Marquette fans were finally able to exhale over a week ago when news broke that Vander Blue had agreed to a partially-guaranteed contract with the Philadelphia 76ers. Blue’s signing turns around what started out as a tumultuous offseason for the former Marquette guard, which included forgoing his senior year for the NBA Draft only to find his name uncalled. But drafted-or-not is not as big of a deal as it’s usually sought to be – second round picks, which Blue was projected to be, aren’t even guaranteed spots on the final roster. Since the deal only guarantees him a training camp spot, his signing puts him in almost the exact same position as if his name had been called. After exceeding expectations in the NBA Summer League (see stats here; impressive dunk here), Blue seems to have a legitimate shot to make the team – especially considering the direction the Sixers seem to be headed in. After missing the playoffs in a season full of expectations, Philadelphia has flung themselves into rebuilding mode by trading all-star point guard Jrue Holiday for rookie Nerlens Noel, drafting Syracuse PG Michael Carter-Williams to fill his spot, and signing multiple unproven players to put their training camp roster at twenty. With Holiday gone and Noel not expected to return from his ACL tear before December, the Sixers have plenty of open playing time and are thus willing to give players like Blue a chance. So how does Blue stack up in terms of making the final roster? Let’s just say we like his chances – thus bringing us to our three reasons why Blue is destined to succeed in Philadelphia.
1. 76ers’ current situation
As previously stated, the Sixers are in a state of rebuilding. So not only is there going to be a weak roster ahead of Blue, but there’s going to be available, low-pressure playing time to prove his skills and develop as an NBA player. And since rebuilding centerpiece Noel will be out until at least December (and quite possibly the entire year), the Sixers will be months into the season before they even attempt to truly assess what they’ve put together. This foreseen “dead period” in the team’s rebuilding process has allowed them to take flyers on players they believe can develop into NBA players with the right situation – in this case, VB. With available minutes and no one seemingly ahead of one another, this is truly the opportunity of a lifetime for a player like Blue.
2. Who exactly is competing with Blue?
Before the draft, Blue expressed his desire to switch to point guard, believing his size for the position would spark interest from teams. However, after being played off the ball for both his NBA Summer League teams, it seems that the Sixers will deploy him at his natural position at shooting guard. Currently, there are four other SG’s on the 76ers roster – here is how Blue fares against each of them:
Evan Turner: No matter are the talks of Turner being an underachiever – in this current situation, there’s no chance Blue surpasses him on the opening lineup, or let alone even has a chance to compete with him for his job. However, Turner happens a combo guard-forward at 6’7″ – so if Blue proves himself worthy of minutes, there would be no problem having both on the floor at the same time.
Jason Richardson: Formerly known as one of the best dunkers in the league, the 10-year NBA veteran held down the starting spot at shooting guard last year, putting up a solid 10.5 PPG. But after suffering a knee injury that may keep him out for the entire year, don’t expect J-Rich to be on Blue’s mind anytime soon.
Khalif Wyatt: Wyatt is certainly an intriguing rookie, having earned Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and averaged 20.5 PPG while single-handedly carrying Temple throughout both the season and tourney. In a game for the ages against Indiana in March, Hoosiers coach Tom Crean (ever heard of him?) was so overblown by Wyatt’s ability that he deployed a single player to guard him full-court for the rest of the game, later calling him “the best player we’ve faced all year.” After athleticism questions led to him going undrafted, Wyatt proved his worth by averaging 13.8 PPG over five games in the NBA Summer League, gaining himself an eventual contract from Philadelphia. The skilled combo guard seems to give Blue the largest competition for a roster spot, especially considering their similar situations and playing abilities. However, we still give Blue the slight edge here for his better athleticism and defense.
James Anderson: Anderson has been a disappointing player so far in his career, failing to post a season with over 4.0 PPG after being the #20 overall pick in 2010. Being picked up off waivers earlier this year, Anderson isn’t a lock to make the final roster. Even if he does get more minutes than Blue initially, don’t expect VB to be having nightmares about Anderson if he shows he belongs.
With Turner and Richardson out of the equation (each for their respective reasons), the otherwise weak group of players gives Blue an enormous opportunity to prove himself worthy of a final roster spot. The remaining guards on the team include Michael Carter-Williams, Darius Morris and Tony Wroten, but being point guards, these players won’t be in much head-to-head competition with Blue. Nonetheless, the overall surplus of guards seems to be somewhat disconcerting, as the Sixers currently hold a total of ten guards on their training camp roster. The competition for the last guard spot seems to be between Wyatt and Blue – and with Wyatt’s own upside being limited by his lack of athleticism, things are looking up for Blue.
3. Tools for success
For a moment, let’s stop analyzing the situation around him and actually look into what a special talent this man is. Sure, we could all agree that staying in school another year would’ve immensely increased Blue’s stock and development. But when you look at his basic strengths and weaknesses, you can’t deny that he has the tools to put it together at the next level. Blue’s strengths could be listed as athleticism, defense, passing, midrange jumper, scoring instinct, and “slashing” playing style; weaknesses as perimeter jumper, shot selection, and turnovers. His strengths are certainly a great foundation in the building of an NBA player, but it’s going to take hard work and especially some time. Remember, Blue was still considered to be a developing player last season, making his decision to enter the draft all the more head-scratching. But whether he makes the team (succeeding in the oft-mentioned “Wes Matthews route”) or takes a year overseas before doing so (or, the lesser-mentioned “Dwight Buycks route”), there’s no doubt this kid is going to succeed wherever he goes. For now, we’re just happy that he’s found a team, so join us in applauding the young man on achieving his one and only dream. Congrats, VB.
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