They were one of three finalists remaining with a chance to make the first selection—along with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers—and a No. 1 overall pick would have eased the pain of striking out on the Miami Heat's top-10-protected pick and the Lakers' top-five-protected choice.
But the Sixers don't need coveted honors in order to heavily pursue Ohio State combo guard D'Angelo Russell. Based on the way the order shook out—with Minnesota No. 1 and Los Angeles No. 2—it's easy to imagine a world in which Russell will be available when the Sixers are on the clock.
At this stage in the process, all signs point to the Timberwolves targeting a big man. Which towering presence they opt for is up in the air, according to ESPN NBA Insider Chad Ford, but it appears Minnesota is pining for size in some shape or form:
That leaves the Lakers as the Sixers' only potential roadblock to drafting Russell—who should be the no-brainer object of Philadelphia's desire given the state of its budding frontcourt.
In order for that ideal scenario to play out, the Lakers will need to pass on Russell's on-ball ingenuity and opt for either Duke center Jahlil Okafor or chiseled Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns. Should the Timberwolves decide on Towns, Ford reports the "Lakers like Okafor but also need Russell's shooting."
That's hardly an ironclad endorsement for Okafor at this early stage, but it's easy to see why the Tinseltown title chasers would be intrigued by his low-post prowess, according to Bleacher Report's Daniel O'Brien (via B/R's Jonathan Wasserman):
Much of the Los Angeles Lakers' legacy is about championship-caliber centers, and their future might hold a similar theme.
Mitch Kupchak will tab Duke's monstrous one-and-done star Jahlil Okafor, thereby anchoring the Purple and Gold frontcourt of the future. The 6'11" freshman might not have a megastar ceiling like Karl-Anthony Towns, but he's a steady force to pair with Julius Randle and Kobe Bryant.
Presto, Russell can fall into the Sixers' lap. And it's not like he's some sort of consolation prize. He's the only one that matters.
This really isn't a bad outcome for the 76ers. They desperately need both a point guard and a shooter, and Russell is the best on both counts. They would've been tempted to take a big if they had gone higher just because it would've been a more valuable asset. But Russell is the best fit with this young team and will make them look really smart moving Michael Carter-Williams out of the way for him. I really think Russell has the chance to become a star, and with Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel clogging the paint, they found the perfect guard to spread the floor.
Two years running, the Sixers have been enamored with capitalizing on the perceived best talent available regardless of health or international contractual status. But the days of endorsing that line of thinking need to be in the past, and general manager Sam Hinkie seemed to acknowledge as much at the lottery, according to the Intelligencer's Tom Moore:
Instead, it's in the team's best interest to address its most gaping positional holes with the prospect who can specifically provide a lift in pressing problem areas. In this case, the trouble spot is any given process that has to do with the creation of offense, and the solution is a smooth-operating southpaw.
"Simply put, he was able to make shots when the offense [at Ohio State] didn't work," NBA scout Chris Ekstrand told Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling. "Russell was able to make a shot on ball reversals or create a shot for himself in the last few seconds of the shot clock. That's hard to do."
Incidentally, that's an exact characterization of the player Philadelphia has lacked and an apt description of situations the offense found itself in far too often last season.
According to SportVU player-tracking data, the Sixers were the league's third-worst team "late" (seven to four seconds remaining) and the worst-performing "very late" (four to zero seconds) in the shot clock. During those segments, Brett Brown's boys shot 38.7 and 23.5 percent, respectively. No wonder they became the sixth team to record a sub-96 offensive rating since the three-point line came into existence.
It's not exactly a state secret, but the Sixers offense hasn't run like a well-oiled machine due to a general lack of refinement. With raw, athletic youngsters and the roster assuming the form of a revolving door, the minutiae of modern stylings haven't been embraced—and rightfully so.
But after ranking last in offensive efficiency (95.5), 29th in three-point field-goal percentage (32.0), 30th in turnovers (17.7 per game) and 24th in assists (20.5 per game), it's time for a change.
Joel Embiid is ready to make his pro debut, and Nerlens Noel is coming off a rookie season that saw him earn First-Team All-Rookie honors, which means the offense can start resembling more than a shoddy run-and-gun tribute to the like-minded Houston Rockets.
"Our big improvement next year is going to need to be offensively, and it's going to have to start with spacing," Brown told reporters after the season, according to NBA.com's Doug Ammon.
He isn't kidding.
During the 2014-15 season, the Sixers shot 39.1 percent on "wide open" shots, according to SportVU, which was worse than their conversion rate on looks against much tighter defense.
|Philadelphia's Shooting vs. Defensive Types|
|Closest Defender Distance||FG%||League Rank|
|0-2 Feet (Very tight)||40.3%||30|
|2-4 Feet (Tight)||43.8%||28|
|4-6 Feet (Open)||39.2%||30|
|6+ Feet (Very open)||39.1%||30|
That's where Russell comes into play.
The Sixers are in dire need of someone who can apply pressure to opposing defenses, and entertaining as he is, a lightning-quick, turnover-prone and jump-shot-deficient ball-handler like Tony Wroten isn't a threat to burn teams when defenders can simply go under screens.
Russell is the exact opposite.
His arsenal is already loaded with tons of advanced ammunition capable of changing the complexion of Philadelphia's offense since he can score on mid-range pull-ups, dribble drives or catch-and-shoot threes.
Those are all qualities worthy of the No. 1 overall pick, but in a draft dominated by height and the promise of massive men in the middle, Russell can slip through the cracks to the team that needs him most.
Alec Nathan covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AlecBNathan.