If we learned one thing during Sam Hinkie's first year as general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, it's that he's not interested in instant gratification.
The 2014 NBA draft represents the centerpiece of the franchise's quest to emerge as a hotbed of talent cultivated through the draft, a plan that Hinkie is ready to set in motion come June 26.
However, as Sixers fans are well aware, the draft is hardly a sure thing (yes, we're talking about you, Evan Turner). Fortunately, Hinkie's constant wheeling and dealing has put Philadelphia in a position to own draft night, with the team possessing seven draft picks over the course of Rounds 1 and 2.
The Sixers are building from the ground up with a focus on the long game, which is precisely why the first year under Hinkie's direction was such a slog.
But despite all of the aesthetic trials and tribulations that marred the Sixers' first year of rebuilding, the team is in perfect position to develop at a comfortable pace.
And as Hinkie told Rich Hofmann of Liberty Ballers last October, it's all about trying to maximize opportunity as a way to generate optimal outcomes:
We can't control [the results]. I don't know any other benchmark [than evaluating process].
It would be like you sit down at a blackjack table and you say 'forget how you play, how many hands do you have to win to know you're doing what you should be doing?' If you win seven hands, is that enough? Or do you have to win eight hands? And you say, 'actually all you should focus on is what we know will lead to winning hands in blackjack over time.'
With seven picks (five in the second round), the Sixers will have options galore. And get this: The team's seven picks are three more than any other club. The Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns all own four picks, while the Orlando Magic are the only other club in possession of two lottery picks.
|Owning the Draft: Philadelphia's Projected 2014 Draft Picks|
|1||10 (via New Orleans)|
|2||39 (via Cleveland)|
|2||47 (via Brooklyn)|
|2||52 (via Memphis)|
|2||54 (via Houston)|
Possessing tremendous financial flexibility, young assets and a general manager who's not afraid to be bold, the Sixers have a real chance to control the 2014 draft in ways we've never seen before.
Lottery Picks: Searching for a Game Changer
Strapped with two lottery picks thanks to a 2013 draft-day trade that netted the Sixers Nerlens Noel, Hinkie has an opportunity to add two franchise-changing talents within the draft's first 10 picks.
Priority No. 1 will be striking gold with the first lottery pick, wherever it happens to land. But if it happens to fall inside the top two, bet the farm on Hinkie snagging one of the draft's prized wings—Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker.
A scoring-by-committee approach made sense during Brett Brown's first year as head coach, but the Sixers are in desperate need of a dominant on-ball presence that possesses versatility in the scoring department.
Coming off of a season when the Sixers ranked dead last in offensive rating (99.4 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball-Reference), Brown needs a scorer who can assume a fair bit of the offensive burden from day one.
Perimeter shooting is a glaring need for Brown's offensively challenged bunch, one that ranked last in three-point shooting with a conversion rate of 31.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Not only that, but the Sixers ranked among the league's worst clubs when it came to scoring in a number of key play types.
Namely, Philadelphia finished ranked 26th in both isolation (0.78 points per possession) and ball-handler scoring in the pick-and-roll (0.73 PPP) while grading out as the league's least-efficient spot-up shooting team (0.84 PPP), according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).
Both Wiggins and Parker fit the bill, although each possesses a unique blend of offensive skills.
And while Parker may be more ready to contribute from day one because of his polished jump shot and ability to convert from nearly every spot on the floor, Wiggins' length, athleticism and defensive upside would seem to make him a more attractive pick given the direction the franchise is headed.
How the team decides to use its second lottery pick (via the New Orleans Pelicans) remains the draft's biggest mystery, but there's no shortage of potential game-changing talent.
Should the selection fall within the draft's first 10 picks (as currently projected), the Sixers could conceivably splurge on the best available player. Whether that winds up being a big (perhaps Noah Vonleh or Aaron Gordon) or a wing (Gary Harris, anyone?), the Sixers should have options aplenty when deciding whom to pair with their top pick.
The Treasure Trove of Second-Rounders
Ordinarily, two lottery picks would be enough to shake up a given draft.
But thanks to Hinkie's creative work at the trade deadline, the Sixers now possess five (!) second-round draft picks, two of which fall between Nos. 32 and 39.
And while second-round picks are far from sure things, there remains a good possibility that if Hinkie and Co. do their homework, they could wind up uncovering a gem in the draft's latter stages.
According to Hinkie, via CSN Philly's John Gonzalez, those picks have put the team in prime position to get creative:
“The net result of what happened [last Thursday] is we picked up six additional second-round picks. We gave nothing in return, except the opportunity to use some of our cap space, which is part of the reason to put ourselves in a position to be flexible. Those [second-rounders] are useful in a variety of ways.”
For instance, the odds Philadelphia actually uses those five picks on players who will be on the team's roster when the 2014-15 season opens would appear to be tremendously slim.
The first two second-round picks (No. 32 and No. 39) could be used to add role players, but the last three (No. 47, No. 52 and No. 54) could be parlayed into a higher second-round pick, used to draft and stash international talent or even acquire known commodities.
And as Gonzalez mentions, second-round picks actually hold more value than one would think:
People who insist that second-rounders don’t matter missed or ignored how the Cavaliers acquired some recent pieces. They moved five picks in two trades to grab Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes. Four of those picks were second-rounders. The fifth was a protected first-rounder from Sacramento that could become a second-round pick.
With so many future assets at their disposal, expect the Sixers' fun to really get started after the lottery passes.
More Moving and Shaking?
We mentioned the possibility that second-round picks could be packaged to move up and nab talent in Round 2 or possibly trade for reasonably priced veterans, but there's some blockbuster appeal here given the Sixers' current situation.
Thaddeus Young remains the team's most compelling trade chip, possessing two years and $19.4 million on his current deal ($9.9 million comes in the form of a 2015-16 player option), and could feasibly fetch the team a third first-rounder if a contender in the back-third of the draft was willing to pony up for the dexterous combo forward.
There's no doubt Young could help out a contender in need of some added pop off the bench, but the Sixers need to evaluate their situation from a financial standpoint, as Liberty Ballers' Michael Levin wrote:
The Sixers will not be contending by the time Thad's contract is up after the 2015-16 season. So he will need a new contract if he's going to be here for the long haul. What's Thad going to be worth at that point? He'll turn 28 that offseason and bringing about a decade's worth of NBA experience to the table -- dude's gonna want to get paid.
There's also the alternative: The Sixers could keep Young in tow, slot him in at power forward and drool over the frontcourt's athleticism and gaudy wingspans.
But thanks to Young's contractual security, Hinkie can afford to be patient. There shouldn't be a rush to push Young out the door given how much he can offer such a young team on the floor and in the locker room.
It won't be an easy call if an intriguing deal is on the table come June 26, but the fact remains the Sixers are locked and loaded with enough ammo to own the 2014 draft, whether they deal Young or not.