Jun 26, 2013, 1:29 PM EST
In ESPN draft guru Chad Ford’s latest (but probably not last) Mock Draft, he has the Sixers taking big men with all three of their picks: Indiana PF Cody Zeller at #11, Kansas C Jeff Withey at #35, and Illinois St PF Jackie Carmichael at #42. “The 76ers need size and athleticism in their frontcourt and Zeller provides both,” Ford writes of Zeller. “The Sixers want size,” he writes of Withey. And “The Sixers would help build out their front line with this draft,” he says of Philly taking Carmichael.
Sensing a theme? Of course, Ford’s not wrong–the Sixers DO need size and front-line assistance. The Sixers are currently going into next season with a big man rotation of Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen, Kwame Brown, Arnett Moultrie and Thaddus Young. Of those five, only Thad is a bonafide starter, with a couple of the others unproven even as backups. Nothing we’ve heard from either side should lead us to believe that Andrew Bynum re-signing with the team is a probability, and at the moment it’s hard to see the team pursuing any other big-name big men in free agency. The draft might be the Sixers’ best chance of landing true big-man help in the off-season.
But here’s the thing: The Sixers don’t just need size. They need EVERYTHING. They need a sweet-shooting (and preferably shot-creating) two-guard. They need a small forward threes-and-D type. They need a backup point guard, and/or a combo third guard to run the offense when Jrue rests. They need floor-runners. They need shot-blockers. They need scorers who command double-teams down low. They need toughness and they need intelligence. More than anything else, they just need straight-up talent–players who do (or eventually will do) what they do better than the great majority of the rest of the league, thus giving the Sixers an advantage at their specific role/position.
Point is: Yes, the Sixers need size, but it’s far from the only thing they need, and if they approach this off-season thinking that they plug that hole and they’re good to go, the team is in big trouble. A contending team like the Thunder, drafting one below the Sixers, has enough talent already assembled on their roster that they can afford to draft for need, but for a team in transition like the Sixers, we shouldn’t be thinking that we’re locked in enough at any one position to consider drafting at the same position an unhelpful redundancy. As Michael Levin said in our recent off-season-recapping chat, “Drafting for Best Player Available is the only strategy. Nothing else matters.”
For instance, take a player like Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams, currently projected by Ford to go one above the Sixers to the Blazers, but with no guarantee of being taken in the top ten. You might look at the “PG” next to his name and instantly disregard him, thinking that having a young all-star point in Jrue makes the position a non-concern for Philly. But he’s got size and athleticism–maybe he could play alongside Jrue. Maybe he could be the third guard in our rotation, and run the offense with the second unit. Maybe he could play himself into a valuable trade chip in backup minutes and be part of a big later trade for the Sixers. Maybe he could play so well at the point that he could even make Jrue expendable.
Or maybe he could play poorly as a backup, never quite develop a jumper or a set role/position in the NBA, and go down as a total bust for Philly. This isn’t a particularly strong draft, and anyone we take at #11 has a strong possibility of not panning out, regardless of position. But the idea is that the Sixers should be looking to take players like MCW–players with athleticism, smarts and talent, with room to grow in specific areas–and figuring out how to best use them later, rather than looking at specific areas of need and plugging in the best fits like a fantasy team owner setting his roster for the week. The Sixers just aren’t good enough to do that right now.
And that’s not to say specifically that the Sixers shouldn’t take Zeller with their top pick, or any big man at all. Like MCW, Zeller is a player who fits the “athleticism, smarts and talent” qualification, and even though I’m not personally huge on him (due to the couple times I saw him get absolutely pushed around in college), if he’s still there at #11 and Sam Hinkie and company believe that his upside makes him the most valuable player left on the board, I fully support them drafting the dude. Steven Adams from Pittsburgh is another raw big-man prospect that could fit those qualifications, or possibly even Lucas Nogueira from Brazil. I would not be shocked, or particularly upset, if the Sixers took any of them.
But if they get to #11, and they think that Georgia SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the best player remaining, they should take him. If they think it’s UCLA small forward Shabazz Muhammad, they should take him. And if they don’t think any of the players on the board at that point are worth their time and money at that slot, they should trade down for further and/or future assets and find a player later that proves a better value. In a way, the Sixers needing everything does provide them a degree of luxury, in that there’s really nothing that they specifically need from draft night that it’ll be a failure if they come away without it.
Really, the Sixers have just one goal tomorrow night: Leave the draft in a better position for the future than they entered it. There’s any number of ways they can do that, and drafting one or more big men is just one of the many ways–and not necessarily even the best way–that they can do it.
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