The Philadelphia 76ers have been stuck in neutral for the last decade because they have refused to accept an NBA gold standard. Splashy free agent signings and blockbuster trades may garner big headlines, but the NBA draft is where contenders are born.
Philadelphia has had some luck unearthing gems in the 10-20 range of the draft, such as Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young, but finding a superstar that could push them out of mediocrity has proved to be a more difficult task in recent years.
Now more than ever is an appropriate time to revisit the Sixers best picks, as the team appears certain to be in the mix for 2014's top selection. Having traded All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for a still recovering Nerlens Noel and the Pelicans own 2014 first-rounder, the Sixers have sacrificed the present for dividends down the line.
Before Philadelphia attempts to make their next great pick in 2014, take a walk down memory lane and find out who made the cut as the five best picks in franchise history.
The leap from featured scorer to secondary player is one of the toughest transitions for a professional athlete to make. In a business where players get ahead because of their competitive drive, deference is frowned upon.
For Chet "The Jet" Walker, playing a secondary role came natural.
Taken with the No. 12 overall pick in the 1962 draft, Walker was part of the '67 Sixers team considered by many to be one of the best in league history. A frontcourt mate of the enigmatic Wilt Chamberlain, Walker was the steadying presence the Sixers needed.
Whether it was his scoring average (18.2 regular season and playoffs) or the fact that he made the playoffs in every one of his 13 NBA seasons, the Michigan native was the portrait of consistency.
That dependability was matched only by Walker's ferocity. A 1968 article from the Gettysburg Times reveals that the 6'6" forward showed no fear even when attacking one of the game's greats.
The Philadelphia 76ers were playing the Boston Celtics and Bill Russell decided to guard Chet Walker.
Walker took a look at the 6-foot-10 Russell and shouted to coach Alex Hannum on the bench, "I'll murder this guy." With that, Walker started one of his patented one-on-one drives and Russell fouled. Chet made the free throw and Russell then switched to another man.
Under-appreciated during and after his playing career, Walker was finally inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame by the veteran's committee on September 7, 2012.
Wilt Chamberlain was the star of the 1967 champion Sixers, but it was Hal Greer, drafted by the franchise in 1958, who led the team in scoring during their playoff run.
Greer's smooth shooting and ball-handling presented the perfect compliment to Chamberlain's post presence. "Hal's quickness enables him to free himself for the moment of daylight that he needs," said Sixers coach Alex Hannum. "He's so good on his jumper that it startles you when he misses."
Greer spent his entire career with the Sixers franchise, racking up a number of significant accolades along the way. He finished in the NBA's Top 10 all-time in scoring, minutes played, field goals attempted and made and was the outright leader in games played.
Coach Dolph Schayes claims he achieved as much as he did because, "He came to practice the same way, to every team function the same way. Every bus and plane and train, he was on time. Hal Greer punched the clock. Hal Greer brought the lunch pail."
Unlike the other members of this list, Billy Cunningham is ranked highly in large part because of his importance to the franchise after his playing days were through.
That's not to make light of the Kangaroo Kid's accomplishments while playing. Cunningham had a prolific college career at North Carolina that led to his selection at fourth overall in 1965. He would continue his excellence in the pros, averaging 21.2 points and 10.4 rebounds across 11 seasons in the NBA and ABA.
But after a catastrophic knee injury cut his playing days short, Cunningham became the team's head coach and led one of the most successful eras in team and league history.
Overseeing the Sixers from 1977-85, Cunningham, "whipsawed them, stomped his feet at them, goaded them, drove them and together they had a memorable eight-year run."
They climaxed in 1983 by capturing the title in dominating fashion, going 12-1 during the playoffs following a regular season where they won 65 games. As a player for the 1967 team and the coach in 1983, Cunningham holds the unique distinction of being a part of the two greatest teams in franchise history.
His coaching title makes him one of just nine people to win it all as both a coach and a player, and his .698 winning percentage is second highest in league history, trailing only Phil Jackson's .704. For his contributions to the Sixers on the hardwood and on the bench, Billy Cunningham is one of the best picks in the history of the franchise.
His name resonates with younger generations because of his outlandish commentary for TNT, but Charles Barkley is also one of the most uniquely talented players in NBA history.
Standing just 6'6" (though the Hall of Fame claims he was closer to 6'4") and struggling with weight issues at Auburn, it would have been easy for the Sixers to disregard Barkley as a power forward prospect.
Their gamble on his talent paid off considerably, especially considering that the player taken immediately after him, Mel Turpin, became known as "Dinner Bell" and "The Meal Man" for his propensity to overeat.
Barkley became the team's leading rebounder in just his second season, a feat made more impressive by the fact that it was done while he shared the court with Moses Malone, winner of the league's rebounding title for six of the previous seven years. When he achieved this feat himself in 1986-87 with a robust 14.6 per game, Barkley became the shortest player in league history to do so.
Barkley was an all-around threat that could punish teams in a variety of ways. Even all-time greats like Bill Walton can't help but praise Sir Charles.
Barkley is like Magic [Johnson] and Larry [Bird] in that they don't really play a position, Bill Walton said in a SLAM magazine issue ranking NBA greats. He plays everything; he plays basketball. There is nobody who does what Barkley does. He's a dominant rebounder, a dominant defensive player, a three-point shooter, a dribbler, a playmaker.
Barkley made six All-NBA teams and six consecutive All-Star teams in Philadelphia before he was regrettably traded to the Phoenix Suns for what amounted to a Pu-Pu platter. Barkley would continue his success in Phoenix, where he won an MVP and led the Suns to the Finals in 1993 before being defeated by Michael Jordan's Bulls.
The only player drafted by the Sixers to win an MVP while suiting up for the franchise, 11-time All-Star Allen Iverson is quite easily the best draft pick in the team's history.
Iverson took the league by storm, winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1996 among a strong group featuring Ray Allen, Antoine Walker, Steve Nash, and a baby-faced Kobe Bryant. 23.5 points was impressive for a rookie, but just a small taste of things to come.
Rising to the league's elite by 2001, Iverson put together a season for the ages, pushing the Sixers to a 56-26 record and the East's top seed while leading the NBA in scoring and steals with 31.1 points and 2.5 thefts. Rewarded with the MVP trophy for his efforts, Iverson proved it was no fluke by leading Philadelphia to the NBA Finals.
His team lost in five games to the Lakers during his only championship appearance, but Iverson earned a reputation as someone who rose to the occasion in the game's biggest moments. Not only did he deliver countless buzzer-beaters to prevail in close games, but his 29.2 points ranks second only to Michael Jordan in playoff scoring.
Iverson withstood a beating maneuvering through the paint year after year, causing him to wear down sooner than fans would have hoped, but the apex was well worth the brevity of his dominance. The tough-as-nails guard represents the identity of Philadelphia as well as any athlete to ever play here, and is a fitting choice for the best draft pick in 76ers history.