perfect example of that. The Kings haven’t won more than 29 games since 2007-08. Sure, there are some reasons to be optimistic in Sacramento, most notably the presence of one of the 15 best players in the NBA and a hall of fame-bound coach, but the organization is teetering on the brick of self destruction.

Just in the past week there have been rumors that the Kings were trading their franchise player and that they may be moving on from the future hall of fame coach they just hired 5 months ago. And these were just rumors that have come up in the past week.

Now, with the Kings seemingly striking out on their free agent targets — Wesley Matthews reportedly turned down a $64 million deal from the Kings to take a significantly smaller one for a contender — frustrations could be running high. Frustrations from Karl, whose last losing season before joining the Kings came in 1987-88, and who wants a significant say in player personnel decisions and is working for a control freak of an owner, and frustrations from Cousins, who has never played on a team even approaching a playoff berth.

Either one of these two situations, or even just the continued meddling of Vivek Ranadive on basketball decisions he’s not qualified to make, could lead to a situation in Sacramento that could be incredibly disastrous for the Kings long term.

Sure, Stauskas is a nice piece, and one that many fans in Philadelphia were desperate for. Desperate not only for an outside shooter on a team that, to this point, has mostly acquired front court players, but also desperate for somebody who can play now. With most of Sam Hinkie’s plan thus far having been acquiring future “assets”, having a tangible player come back in return was a breath of fresh air for many.

But the real upside in this deal comes from the Kings ability to self destruct. Those two pick swaps, and the details reported by Zach Lowe that the pick the Sixers received is top-10 protected in 2018 and 2019, then fully unprotected in 2020, presents a fairly significant upside for a trade that has no real downside for the Sixers.

Allow yourself to daydream for a minute and there are some very exciting possibilities. Maybe the Sixer aren’t yet ready to contend for a playoff spot this year, a very real possibility. I myself put the win total at around 27 games. But imagine the possibility that in 2016-17 some of the young pieces this team has accumulated start to assert themselves and become relevant in the NBA, and the Sixers, in the putrid Eastern Conference, sneak into the playoffs.

Now imagine the situation in Sacramento becoming untenable within the next 12 months, and the Kings either moving on from their franchise player or their established coach becoming unhappy, or both. Imagine the Sixers, now a young, up and coming team, getting a top-3 pick just months after the excitement of the return to the playoffs.

Or imagine the Kings, in the cellar as a result of this implosion and having not conveyed the top-10 protected pick to the Sixers in either 2018 or 2019, giving the now-contending Sixers a top-5 pick in 2020. The Sixers, with their core, young and unknown in 2015 but in their prime by 2020, getting another chance at an elite talent that could extend their window by adding a pipeline of talent that most teams in their position wouldn’t be able to.

Sure, maybe none of this happens, although I think betting on the dysfunction of the Kings in the insanely competitive Western Conference is a good bet to make. And sure, maybe the Lakers pick turns out to be nothing, although that pick is looking good once again, as we’ve seen this past week that simply having cap space and palm trees isn’t enough to make Los Angeles a destination for impact free agents.

And maybe Joel Embiid’s injuries prevent him from being great. Maybe Nerlens Noel never develops enough offensively to be a true superstar. Maybe Jahlil Okafor’s offensive game doesn’t translate at a high enough level to be a true focal point.

Maybe Nik Stauskas, the 8th pick in last year’s draft, never adapts to the NBA game. And maybe Dario Saric, the 12th pick in that same draft, never comes over to the NBA. Maybe the ping pong balls the Sixers have in the 2016 lottery, the result of all of this bad luck, don’t bounce the Sixers way and leave the Sixers without a top pick once again.

But that’s a lot of maybe’s. And the Sixers plan isn’t contingent on all of these “maybe’s” working out, which is the true beauty of it. The Sixers have given themselves a lot of “optionality”. It’s why the Sixers, rather than sit on their hands and pass over an opportunity because it’s another unknown, embraced the addition of another uncertainty.

Relying on any one situation to turn out in your favor is relying on luck. Going into the draft, with only one draft pick, sitting at 8th, is relying on luck.

Getting many different chances, on the other hand, isn’t doubling down on luck, especially since most of these are high-reward situations. The Sixers aren’t relying on all of them to turn out in their favor. They are, instead, minimizing the reliance luck by not depending on any one individual outcome to go their way.

It’s why Sam Hinkie focuses on the quality of the decision rather than the results. Lady luck could strike down one or two sound decisions, but If the Sixers keep making good decisions and give them enough chances for luck to eventually fall on their side, the team will come out on the other side of this rebuild in good shape.

And, if a couple of these “maybe’s” work out in the Sixers favor, if lady luck smiles down on the city of brotherly love, this could be something truly special.


Derek Bodner

Derek Bodner is a credentialed reporter covering the Philadelphia 76ers independently for He is also a college basketball scout for, and an NBA contributor for The Ringer. Contact Information: / @DerekBodnerNBA

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  • Excellent rational thoughtful piece. Sadly instant gratification (thanks internet) runs the sports world, and sports radio, so sadly most people will just find ways to complain about the fact that since the sixers aren’t in the playoffs yet, or signing free agents, or with a super star that the plan is a failure.

    Can always count on you (and sadly only you) for a rational thoughtful view that lacks any sort of slant (in either direction)

  • tk76

    I think the Sixers have missed out on some luck over the last few years under Hinkie. But at least they have stayed the course so that the only thing they really lost out on was time. Things would have gone much quicker had Embiid never hurt his foot. In that case they likely would be entering next year with a bunch more long term pieces on the active roster. But despite have to make a bunch of deferred gratification type moves, they are still in a great position to “get lucky” in the coming years.

    The only real miss about this slow process is that to some degree they missed out on the chance to hit on a major FA in the final year before the cap explosion makes the cap space less valuable. But at least being the only team with space and no FA aspirations this year has payed off big with his insane Kings Robbery.

    • Few things

      1. Things go quicker is Embiid never hurt his foot? I believe he was the presumptive #1 pick before his foot injury wasn’t he? No foot injury, the sixers probably end up with Jabari, which would have made some people happy I’m sure, but still.

      2. Any plan dependent on luck just has to do its best to ‘minimize’ the need for luck, and if you alter the plan just because luck didn’t go your way, then you were never really a strong believer in your plan in the first place.

      3. I don’t think even with a healthy Embiid (let’s say he was 100% now but still injured last year) the sixers would appeal to any big name free agents, cause those guys don’t wanna rebuild. What free agent that has switched teams would you want to come to the sixers? I mean the two biggest names changing teams (possibly) are front court guys.

      Patience is a virtue, but in sports fandom it’s anathema to most. The media wants Hinkie to give them a fixed date, which isn’t rational, and Hinkie doesn’t have one because you can’t count on luck. You can only put yourself in position to capitalize when ‘luck’ presents itself – which is what happened with the Kings trade. The sixers got ‘lucky’ that the Kings franchise is a dumpster fire and due to their planning could take advantage.

      Honestly, I read reviews of this trade on various web sites that when they grade they don’t give the sixers a perfect grade on the trade (Pelton at ESPN gave them a B+) which baffles me. They gave up nothing, they still are below the salary floor, and they got a guy who possibly can fill a void (on the team) plus assuming the dumpster fire continues to build they will continue to benefit through 2020/2021.

  • Darren Collison, go get him now Hinkie.