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More On Big Vuuch’s Big Night in Newark

Jun 24, 2011, 2:04 PM EDT

So by now we're all done popping champagne over the selection of USC power forward/center Nikola Vucevic at #16 in this year's draft and we can come back down to earth a little and talk about what we actually have here. It seems like a lot of fans are pretty down on the guy, and I can't really blame em. At Nikola's first media interview as a Sixer, I couldn't even think of anything good to ask him because the only questions I had for him were insulting ones. How do you think a slow, unathletic guy like you is gonna fit in on a team of run-and-gunners? Do you think you'll be able to beat out Spencer Hawes for the team's position of skilled-but-largely-ineffective white starting big man? Do the names "Samuel Dalembert" and "Shawn Bradley" mean anything to you?

So by now we’re all done popping champagne over the selection of USC power forward/center Nikola Vucevic at #16 in this year’s draft and we can come back down to earth a little and talk about what we actually have here. It seems like a lot of fans are pretty down on the guy, and I can’t really blame em. At Nikola’s first media interview as a Sixer, I couldn’t even think of anything good to ask him because the only questions I had for him were insulting ones. How do you think a slow, unathletic guy like you is gonna fit in on a team of run-and-gunners? Do you think you’ll be able to beat out Spencer Hawes for the team’s position of skilled-but-largely-ineffective white starting big man? Do the names “Samuel Dalembert” and “Shawn Bradley” mean anything to you?

The nation of NBA draft evaluators, biased and unbiased alike, is similarly blase on Vucevic. The guys at Liberty Ballers (who I met at the draft and were also less than gung ho on the Vuch) have a nice little compilation of Sixers draft grades from various sources, and every single one of them is in the C / C- range. The general consensus appears to be that the Sixers desperately needed height, so they reached for the tallest guy out there, without considering whether or not he was necessarily the most talented guy available. Nobody’s killing the pick as a franchise-crippler—it’s sort of hard to do that with the #16 pick anyway—but it doesn’t seem like Young Nikko is lighting the world on fire either.

Still, let’s do a little “Benefit of the Doubt” once-over on this pick. We do desperately need front-court help next season, and even if Vucevic can’t lock up the starting center position, he should be able to give the team good backup minutes that might otherwise go to another Tony Battie roster-filler type. He posted excellent numbers last year at USC (17-10 on 50% shooting, 35% from 3s and 75% FTs) and has drawn good marks for his basketball IQ. Coach Collins loves him and we saw last year how good he is at using skilled players to maximize their effectiveness. It’s entirely possible that Vucevic will play in the Sixers’ primary rotation next year, and might be a legitimate contributor for the team moving forward—all you can ask for for a #16 pick, really.

The reason the pick seems so underwhelming is the lack of critical thinking displayed therein. On the one hand, fans might’ve killed the team if they had picked another wing player for continuing to overstuff the glut we have at those positions while neglecting our team’s pressing need for size, but the Vucevic pick goes so far against the team’s primary identity as an up-and-down-the-floor bunch of athletes (though with Thad maybe out the door and Dre possibly to follow, perhaps that identity isn’t long for the world anyway) that it seems like management keyed on Nikko’s height with blinders to all other factors, many of which are arguably more important. But maybe this was just the sort of Nobody Knows Anything draft—evidenced by how two guys the Sixers originally appeared to be in the range for, Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton, ending up going at #4 and #26, respectively—where you reach for the one thing that you know for sure. And in Philly’s case, that was the team’s need for size.

To me, the most disappointing part of the night is that it ended with Andre Iguodala still on the roster. I know the possible change in ownership complicates things, I know that none of the deals proposed for ‘Dre really blew the Sixers’ collective skirt up (shudder), but he might never have as much value after the draft (and after the new CBA, or lack thereof), and it really seemed like the team made the decision that they weren’t going to send out AI9 for a return of lesser talent, when really any talent at all should have ultimately sufficed. If some other team ends up pilfering Monta Ellis away from Golden State for next to nothing, I feel like we might end up really regret not flipping ‘Dre for him and just seeing what would happen. (Or Monta could destroy that team’s chemistry and identity and make us realize what a bullet we dodged. But still.)

Ultimately, it wasn’t the greatest draft night. But it probably wasn’t ever going to be, and at least we have a guy who might be able to help the team out next year with only, uh, modest expectations. And as for Lavoy Allen—totally an unscientific, worthless analysis, but the couple times I saw him play at Temple, I thought he had the potential to be a Brendan Haywood-type player in the league. Everybody seems to think he’ll be a total washout with the Sixers, and they know more and better than I do, but just saying.