Heading into Thursday’s NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers have three first round picks for the second time in the last 10 years. Ben Simmons is the guy atop the NBA Draft this year, but what the Sixers and new GM Bryan Colangelo do with the 24th and 26th picks — package them with a current player to move up, trade both to move down, collecting second rounders or future firsts, stash and carry some European players who won’t come over for a while, or take players with high upside who can earn a spot on this rebuilding roster — will shape the future of the Sixers franchise for years to come.
If history is any indication the answer to what the Sixers will do may be…all of the above. And yet, given the franchise’s history in the NBA Draft, none of those options seem all that inspiring.
Just three players drafted by the Sixers since 1985 have been selected for an All-Star game while in Philly: Allen Iverson (eight times), Andre Iguodala (2011-12) and Jrue Holiday (2012-13). Of the 19 players to suit up during the 2000-01 NBA Finals season, just two were drafted by the team: Iverson and Todd MacCulloch, a second round pick in 1999.
Michael Carter-Williams had a good rookie campaign in 2013-14, named NBA Rookie of the Year that season, before being traded halfway through the next. The last few years have been exciting in the NBA Draft, if yet unproductive. If Joel Embiid ever gets on the floor, the recent run of tough first-round luck could turn around quickly.
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That table above, with per-game stats and win shares via Basketball-Reference, is every Sixers first-round pick since 1985, many of whom never played as much as one game for the franchise.
At first glance it looks like some names may be missing, like Nerlens Noel, for example, who was drafted by the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans, swapped with a 2014 first round pick for Jrue Holiday. That trade was finalized two weeks after the 2013 NBA Draft. The 2014 pick in that deal became Elfrid Payton, who was traded on draft day for the rights to Dario Saric and the 2017 first round pick Orlando got from the Sixers in the debacle of the Andrew Bynum trade in 2012.
That’s why Noel and Saric aren’t on the list above, and why the NBA Draft is both gut-wrenchingly complicated and wonderfully entertaining.
With that, here is a ranking of all the Sixers first round picks since 1985; limited to the guys the team actually drafted.
Petteri Koponen – 30th pick; 2007 NBA Draft
The last time the Sixers had three first round picks they took the last on Finnish prospect Petteri Koponen, who they flipped on draft day for Derrick Byars and cash. He has never played in the NBA, while Byars played two career games in 2011-12, for the Spurs.
Jiri Welsch – 16th pick; 2002 NBA Draft
Welch never played for the Sixers, traded on draft day to the Warriors for future picks that, themselves, never panned out. Welch played in 247 career NBA games for four teams.
Daequan Cook – 21st pick; 2007 NBA Draft
The Sixers got the Cook and Koponen picks in the 2006 trade that sent Allen Iverson to the Denver Nuggets for Andre Miller and Joe Smith. On draft day, Cook was sent to the Miami Heat for Jason Smith and a 2009 second round pick.
Maurice Harkless – 15th pick; 2012 NBA Draft
Mo Harkless was taken in the 2012 draft and never played for the Sixers, but did spend the entire summer with the team, as he wasn’t traded until August 10 in the mega-deal that shipped Andrew Iguodala to the Nuggets, Nikola Vucevic to Orlando, Dwight Howard to the Lakers and Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson to the Sixers, among about ten other players and draft picks.
The trade was a disaster for the Sixers. Harkless played three seasons with Orlando before being traded to Portland for a 2020 second-round pick.
Thabo Sefolosha – 13th pick; 2006 NBA Draft
Sefolosha was dealt on draft day in 2006 to the Bulls for the draft rights to Rodney Carney, cash and a wasted second-round pick in 2007. Two years later he was shipped to OKC where he had a solid career before moving to Atlanta in 2014.
Elfrid Payton 10th pick; 2014 NBA Draft
The Sixers got the Payton pick in 2013 after trading Jrue Holiday for just-drafted Nerlens Noel. After taking Joel Embiid third overall in 2014, the Sixers snagged Payton just to flip him to Orlando for Dario Saric and a 2017 first-rounder they had previously lost. If Saric comes over and plays well, the deal was smart, but Payton was on the All-Rookie team his first year and has shown promise, averaging 10.7 points and 6.4 assists in his second season.
