Jan 28, 2014, 2:36 PM EDT
Evan Turner can talk about the Philadelphia 76ers trying to sneak into the playoffs all he wants, but even in the deplorable Eastern Conference, the Sixers are starting to slip well out of any kind of postseason contention. Their 14-31 record leaves them 4.5 games behind the Bobcats for the eighth seed in the playoffs, and they’re trending in the wrong direction, having lost ten of their last 12 games, including their last three, all at the Wells Fargo Center. The chances of this team playing meaningful basketball in May and June are not good.
Most seasons, that would be cause for consternation. In this tankiest of years, however, accepting that we’re out of the playoff discussion just means that we can really get down to the real business of the Sixers’ season–figuring out who we’re going to draft with our likely two first-round picks in next year’s loaded draft class. With the Sixers sinking below the entire Western Conference record-wise, they are now a comfortable third behind only Orlando and Milwaukee in the Tanking Rankings, and the Pelicans, whose top pick we get to nab if it falls outside the top five, seem to be settling into a slot in the 10-12 range, which is just about fine by us–high enough to still get an impact player, but not so high that Nawlins’ll have much of a chance of getting their card pulled on lottery night and getting to keep their pick. Chances are pretty good we’ll be picking twice in the top 12, and once in the top five.
So who do we want? Well, first, let’s figure out what we might need. Most folks in and around the team seem to agree that the only two building-block players currently on the roster are recent draftees Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, with Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes likely to walk in free agency (if they aren’t dealt before then), Thaddeus Young a coin-flip to make it past the trade deadline himself, and everyone else on the team imminently expendable. So that would mean the only positions we’re really set at are point guard (primary distributor and ball-handler) and center (defensive anchor and potential eventual post threat), with every other role remaining to be filled.
For ease of discussion’s sake, I’ve divided the prospects that I see as worth discussing for the Sixers up into four categories: Shooting guards, small forwards, power forwards and too-good-to-pass-ups. The first three categories are the positions the Sixers most obviously need filled in some long-term sense, and the last is everybody else–the guys who might not be the best or most obvious fits around Noel and MCW, but might be so talented that they’re worth looking at anyway, role be damned. There’s some obvious overlap between the four, but I’ll mostly try to pretend that their isn’t.
Anyway, these are most of the guys whose names you are gonna see bandied about in the upcoming months as the Sixers try to isolate the prospect(s, hopefully) who will officially begin the process of turning this team from cellar-dweller to finals contender. Get familiar with ‘em sooner than later.
THE SHOOTING GUARDS:
The super-athletic LaVine is listed as a PG on some boards, and at a slight 6’5″, he might be a little better sized for the point, but he plays more of an SG role off the bench for the Bruins, and when you watch him coming off a curl or down-screen for a catch-and-shoot jumper, it’s pretty hard to argue he’s not a two. LaVine is a little inconsistent with his play and no-shows a game every now and then, but when he’s on, his upside looks about as considerable as anyone’s in college right now, with a very sweet outside stroke (47% from three), good passing instincts, and an explosiveness that leaves you somewhat dumfounded:
The guys on NBA TV’s The Starters recently debated what pro would have the best chance of hitting the All-Star Weekend “Trifecta“–winning in the Dunk Contest, the Three-Point Shootout and the Skills Competition. In a year or two, with his moves, touch and athleticism LaVine might very easily be the pros’ Trifecta frontrunner. He could be Klay Thompson with ups in the pros, or he could be Jerryd Bayless.
Likely Draft Slot: Most boards have him listed in the 7-10 range, meaning he’d probably be a bit of a reach with our top pick, but might still be around for the Pelicans’ pick if we’re lucky. I’ll be crossing my fingers.
2. Rodney Hood, Duke. Hood has been overshadowed a little by his teammate Jabari Parker–who we’ll talk about soon enough, natch–but Coach K has called him the team’s best player this season, and he’s probably right. Hood’s averaging a 17/5/2 on 55% shooting in his first season with the Blue Devils, and can score from just about anywhere, with the athleticism and moves to get to the rim and an absolutely deadly touch from beyond (45% this season). He’s a good passer, a willing defender, and a smart player, and at a listed 6’8″ he’s got great size for the two.
The problem with Hood, if there is one, is his age. As a transfer from Mississippi State, the 21-year-old Hood already has a couple years on most of his class, and might not have quite the upside of some of the more untapped freshmen in the draft. Still, Hood seems like one of the safer bets to move into a decent team’s rotation (or even their starting lineup) and make a difference right away.
