It's a good time to be a fan of the Philadelphia 76ers.
That's not a statement you often read about a team coming off a season in which it failed to reach even 20 wins, but the novelty doesn't make it any less true. Get ready for a big turnaround, because all the pieces are now in place.
When the ping-pong balls bounced in Philadelphia's favor, the Sixers' ceiling rose even higher for the 2014-15 campaign. An extra top-10 pick and a shot at one of the truly elite prospects will see to that.
But there's more going on than two picks, even if we'll start with that. Everything is setting up for the Sixers to make quite a bit of noise as we head into draft season.
Two Top-10 Picks
The Sixers weren't lucky enough to move up during the lottery proceedings, instead falling back from No. 2 to No. 3 when the Cleveland Cavaliers jumped up to No. 1, defying odds and math in the process. But that's not exactly going to hurt a franchise with two top-10 picks in a stacked draft class, particularly since there are three elite prospects.
And really, there are four for Philadelphia.
As general manager Sam Hinkie said after the lottery, via Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times, "I think we’re pleased to have ended up where we did. We’re really excited."
He should be.
Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker litter the top three spots on most every big board, and for good reason. The order is always jumbled between the six possible options, but those three usually comprise the top spots in some way or another.
But for the Sixers, Dante Exum has to draw a bit of consideration as well. After all, the Australian combo guard can capably line up at shooting guard, and he'd mix nicely with Michael Carter-Williams. The size possessed by that backcourt would be absolutely ridiculous, as both players check in at 6'6".
Consideration is different than actually picking him, though.
Exum is still more of an afterthought, a player to consider if Embiid's back injury flares up and leaves him as the only top-three guy left on the board when Adam Silver is ready to announce Philly's first selection.
Let's say it doesn't, though. After all, the signs are positive right now, and it's entirely possible that the media is overreacting to a one-time injury. The press is conditioned to think in such a manner by the injury-plagued careers of guys like Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum.
All three of the elites fit rather nicely with Philadelphia.
Embiid and Nerlens Noel could combine to form one helluva rim-protecting partnership, to the point that their lack of offensive versatility would be worth making up for. It would be a bit non-traditional to have two true centers in the lineup while the league is trending toward small-ball, but their playing styles do mesh together.
Parker and Wiggins, though, are the more appealing prospects. Both fill holes in the Philly lineup, providing the scoring punch that would be so useful in a roster filled with poor shooters and players who were forced into handling offensive burdens too large for their actual skill-sets.
As Jason Wolf writes for USA Today, "The Sixers are expected to draft either Kansas freshman swingman Andrew Wiggins or Duke freshman forward Jabari Parker with their first selection next month, if they're available, but many experts predict they'll be the first two players off the board."
Many experts might be incorrect, though.
According to ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman, there are already reports that the Cavaliers have Embiid atop their early draft board. That could obviously change, but the initial indication is that Philly will have access to either Wiggins or Parker at No. 3.
They hit the lottery after all.
And that's not it.
Because the New Orleans Pelicans ended up at No. 10, they had to convey that pick to Philadelphia as recompense for the Jrue Holiday trade last season, which means the Sixers get to add one more high-quality prospect.
Assuming they already added one of the two top small forwards, they have to look at a shooting guard there. And with Nik Stauskas, Gary Harris, James Young and Zach LaVine all able to play at that spot in the lineup, there are plenty of options. I can pretty much guarantee that at least one of them will be available at No. 10.
All of a sudden, Philadelphia is adding two immediate starters into the fold. And it still has plenty more picks to work with.
Hinkie is handling the draft incorrectly if his phone doesn't run out of battery by the end of the proceedings. Or at least if it would've, since I assume he'll have a charger nearby.
After all, it's hard to imagine a team having more intriguing trade chips.
Not only could the Sixers swing those No. 3 and No. 10 picks for high-quality players, taking advantage of a team's desperation for a standout player on a rookie-scale deal, but they could package one of them with Thaddeus Young to make things even more intriguing.
And that's still not it.
Philadelphia also holds the following picks in the second round: No. 32, No. 39, No. 47, No. 52 and No. 54.
Given the youth of this team, it would be nonsensical for them to use all five of those selections, especially if each of the first-round picks are kept. Adding seven rookies (eight if you count Noel) is a recipe for disaster, as there would be no veteran leadership and players with potential would have to be forced down into the D-League.
