Ranking Best 2014 NBA Draft Options for Philadelphia 76ers Rebuild

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2014

Ranking Best 2014 NBA Draft Options for Philadelphia 76ers Rebuild

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    There's a reason Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris recently deemed the team's 63-loss season "a huge success," according to The News Journal's Jason Wolf

    Saddled with two lottery picks (their own and the New Orleans Pelicans' via a 2013 draft-day trade), Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, the Sixers' future is looking far brighter now than when the roster was dismantled last June.

    With the most important draft the franchise has faced since they selected Allen Iverson No. 1 overall in 1996 looming, the Sixers will have the ability to add not one, but two game-changing pieces capable of altering the team's future for the better. And that's a reason to celebrate. 

    What follows is a big board consisting of 10 prospects who would best fit the Sixers' rebuild. The reason we capped the list at 10 players is as follows: The Sixers are currently projected to obtain two picks in the top 10, with their own pick most likely to come at No. 2 overall and the Pelicans' pick most likely to land at No. 10 overall, according to current lottery estimations

    The players you see ranked from No. 10 to No. 6 are players who would make the most sense for the Sixers with the second lottery pick, and prospects No. 5 through No. 1 are players who are worthy of consideration with the team's first selection. 

No. 10: Doug McDermott, F, Creighton

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    Creighton's Doug McDermott may be the player who polarizes the Philadelphia 76ers' fanbase the most as the NBA draft approaches. 

    A three-time consensus All-American who captured Wooden Award honors as the nation's player of the year, McDermott finished his collegiate career with a staggering 3,150 points, which ranks No. 5 overall on the NCAA's all-time scoring list. 

    So why would such a polished scorer be ripe for criticism among the Sixers' hopeful? For the answer, we have to examine the team's playing style.

    In year one under head coach Brett Brown, Philadelphia focused on getting out and running as much as possible. Without capable scorers in the half court to prop up the offense, the easiest way to score was in transition. 

    By season's end, the Sixers ranked No. 1 overall in pace, generating 99.2 possessions per 48 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference, which doesn't seem to jibe with McDermott's shooting expertise in the half court. 

    However, we can't expect that pace to reign supreme for the duration of Brown's tenure. In order to stem the negative on-court effects of a painful rebuild, it proved to be effective, but as the Sixers add more competent half-court scorers, the tempo figures to slow down just a bit. 

    With unlimited range and all of the tools to be an instant offense generator off the bench, McDermott is worth the gamble despite his defensive deficiencies. 

No. 9: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State

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    The Philadelphia 76ers have long needed stability on the wing, and Michigan State's Gary Harris could wind up being a major piece of the solution if he's their choice with the New Orleans Pelicans' lottery pick. 

    Harris isn't the flashiest player and doesn't boast a particularly sexy skill set, but the stability he can provide on both ends of the floor with his sky-high basketball IQ makes him a perfect fit alongside Michael Carter-Williams in the Sixers' backcourt. 

    In addition to being a steady jump-shooter (50.7 percent on two-point shots and 35.2 percent on three-point shots during his sophomore season), Harris' defensive capabilities boost his professional stock, according to DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony

    Harris is also an excellent defender, capable of guarding both backcourt positions. He has outstanding fundamentals on this end of the floor, always getting in a low stance and putting very good effort in, and showing excellent awareness both on and off the ball. A physical player who uses his strong frame well, Harris has very good anticipation skills, which allows him to get in the passing lanes regularly and even come up with an occasional block. He was very well schooled under Tom Izzo, and does a good job in team concepts, which should help him get on the court relatively quickly in the NBA.

    After the Sixers finished 2013-14 ranked No. 26 overall in defensive efficiencysurrendering 109.9 points per 100 possessions—and 25th in opponent's three-point field-goal percentage (.370), Brett Brown could use a reliable perimeter defender like Harris who also has room to develop on offense.

No. 8: Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State

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    Marcus Smart's decision to stay at Oklahoma State for his sophomore season was never a popular one, and it's becoming clear why: The feisty point guard's draft status has dropped slightly after an up-and-down year that will be remembered for the Cowboys' tribulations and Smart's questionable decision-making. 

    But despite all of the perceived negatives, Smart has all of the physical tools to be a handful for opponents in the NBA. 

    Although his jump shot could use some polishing (he shot 42.2 percent from the field this season), Smart was a terror when he used his unique combination of size and speed to force his way into the paint. 

    DraftExpress has more on Smart's offensive successes: 

    Smart makes a living inside the paint, as he relishes contact and gets to the free throw line nearly ten times per-40 minutes, while finishing 57% of his shots around the basket in the half-court. The role he will play in the NBA appears to be well defined, as he's very good in transition and on the pick and roll, and is more than capable of creating shots for himself and others, something he appears to have improved on in his sophomore year.