Likely Draft Slot: The early teens, which would likely make him a perfect choice for the Sixers with the Pelicans’ pick if they wanted to use the pick on a two-guard and LaVine was off the board.
3. Gary Harris, Michigan St. Harris is a Player of the Year candidate for the top-ten-ranked Spartans, averaging nearly 19 points, five boards and three assists in his sophomore season. Harris is a good shooter (though his percentages are just 44% FG and 35% 3PT this year in his high-volume role) and a very clever scorer, as well as an adept pressure defender, as he showed last weekend with his tough D on cross-state rival Nik Stauskas of Michigan. He hits big shots and seems like a natural leader.
The main knock on Harris is that his size for the position–a listed 6’4″, 210–isn’t fantastic, and he might have to really battle when matched up against the Kobes and Joe Johnsons of the NBA. He’s also a sophomore, not a freshman, and his shot has deserted him on occasion for stretches this season.
Likely Draft Slot: Actually, most mocks I’ve seen have Harris going before Hood, in the 8-11 range, a position that I don’t necessarily agree with, especially for the Sixers. I’d rather see them draft a two-guard who’s a little more athletic and more of a knockdown shooter than someone like Harris who’s probably better at getting off his own shot and creating for others.
4. Wayne Selden, Kansas. Selden was maybe the most-hyped of the freshmen two-guards, expected to put up big numbers at Kansas with his impressive athleticism and body control, and his steady outside shot. The results haven’t really been there for Selden so far this season, as he’s averaged under ten points, three boards and three dimes for the Jayhawks, shooting just 46% from the floor and 36% from deep–though he has had some better outings recently in conference play, especially getting his outside shot going.
I’m still a believer in Selden. This crowded Kansas team has taken a while to gel, and their point guard situation has been less-than-ideal, which has made it tough for Wayne to really get going. And even if his struggles are real, which they very well may be, I’ve seen enough from him in terms of scoring and shooting touch to believe he can contribute at the next level, and I also think he’s very underrated as a passer and play-maker. He’s not a sure thing, but he’s the kind of guy whose draft slot we look at five years from now and wonder how he ever slipped so far.
Likely Draft Slot: Selden’s all over the board these days, with some mocks still listing him as a mid-late-lottery pick, and others having him falling down to the 20s. He might be a bit of a reach for the Sixers with the Pelicans’ selection, but I’d bet you Sam Hinkie hasn’t ruled him out yet as a possibility, and will likely be watching him very closely in tournament play.
THE SMALL FORWARDS:
1. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas. The guy who was supposed to be the clear #1 overall pick next June has muddled things a bit with his play so far in his freshman season. For a guy billed as maybe the next LeBron–later downgraded to maybe the next Tracy McGrady–Wiggins just doesn’t really seem to know how to be consistently effective scoring the ball just yet, with an erratic outside stroke, an unrefined touch around the basket, and an only sporadically employed mid-range game. He’s putting up 16 points a game on 45% shooting, which is pretty good by college standards, but hardly the kind of Durant-style dominance many were expecting from Wiggins.
However, Wiggins is still on top the big boards of many, including Sam Hinkie, if you believe ESPN’s Chad Ford. Even if he’s not the half-court weapon he should be just yet–and to be fair, he has looked better in the last few weeks, putting up a career-high 27 on 8-13 shooting in KU’s recent blowout win at TCU–he’s still devastating in transition, he gets to the line a ton, he’s a good rebounder and a potentially elite defender, and his incredible combination of length and athleticism are as such that if he ever develops a consistent scoring touch, he could be just about unstoppable.
It’s not hard to see Wiggins thriving in an up-tempo, wide-open system like Brett Brown’s, and especially with a point guard in Michael Carter-Williams to play off of that’s miles ahead of the options he has at Kansas. His superstar potential is far from a guarantee, however–his game needs a whole lot of growing before he can be anything but an impressive complementary player for a good team in the pros.
Likely Draft Slot: He’s likely been eclipsed by one of his own teammates for the top overall pick, though he’s unlikely to slip out of the top three, and depending on team need, could very well still end up going #1. If the Sixers got that top pick, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ford’s projection of Hinkie snapping up Wiggins turned true.
2. Jabari Parker, Duke. For a few weeks, it seemed just about incomprehensible that anyone would take Wiggins over Jabari Parker. The dude exploded onto the scene in his freshman season as the most complete offensive player you could ever ask for in college ball–a forward with Carmelo Anthony-like size and physicality, but with Kevin Durant-like agility and shooting touch, who could also run, dunk, rebound and pass like an elite pro. But he hit the wall much quicker than expected, posting a number of consecutive sub-.500 shooting games where he seemed disturbingly passive on both sides of the ball. He’s bounced back a little, and his numbers–19 points and eight boards a game on 49% shooting (38% from deep)–are still impressive, but he no longer seems like the indomitable force of awesomeness he was at season’s start.