Charles Smith – 3rd pick; 1988 NBA Draft
Charles Smith was taken third overall in 1988 and flipped on draft day to the Clippers for Hersey Hawkins (drafted sixth that day) and a 1989 first rounder. Hawkins played five seasons for the Sixers, making one All-Star game, before being traded to Charlotte in 1993. Smith played four years with the Clippers before going to the Knicks and Spurs. He is most known for this:
Kenny Payne – 19th pick; 1989 NBA Draft
Payne played parts of four seasons for the Sixers, averaging 3.5 points in 8.1 minutes per game in 144 career games. He was wholly unremarkable.
B.J. Tyler – 20th pick; 1994 NBA Draft
Tyler played one season for the Sixers before getting nabbed in the 1995 Expansion Draft by the Toronto Raptors. He never played for Toronto.
Terry Catledge – 21st pick; 1985 NBA Draft
Catledge played one year with the Sixers before getting dealt in 1986 along with Moses Malone and two first round picks to the Washington Bullets for Cliff Robinson and Jeff Ruland. Why did we even bring that up?
Speedy Claxton – 20th pick; 2000 NBA Draft
Claxton played one season with the Sixers before getting dealt to the Spurs, then bounced around the NBA for another five years. It really felt like he was here longer than that.
Christian Welp – 16th pick; 1987 NBA Draft
Welp played two seasons with the Sixers before getting dealt to the Spurs; a throw in with Maurice Cheeks and David Wingate for Johnny Dawkins and Jay Vincent. He averaged 12 minutes per game with the Sixers.
The Worst Pick Ever
Larry Hughes – 8th pick; 1998 NBA Draft
Hughes played 100 games over two seasons with the Sixers before getting traded in a deal that brought Toni Kukoc to Philly. Hughes was a young kid with tons of potential the Sixers thought could be the complimentary piece to Allen Iverson that Jerry Stackhouse had refused to become. But Hughes had family issues that he could never seem to escape on the court, and his raw potential never truly manifested.
- Round 1; Pick 9 – Dirk Nowitzki
- Round 1; Pick 10 – Paul Pierce
Almost That Bad
Shawn Bradley – 2nd pick; 1993 NBA Draft
In the 1993 NBA Draft, Chris Webber was selected first overall by Orlando then swapped for Penny Hardaway who was taken at 3 by Golden State.
Rather than take Hardaway and screw up that trade deal, the Sixers opted for rail-thin giant Shawn Bradley, who played just three years in Philly, traded in 1995 to the Nets in a deal that brought Derrick Coleman to Philly for the first of two mercurial runs.
Sharone Wright – 6th pick; 1994 NBA Draft
The Sixers picked in the top 10 every year from 1992 through 1998 and part of the reason is because they wasted picks on guys like Bradley and Sharone Wright, who they took with the sixth pick in the ’94 draft. Wright played not quite two full seasons with the Sixers, averaging 11.5 and 6, then was dumped for Tony Massenburg and Ed Pinckney in 1996.
Keith Van Horn – 2nd pick; 1997 NBA Draft
Another guy selected to be the complimentary piece to Iverson. Or so we thought. Van Horn was traded after the draft to the Nets for Jim Jackson, Eric Montross and just-drafted Tim Thomas in an eight-player deal. A few years later he was dealt back to the Sixers, playing just one season in Philly. Thomas never lived up to his potential, while Chauncy Billups was taken one pick after Van Horn and Tracy McGrady, taken out of high school, went ninth overall in that draft.
Evan Turner – 2nd pick; 2010 NBA Draft
Turner played three and a half uninspiring seasons in Philly after being taken second in the 2010 draft. The 2010 draft had one clear star in John Wall, but the Sixers passed on the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors, Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward and Paul George that season, all who became much better players than Turner. Really almost everyone in that draft became a better player than Turner.