A far better plan would be to consolidate those picks through a series of deals. Trade the two in the 50s for a pick in the late 30s. Then trade the two worst for a pick very early in the second round. Then trade the three remaining for a pick in the 20s.
Something of that sort.
It takes a lot of maneuvering but, if the Sixers play their cards right, they could be looking at one more intriguing first-round selection.
Basically, the options here are limitless, which is why Hinkie has to be considered one of the most important figures in this draft. He can trade lottery picks, deal a high-quality starter (Young) and package a boatload of second-round picks.
If Philadelphia goes through the June 26 proceedings without making even a single trade, it would be more shocking than Cleveland landing the No. 1 pick with just a 1.7 percent chance at doing so.
Biggest One-Season Turnaround
The real reason the Sixers are ready to make so much noise isn't any one pick. Nor is it the ability to make any number of trades.
It's that Philadelphia is poised to make the biggest one-season turnaround of any team in the NBA, barring the Los Angeles Lakers finding a way to add Kevin Love and still make another big free-agent signing.
Philadelphia may only have won 19 times during the 2013-14 campaign—lowlighted by a mind-bogglingly awful 26-game losing streak—but take a gander at this depth chart. It's comprised only of players currently under contract for the 2014-15 season:
|Philadelphia Depth Chart|
|Point Guard||Shooting Guard||Small Forward||Power Forward||Center|
|Starter||Michael Carter-Williams||Jason Richardson||James Anderson||Thaddeus Young||Nerlens Noel|
|Primary Backup||Tony Wroten||Hollis Thompson||Arnett Moultrie||Henry Sims|
|Secondary Backup||Elliot Williams||Jarvis Varnado||Brandon Davies|
Already seems pretty solid, right?
That's due both to the improvements of all the young players (especially a certain Rookie of the Year), as well as the additions of Noel and Jason Richardson. The former was a presumed No. 1 pick before an ACL injury knocked him out for the entire year. The latter is still a quality player, even if knee issues also kept him from playing throughout the 2013-14 season.
But let's not forget that J-Rich averaged 10.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game during his last healthy season, which came with Philadelphia in 2012-13. He's 33 years old and should still have enough in the tank to be a quality contributor and veteran leader, assuming he's able to get back into playing shape.
Now, let's assume that the Sixers keep their No. 3 and No. 10 draft picks, picking Parker and Young, just for the sake of the argument. Feel free to replace these players with others as you please. The other assumption is that Philadelphia trades the second-round picks to move up and ends up drafting a quality backup.
I'm not going to include that last player in the projected depth chart, just because it's so uncertain, but keep in mind, this group of guys could become even stronger:
|Philadelphia's Projected Depth Chart|
|Point Guard||Shooting Guard||Small Forward||Power Forward||Center|
|Starter||Michael Carter-Williams||James Young||Jabari Parker||Thaddeus Young||Nerlens Noel|
|Primary Backup||Tony Wroten||Jason Richardson||James Anderson||Arnett Moultrie||Henry Sims|
|Secondary Backup||Elliot Williams||Hollis Thompson||Jarvis Varnado||Brandon Davies|
That's already a solid lineup, and it gets even better.
Even with the rookie salaries, Philadelphia has enough cap room to go after some big names in free agency. Hell, they'll have enough space for a max player, though there aren't any in this class who will be tempting enough and willing to join the Sixers, even during a promising rebuild.
But let's say no big free agents are signed. The team adds a quality backup at point guard, as well as a few veterans on minimum contracts, and those are about the only splashes Philadelphia makes over the summer. Minus what happens on June 26 during the draft, of course.
Doesn't that still look a lot like a playoff team in the Eastern Conference?
It could be, especially after a year in which the Al Horford-less Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Bobcats managed to sneak into the postseason. There's a quality player at every single position, and there could be even more coming in free agency or from second-round selections.
Nineteen wins was the result of an entire season's work this past go-round, but this team could easily surpass that total by the All-Star break. Even if a postseason berth isn't immediately in the cards, there's undoubtedly going to be plenty more success and a much brighter future.
Of course, that all depends on the draft.
Wherever you're going to go watch the festivities, bring some earplugs with you on June 26. The Sixers are going to start making a lot of noise as soon as Silver first strides onto the stage, and they won't stop for quite some time.
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