Six Draft Prospects Guaranteed to Interest the Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers emerged from the NBA Lottery with the third and tenth overall selections in a draft that most level-headed analysts agree is one of the best in a generation. So, not a bad evening.
And yet lottery night marked something of a disappointment for the Sixers, who under the watchful eye of General Manager Sam Hinkie threw a season about a brazenly as a team can.
In pursuit of the lottery win that eluded them on Tuesday, Hinkie and company finished 27th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, last on offense and at the bottom in shooting, per ESPN, and ended the season with a negative-10.5 point differential that was the poorest in the NBA since the then-Charlotte Bobcats did whatever it is they did in 2011-12.
A peculiar tendency to win close games and the unforeseeable awfulness of the Milwaukee Bucks was all that stood between Philadelphia and the NBA’s worst record.
But, alas, for all this, Philadelphia wasn’t rewarded with the No. 1 pick in the draft, or even the No. 2 slot that tracked its ping-pong ball odds.
They did leave with a haul though. Thanks to the Jrue Holiday-Nerlens Noel swap Hinkie executed on draft night in 2013, Philadelphia also owns the New Orleans Pelicans' No. 10 selection.
That's some propitious draft positioning, and it follows that some tremendous players will be available when Philadelphia chooses at each spot. What follows are three players the Sixers will likely consider at each position.
At No. 3: Andrew Wiggins
While there was certainly a backlash to the Andrew Wiggins-mania that preceded the freshman star's arrival at Kansas, then a backlash to that backlash, then, depending on how you measure these things, a backlash to the backlash's backlash, one thing was abundantly clear by the end of the season: dude could play.
If he's there at No. 3, Philadelphia will hop all over him. Though the Sixers organization is unusually and admirably tight-lipped about darn near everything, rumors have leaked out that Philadelphia is enamored of the wing, and has him as a firm No. 1 on its own big board.
ESPN's Chad Ford, who also has Wiggins rated as the top prospect in the draft, alluded to Philadelphia's interest in March:
In the midst of a 20-game losing streak, the Sixers have had Wiggins atop their board all year and believe he'd be the perfect complement to Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Thaddeus Young. The athleticism on that team would be crazy.
There's a lot to like with Wiggins, of course. Though he plays passive at times, the Canadian is a dead-eye jump shooter with unique athleticism who can play, and defend, three positions. That's a devastating combination on any team, but, as Ford mentioned, it's one that might be especially powerful in Philadelphia.
If he's there—which seems like a bit of a long shot at this juncture—the Sixers will jump all over him at No. 3.
At No. 3: Jabari Parker
Jabari Parker is a quietly polarizing figure.
Some analysts look at the Duke forward and see a player who, while not quite possessing the limitless potential of Wiggins, is the most polished, NBA-ready product in the draft. A 6'8" tweener who is a plus-contributor whether creating off the dribble or finding his teammates, he can fill it up from anywhere on the floor and is active on the boards.
Others see a potential defensive liability—too slow to stay in front of 3's at the NBA-level, too weak to bang with the 4's—who's already within shouting distance of his ceiling and projects as a sort of poor man's Carmelo Anthony at the next level.
A strong guess is that Hinkie and the Sixers split the difference. They'd certainly prefer Wiggins, but would have a difficult time passing on the opportunity to add a polished wing scorer to the suddenly impressive stable of young talent on hand in the City of Brotherly Love.
At No. 3: Joel Embiid
With the Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden debacles still fresh in the public mind, Joel Embiid's stock has taken a bit of a hit of late. This is incredibly foolish.
There's no reason to believe the severity of the center's back problem is even in the same neighborhood as the medical maladies that upended the careers of the aforementioned bigs.
Grantland's Bill Simmons took this head on in a column that ran before the lottery:
One more important note: Joel Embiid is going to be the first pick of the 2014 draft. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. These teams are full of it. We’re worried about his back, we’re hearing it’s bad … Hold on, I’m actually going to stand under the bull as he craps on me. It’s Smokescreen Central right now. And enough with the Oden parallels; unless Embiid’s pre-draft MRI reveals a career-threatening back issue (doubtful), NOBODY is passing on a franchise center who could easily be described as “The 7-Foot Serge Ibaka.” Stop it. He’s going first. We’re officially calling tonight’s lottery “Bleed for Embiid.”