    Point guard is hardly a pressing need for the Philadelphia 76ers, but should Smart plummet a bit on draft day and the Sixers' second lottery pick land somewhere between No. 8 and No. 10 overall, Sam Hinkie could be in position to select the best player available. 

    The fact remains that the Sixers are in need of determined scorers who can create in a variety of play types and guard several positions, and Smart's versatility could help provide Brett Brown's club with some much-needed flexibility. 

No. 7: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana

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    By all accounts, Indiana forward Noah Vonleh has the skill set necessary to become an impact player in the NBA. 

    The only problem is that he'll need to be eased into the professional experience after acting as a secondary and tertiary option during his freshman season as a member of the Hoosiers. 

    Under Tom Crean, Vonleh averaged just 7.2 field-goal attempts per game. But despite a lack of significant offensive opportunities, Vonleh still managed to crack the 11-point-per-game threshold while pulling down nine boards a night. 

    A physical beast at 6'10'' with a 7'4" wingspan, per DraftExpress, Vonleh should be able to make an impact on the boards and around the rim from the jump. 

    Vonleh wreaked havoc on opponents to the tune of 13.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per 40 minutes, according to Sports-Reference, and led all Big 10 players in total rebounds with 269 (25 clear of Minnesota's Elliott Eliason). 

    A player efficiency rating of 22.2, according to Sports-Reference, also reflected positively on Vonleh's ability to make an impact without the ball consistently in his hands. 

    Lined up next to Nerlens Noel, Vonleh would give the Sixers one of the league's most physically imposing and lengthiest frontcourts. And should Vonleh's back-to-the-basket game develop further upon arrival, he could wind up being the steal of the 2014 lottery. 

No. 6 Dante Exum, G, Australia

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    What the Philadelphia 76ers need on the wing is shooters, and at this stage, it's unclear if Dante Exum can provide any semblance of reliability on the perimeter. 

    With Michael Carter-Williams pegged as the team's long-term solution at point guard, adding another 6'6'' combo guard with impressive length who's an unknown offensive commodity feels like a risk not worth taking. 

    In need of immediate help at shooting guard and both forward spots, the Sixers would be wise to let another club gamble on the high upside that so many teams figure to gush over as the draft approaches. 

    All of that said, the Sixers will undoubtedly do their homework on the Australian phenom, one whose natural athletic gifts could make him a standout in the NBA with the ball in his hands, per Bleacher Report's Daniel O'Brien

    In half-court offense, he surveys the defense, looking for angles to drive to the bucket. When it doesn't lead to a layup, it usually ends with him drawing multiple helpers and dishing to the open man.

    In transition, Exum can serve as a one-man fast break even when opposing defenses are seemingly in position to deter an attack. 

    The future looks plenty bright for Exum, but don't expect it to be in a Sixers jersey.  

No. 5: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona

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    Most conventional big boards have Australia's Dante Exum ranked higher than Arizona's Aaron Gordon. But when it comes to the Philadelphia 76ers' team-specific board, the latter deserves a top-five grade. 

    While Gordon didn't stand out statistically during his freshman season like so many of his lottery peers, he flashed tremendous upside thanks to unparalleled athleticism, length and leaping ability. 

    With Nerlens Noel penciled in as the Sixers' center of the future, Gordon feels like a worthy frontcourt complement, one whose offensive game is still expanding. 

    In 38 appearances with the Wildcats, Gordon averaged 12.4 points on 49.5 percent shooting but demonstrated the ability to step out and knock down threes. On the season, he attempted 1.2 threes per game and shot 35.6 percent from beyond the arc, a respectable mark for the 6'9" combo forward. 

    Yes, Gordon's a tad undersized to play the 4 in the NBA, but he's a jack of all trades whose 6'11'' wingspan, per DraftExpress, could function as an elite defensive tool when combined with his shot-blocking prowess and explosive burst. 

    A terror in transition who doesn't demand an offense to be built around him, Gordon's efficient and versatile game (he posted a player efficiency rating of 20.9 last season, according to DraftExpress) makes more sense for the Sixers than another lengthy combo guard. 

No. 4: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas

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    You'll be hard-pressed to find Kansas center Joel Embiid ranked outside of the top three on any list of top prospects, but when it comes to the Philadelphia 76ers, there's one clear-cut reason why Embiid grades out at No. 4 overall. 

    While there's something to be said for the "best player available" strategy, the Sixers already have the center they hope to anchor the middle of their defense for years to come in Nerlens Noel. 

    Yes, there are undoubtedly lineup permutations that could see the Sixers slot Noel next to Embiid in a modified Twin Towers pairing, but doing so would stretch the flat-topped big man away from the basket, negating some of his shot-blocking capabilities. 