It’s tough to evaluate Jabari too closely anyway, since he’s playing so dramatically out of position at Duke. Without much of a frontcourt to speak of, Parker is too often cast in a low-post, help-defense role on defense that he’s not really suited for, and is in a lineup too dominated will ball-handling perimeter players for him to get much of a chance to show his ability or creativity on offense, either. Some people see Parker as a four, and in today’s NBA he could probably get away with it, but his obvious position to me is still the three–I’d rather have Jabari running my team’s pick-and-rolls than finishing on them, and isolating on the wing rather than posting up.
Likely Draft Slot: He and Wiggins will likely replace one another towards the top of GMs’ boards for the remainder of the season, but it’s hard to see either falling out of the top three–and ceertainly not the top five–at this point.
3. Doug McDermott, Creighton. Though he hasn’t gotten as much national attention as some of the freshman phenoms on this list, the best player in the country this season has almost unquestionably been Creighton’s Doug McDermott. He’s putting up 24 points and seven boars a night on near-50% shooting (43% deep), while leading the Blue Jays to a Big East-leading 17-3 record, including a blowout win over Villanova that was about as impressive a shooting display that you’re likely to ever see in college hoops. And it all stems from McDermott–not quite to the same degree that it did for Jimmer at BYU or Steph Curry at Davidson, but in a similar sort of vein.
Of course, one of those two players I just mentioned has gone on to translate his game to superstardrom to the pros, while the other is struggling to hold on to a backup role for one of the worst teams in the league. It’s impossible to predict exactly which direction McDermott’s career will go, but I’d guess he’ll be closer to Curry’s path–not only is McDermott a brilliant shooter, but he has legitimate moves in the post (including a Dirk-like stepback), a fantastic playmaking eye, and a willingness to be physical down low. He may not have the size or athleticism to quite reach stardom in the pros, but I can’t see him being less productive in the pros than, say, Marco Belinelli or Danilo Gallinari. (No, McDermott isn’t secretly Italian, those are just the guys he most reminds me of.)
Likely Draft Slot: McDermott has likely worked his way into the late lottery with his play this season. If the Sixers miss out on Wiggins or Parker with their first pick, I’d greatly enjoy them going for McDermott with the Pels’ pick.
4. James Young, Kentucky. Young isn’t likely to be a star in the pros, but he’s about as useful a complementary player as they come. I see him as being like a rich man’s Trevor Ariza–a good slasher and three-point shooter, incredibly athletic, and with about as high a defensive upside as you’d want from the small forward position. He hasn’t show much in the way of getting his own shot or creating for others, so I can’t see him reaching that Parker/Wiggins status, but there are probably 20 teams right now who would gladly plug James Young into their rotation because of how much pressure he’d take off all the other guys.
Likely Draft Slot: Mid-teens, maybe just outside the lottery. He’ll probably fall just outside of the Sixers’ second-pick range, unless Hinkie falls in love with his athleticism and defense–things you’d have to say the Sixers are certainly lacking at the moment. If they somehow find a third first-round pick at the trade deadline, I’d say Young will be a likely target.
THE POWER FORWARDS:
1. Julius Randle, Kentucky. The guy who was supposed to be Wiggins’ biggest rival for the #1 overall pick this June has seen his stock take a small hit in recent weeks. The super-sized power forward is producing pretty well for the Wildcats–17 points and ten rebounds on about 55% shooting–but reports over his unimpressive wingspan have hurt his pro potential in the eyes of many, and he hasn’t shown the kind of outside, face-up game this season that many expected of him, instead preferring to bully overmatched defenders down low.
I’m still in on Randle, though. I think the main reason he hasn’t shown much from outside this season is because he hasn’t had to–if you can produce like he can just plowing his way to the basket, why wouldn’t you? True, that’ll be harder to do in the pros, but I still think he has the combination of freakish size, unexpected athleticism, and post moves that are better than people have given him credit for (as well as a similarly underrated willingness and ability to pass the ball) to be incredibly productive at the next level. The defense will be a problem, especially if he’s not paired with a shot-blocker in the frontcourt to protect him, but offensively, I still think he’ll be a force to give opposing players and coaches nightmares for years and years to come.
Likely Draft Slot: He’s still hanging on to a likely top-five spot, but it’s getting precipitous. I can’t see Hinkie opting for Randle over some of the other better measurables likely to still be available when the Sixers use their first pick, but damn, you could talk me into the appeal of a Randle/Noel frontcourt for the next decade in a heartbeat.