That settled, Embiid is an imperfect fit in Philadelphia. While Sixers' coaches spent the season working with Nerlens Noel on his jump shot, unless they've got a Chip Engellend or two on staff, it's hard to imagine a Noel-Embiid frontcourt providing the spacing that seems necessary in the modern NBA. Sure they'd be talented, but so were the Detroit Pistons.
This might not be of paramount concern in Philadelphia. The franchise is still firmly in asset collection mode. It probably makes sense to think of the Sixers employing the Houston Rockets model of team building. Collect as many attractive parts as you can, irrespective of fit, then start swapping them for a superstar.
The organization maintains that it views both Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel as cornerstone pieces, but it goes without saying that each is available at a price. To risk belaboring the point, the "fit" problem with Noel and Embiid would not be a problem in Philadelphia. Not yet, anyway.
At No. 10: Noah Vonleh
There likely isn't a player who's been rising faster on draft boards of late than Indiana's Noah Vonleh.
Little wonder why. Vonleh is the rarest of birds: A high-motor power forward with a 7'5" wingspan, sound defensive instincts, the ability to score with both hands inside and a very good (and improving) three-point shot. The power forward was 16-of-33 on three-point attempts during his freshman season.
Though Hinkie and the Sixers have long been rumored to have interest in the Hoosier, it now seems increasingly unlikely he would be available at No. 10. Chad Ford has elevated him to No. 5 on his big board.
But as Vonleh himself conceded in a recent interview with CBS, the situation is still very fluid.
"I've heard the fourth pick to the 12th pick is wide open," Vonleh said. "[I think I'll be selected] anywhere in that range."
If he slides to ten, Philadelphia would be elated. As Mike Levin of Liberty Ballers wrote in March, he and Noel would make an intriguing pairing.
Vonleh is my choice as the ideal power forward to slot next to Nerlens Noel for the next millennium of Sixers basketball. He's an athletic on-ball defender with great rebounding instincts and a projectable outside shot. Shame he was hidden on Indiana all year, but hopefully that allows him to slip down to where the Pelicans pick lands. I'd guess that at this point, Hinkie will have to move up a few spots to take him if he wants him bad. He figures to kill it at the Combine.
Vonleh isn't likely to wind up in a Sixers uniform, but he's certainly a prospect Hinkie and company are tracking very closely.
At No. 10: Julius Randle
Julius Randle has been moving on up in the mock draft world lately. As it turns out, carrying your team to the National Championship Game will do that for a player.
Randle, for all his talent, isn't without his liabilities though—which is why he could plausibly slide to Philadelphia at No. 10. Concern No.1 for the power forward is his very low steal rate.
While it seems like a picayune thing to harp on for a player of Randle’s ability, steal rate is actually hugely predictive of NBA success. Take it from ESPN’s Kevin Pelton.
Historically, however, steal rate has outsized importance in predicting how well prospects will translate to the NBA. Consider this: When steal rate is adjusted by position average, the top 25 prospects in my NCAA database have on average outproduced their position in the draft by 1.1 WARP. This group includes draft-day steals like DeJuan Blair, Kenneth Faried, Danny Granger, Paul Millsap and Jameer Nelson.
By contrast, the 25 worst players in position-adjusted steal rate have on average produced 0.5 WARP fewer than expected based on their draft position. The lottery picks among this group (Joe Alexander, Ed Davis, Ike Diogu, Brandon Knight, Alex Len, Shabazz Muhammad and Hasheem Thabeet) have generally been disappointments.
So there’s a chance Randle slips. And if he does, the bet is that his track record, offensive relentlessness and prolific work on the glass will catch the Sixers attention.
At No. 10: Aaron Gordon
It’s still too early in his tenure to draw grand conclusions about the sort of players Sixers GM Sam Hinkie favors, but all signs point to upside. He’s willing to take flyers on guys who can become great.
Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel weren’t regarded as the two most NBA-ready prospects last summer when the Sixers plucked the pair with the No. 6 and No. 11 overall selections in the draft—Noel via the trade of Jrue Holiday—but each had a level of athleticism that made real greatness a possibility, if not a likelihood.
Enter Aaron Gordon. The Arizona freshman can’t shoot a lick—from the floor or the foul line—but the dude can jump out of the gym and plays defense like his hair is on fire.
It’s easy to imagine Hinkie seeing Gordon as a souped-up Michael Carter-Williams. And, after all, despite the guard’s limitations, things turned out reasonably well for MCW.