    And despite possessing the lateral quickness to stay with conventional power forwards outside of the paint on defense, Noel's jump shot is still very much a work in progress, as head coach Brett Brown told CSN Philly's Dei Lynam back in November: “Everything is tweakable -- Nerlens, though, is a total rebuild.”

    Factor in the Sixers' desperation to add versatile scoring weapons on the wing and Embiid's injury history (a sprained knee and stress fracture in his back), and the potential cons outweigh the pros in this case. 

    Should the Sixers fall from their perch at No. 2 overall come lottery time, perhaps Embiid becomes a more viable option. However, with positional redundancy a concern and the time it would take to develop two raw big men, Embiid feels more like a luxury than a necessity. 

No. 3: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky

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    At 6'9'' and nearly 250 pounds with a left-handed stroke, it's hard not to compare Julius Randle to Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph

    A polished mid-range game will do wonders for Randle's offensive versatility at the next level, but as a prospect, it's hard not to love what he has to offer at this point in time. 

    During his freshman season at Kentucky, Randle was a force on the low blocks, averaging 15 points on a cool 50 percent shooting from the field. Where he really made his hay, though, was at the free-throw line. 

    According to Sports-Reference, Randle was one of four SEC players who made at least seven trips to the charity stripe each game, and one of only three freshman in the country who accomplished that same feat this season. 

    And after leading Kentucky to a spot in the national title game behind averages of 14.8 points and 9.8 rebounds, Randle demonstrated that he has what it takes to be at least a secondary offensive option upon arrival in the pros. 

    A more dependable scorer than Joel Embiid who doesn't need nearly as much time to adapt to the pro game, Randle makes perfect sense for the Sixers should they miss out on Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins. 

    As a result, it shouldn't come as a surprise that CSN Philly's John Gonzalez loves the way the former Wildcat's game would mesh with the Sixers: "He’s a monster. A double-double monster who can put the ball on the floor, has a projectable outside shot, and plays defense. Yes please. Big believer in his NBA potential."

No. 2: Jabari Parker, SF/PF, Duke

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    Andrew Wiggins may be the sexiest, most upside-laden player in the 2014 draft, but the Association's wisest front office minds appear smitten with the stability Duke forward Jabari Parker could provide their teams on the wing. 

    According to ESPN's Jeff Goodman (subscription required), front office executives believe Parker would be more worthwhile as the No. 1 overall pick: 

    It's almost assumed these days that the top overall pick in the NBA draft will come out of the Kansas program, whether it's Andrew Wiggins or freshman teammate Joel Embiid. However, in an ESPN poll of 30 NBA executives, it was Duke's Jabari Parker who racked up more votes than both Wiggins and Embiid. Wiggins entered the season as the consensus favorite to be the first to shake new commissioner Adam Silver's hand on June 26 at the NBA draft. 

    As it pertains to the Sixers, it's hard not to like what Parker could provide. ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) has more on the possible benefits of adding a volume scoring wing:

    If they end up with the No. 2 overall pick, forgive them for being a little bummed if Wiggins is off the board. However, Parker would be a nice consolation prize. He'd give the Sixers a guy who could score 20 points a night right out of the gate. And the Sixers have the length and athleticism to protect Parker on defense with Michael Carter-Williams in the backcourt and Nerlens Noel in the middle. 

    Parker's lack of defensive prowess and positional uncertainty at the next level bump him down one spot lower than Wiggins, but the Sixers could do far worse than adding the most versatile scorer in this year's class, one who posted a player efficiency rating of 28.4 while averaging 19.1 points during his freshman season, according to Sports-Reference.

No. 1: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas

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    The apple of the Philadelphia 76ers' eye, Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins should be the no-brainer selection if Sam Hinkie has his pick of the lot at the top of the draft. 

    With that thinking in mind, word from Gery Woelfel of the The Journal Times that the Sixers have Wiggins atop their wish list shouldn't register as a shock. Per Woelfel: "A couple NBA sources tell me 76ers have Andrew Wiggins in their draft crosshairs." 

    And why wouldn't they?

    Wiggins is the draft's most captivating athlete, possessing lateral quickness that makes him a potential nightmare for opponents on both ends of the floor at the pro level.

    Factor in a clean release on his jump shot, and Wiggins has all of the tools necessary to be the franchise centerpiece Philadelphia covets.

    Concerns linger regarding Wiggins' tenacity, will to lead and loose handle, but it would be foolish to pass up such an otherworldly physical specimen over seemingly unfounded speculation about his character. 

    In fact, we saw Wiggins had the ability to take over with Joel Embiid out of the lineup after he posted a 41-point line against West Virginia and dropped 30 points on Oklahoma State during back-to-back games in March. 

    With the Sixers scrambling to add a dominant presence on the wing, Wiggins would be given free rein to operate as the focal point of Brett Brown's offense upon arrival.