2. Noah Vonleh, Indiana. The freshman Vonleh has become the pick of the day over Randle in certain scouting circles, because even though his stats can’t compare–12 points and ten rebounds on 54% shooting, on a team much less stacked than the KU first-rounder factory–he has the measurements (including a 7’3″ wingspan), has shown more of a shooting range (10-18 total from deep), and has the presence on the other side as a shot-blocker and help-defender that Randle has thusfar lacked. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say he has Serge Ibaka-like potential as a pro, a lengthy big man who can anchor a defense and be a third-option-type weapon on offense, as long as he has playmaking teammates to get him the ball in the right spots.
For all Vonleh’s good signs and potential, though, you watch the Indiana games, and he doesn’t really seem to have as much of an effect on them as he should. The defense is pretty steady, but he has a real tendency to drift on offense, and he’ll go large stretches–especially in the second half–without making much of an impact. That’s acceptable from a late-lottery pick, but if Vonleh is to be deserving of a top-five pick–which some are starting to suggest–he needs to show a little more aggressiveness on offense, I think.
Likely Draft Slot: Ford’s latest mock draft has Vonleh going to the Sixers with the #10 pick via New Orleans, which would be just great by me. But as for our top pick, I’m going to trust my eyes for the moment and say that if we go power forward, we should go Randle over Vonleh. Stay tuned on that one.
3. Aaron Gordon, Arizona. Playing on the best team in the country, we’ve only really gotten hints of what Gordon can do, but they’ve been impressive teases. He’s a power forward in the mold of Blake Griffin–an explosive leaper, board-crasher and ball-hustler, with unparalleled motor but occasionally over-enthusiastic shooting and handling–but the Wildcats are so loaded up front that he’s actually playing the three at Arizona. He can hit from outside on occasion, but his real damage will undoubtedly be done down low, and he certainly has the size to play the four in today’s NBA.
Gordon’s obviously got incredible athleticism and physicality, as well as good, solid defensive skills, and the idea of him running the break as a finisher for the up-tempo Sixers is a damned sexy one. However, whether he can eventually be a Griffin-like producer in the half-court remains to be seen–right now, his best offense seems to be hurling the ball up at the rim and letting himself or one of his teammates feast on the offensive rebound. If he can develop some real moves down low, and/or a complementary face-up game, he could be an All-Star for sure, but it might be a while–and indeed, it might take him a second year at Arizona before he declares himself ready for the pros.
Likely Draft Slot: Outside the top five, but probably not far enough to be available to the Sixers with their second pick. He’ll likely only go to Philly if we end up getting screwed by the lottery, though as far as consolation prizes go, I can certainly think of worse.
4. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville. Harrell’s in the same kind of raw mold as Vonleh, with a bit less polish on defense and a lot more explosiveness on offense. Harrell has been another drifter on offense for Louisville, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him over the last few weeks, as he’s expanded his shooting range and generally shown a lot more activity in the half-court. Trez’s efficiency numbers are staggering–he has a 26.3 PER at the moment–and he seems to only be getting better, notching double-doubles in his last two games, both Cardinals wins.
Likely Draft Slot: Harrell’s all over the place right now, some having him going late lottery, some seeing him barely sneak into the first round. If his production keeps improving, though, and the Cardinals keep winning, I could very easily him sneaking up to the range of the Sixers’ second pick. Worth keeping an eye on.
5. Jerami Grant, Syracuse. Another wiry, unpolished, super-athletic power forward–aside from Randle, they all sort of fit the same mold this year–and one about as enigmatic as you’ll find. There are some Syracuse games where you see Grant sinking his outside jumper, crashing the offensive boards and exploding towards the basket and wonder if he doesn’t have top-ten potential in this draft class. Then there are others where he’s hanging back too much, being sloppy with his drives, and losing focus on defense, and you wonder if he should even be sniffing the lottery.
Likely Draft Slot: Grant would definitely be the upside play here, but he’s likely a bit too much of a risk to be within the Sixers’ range at 10-12. As with James Young, though, look out if the Sixers nab a third first-round pick somehow. You’d love to see Grant throwing down MCW alley-oops next season.
1. Joel Embiid, Kansas. It took a couple months, but Embiid has officially passed his teammate Andrew Wiggins for the status of consensus #1 overall pick. The 7’2″ center from Cameroon entered the season with whispered Hakeem Olajuwon comparisons, which seemed ridiculous until we actually saw him play. Now we see that like Hakeem, the dude is basically your best-case scenario for the center position–he’s got some really nice moves in the post, a soft touch around the basket, an excellent passing eye, and fluidity and athleticism to spare. And on defense, he can shut entire teams down by his lonesome, averaging three blocks a game in just 22 minutes a night. He’s shooting 67% from the field–he’s even hit a three-pointer already–and just about any time you watch him, he does something you’ve never seen from him (and barely ever from anyone else) before.
Of course, as a shot-blocking center, Embiid would presumably be redundant on a Nerlens Noel-anchored Sixers. But would Embiid be enough of an upgrade at center to make it worth the temporary overlap? Noel seems primed to have a great career in the NBA, but few have suggested that his talent is going to be a generational one. That seems to be the ceiling for Embiid, however–who, by the way, only first started playing basketball about three years ago. If you could draft a guy who seems likely to one day be the unrivaled center in the league, could you afford to pass that up because of team fit? It’s a tough question, and one I don’t envy Sam Hinkie for potentially having to answer.
Likely Draft Slot: Of course, unless the Sixers get that first-overall pick, it’s unlikely to be a dilemma Hinkie will be presented with. Embiid is now the overwhelming favorite to go #1 in June, and unless the pick goes to a team where the center position is firmly under lock-and-key–say, the Sacramento Kings–he’ll be the first one off the board.
2. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State. Another point with size, though unlike Exum and MCW, Smart’s size is more about width than length. The 6’4″, 225 guard has a near tight-end’s build, and is undeniably strong with the basketball, plowing his way through first lines of defense and getting to the charity stripe almost with impunity, averaging over seven trips to the line a game. He doesn’t have great shooting touch (natch), but his outside shot has improved from his freshman to sophomore seasons, and he doesn’t have great speed in the open court, but he’s so tough and physical that it’s still pretty hard to stop him once he gets a head of steam. He’s a bully on defense, averaging nearly as many steals as turnovers, and a leader in the locker room, and he seems to force his will on the game just about at all times.
Could he co-exist with Michael Carter-Williams in the back court, though? The two could certainly make for an elite backcourt defensive tandem sometime down the line, and neither is so ball-dominant that there would be concerns about not being enough touches to go around. But floor spacing would certainly be a problem, as neither has proven to be any kind of outside shooter with consistency (though Smart can get crazy hot on occasion), and if you believe in alpha-dog issues being a real thing, Smart’s presence could certainly impinge upon whatever kind of leadership role MCW’s become accustomed to in his first year with the Sixers.
Likely Draft Slot: He might not go top five, but it seems unlikely he’ll still be there for the Sixers’ second pick. Chances are, we’ll need League Pass to appreciate Marcus Smart’s game in the pros.
3. Dante Exum, International.
I’m not gonna pretend like I know shit about Dante Exum, since aside from one U19 international championship game, I’ve barely seen him play at all. But you can’t have a mock draft this year without Exum landing somewhere in the top five–the scouts that have seen him say he could end up as one of the class’s best players, and certain GMs who have done their due diligence with the Australian 18-year-old have him rated near or at the very top of their big boards. Exum is billed as a point guard with size–6’6″ with a 6’9″ wingspan–a great first step, and fine passing instincts.
Sound familiar? Aside from his age–at 18, he’s about four years younger–Exum basically sounds like a carbon copy of our own Michael Carter-Williams, who has proven this year that he’s worth sticking with as our unquestioned point guard of the future, and then some. There’s some question about whether the two could share a backcourt, since neither would be overmatched guarding twos, and that would be quite a duo to build around on the perimeter going forward. Still, unless Brett Brown falls hopelessly in love with his mate in Aussiedom, you’d have to think the Sixers have needs greater than adding another dynamic ball-handler that can’t shoot that well.
Likely Draft Slot: Top five or six, and likely outside of the Sixers’ purview, unless he somehow slips to a spot where the talent is too overwhelming to pass up–like, say, with the Pelicans’ pick. Seems unlikely.
4. Dario Saric, International. As little as I know about Exum, I know even less about Saric, who’s been billed as a point guard in a power forward’s body–6’10″, 233, but an aggressive passer who idolizes Magic Johnson. Chad Ford says he’s a wizard, but I’ve only ever seen him play in limited minutes in FIBA World competition, and I didn’t see much. He’s playing in Croatia now, far away from prying eyes, so hopefully Hinkie is keeping tabs somehow. In the meantime, there’s this Draft Express scouting video from last summer:
Liklely Draft Slot: Probably late lottery, with a real shot at still being on the board for the Sixers’ second pick. In Hinkie We Trust.
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