Marreese Speights – 16th pick; 2008 NBA Draft
Speights played three years with the Sixers before getting traded for two second round picks in 2012. He eventually found his way into the rotation for the Golden State Warriors where, as a role player, he won one title and was part of the best regular season in NBA history. Roy Hibbert and JaVale McGee were selected just after him, which makes this pick seem worse than it probably should be remembered.
Nikola Vucevic – 16th pick; 2011 NBA Draft
Vucevic played one season in Philly before getting dumped in the horrible Bynum trade. He played in 51 games for Philly, scoring 5.5. points and grabbing 4.8 rebounds. In Orlando, Vucevic has turned into a 16 and 10 guy, averaging nearly 19 points the last two seasons. Bynum never played for the Sixers. Never forget that.
Jrue Holiday – 17th pick; 2009 NBA Draft
Holiday played four years in Philly, making one All-Star team, so it’s hard to say his potential was untapped. Injuries aside, he has been productive for New Orleans, though he’s played just 94 games over those three years. Meanwhile, Noel has been very good for the Sixers and Saric may be part of the team of the future if he ever shows up. This remains a smart trade for the Sixers, even if Holiday was on his way to something good here.
Jahlil Okafor – 3rd pick; 2015 NBA Draft
Okafor led the Sixers in scoring last year and, depending on who you ask, could either be a solid offensive piece on a good team for many years to come or is a one-dimensional big man with too many holes in his game to be a star, so dump him now.
The wait and see on his career, and where that is, is a fascinating story.
Michael Carter-Williams – 11th pick; 2013 NBA Draft
MCW was a good pick, won Rookie of the Year and then was traded in the most Process-forward thinking of the Sam Hinkie era.
Depending on who the Sixers eventually get with the pick they got for MCW — the yet-to-manifest Lakers pick — will determine if this was a slam dunk win for the Sixers or merely a smart move that didn’t totally pan out. Hinkie no longer being in charge obviously skews how we will remember this move when that pick is made.
Joel Embiid – 3rd pick; 2014 NBA Draft
He’s either Hakeem Olajuwon or Greg Oden. There is no in between.
The Good Picks
Samuel Dalembert – 26th pick; 2001 NBA Draft
Dalembert played just 34 games as a rookie then was out with a knee injury the entire next season, but in his eight years in Philly, he was very productive as a rim protector and rebounder who added enough scoring to keep teams honest. He wasn’t great, but he was a piece the Sixers needed, even as the rest of the team was broken apart by Larry Brown’s tinkering.
Jerry Stackhouse – 3rd pick; 1995 NBA Draft
Stackhouse averaged 19.2 and 20.7 points per game in his two years in Philly, but he just could not play with Iverson, and there was no way Pat Croce was going to keep him around after putting the entire franchise on The Answer’s back.
Stack was dealt with Eric Montross to Detroit for Aaron McKie and Theo Ratliff and a 2003 first round pick the Sixers eventually dealt for a Serbian who never played. Ratliff proved to be the perfect piece to an Eastern Conference Championship puzzle, while McKie was a vital role player for years. Who knows how Stackhouse would have fared had he stayed in Philly, or had the team not gotten Iverson in the draft. At the time, it was a good pick, even with the fact Philly legend Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett went right after him.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t as good a pick as I want to remember, considering who the Sixers could have had.
Thaddeus Young – 12th pick; 2007 NBA Draft
Thad Young went 12th the year Greg Oden went first and Kevin Durant went second. That was a fun draft, with some nice players and a lot of really big misses. Thad was not a miss, and had a productive career in Philly for seven seasons.
Young has been part of two huge NBA trades too. He was first part of the blockbuster deal that sent Kevin Love to the Cavs, the first pick to Minnesota — where they took Andrew Wiggins — and a 2016 first rounder to the Sixers (they won’t get Wiggins). Then Thad was traded to the Nets as part of Kevin Garnett’s homecoming to the Timberwolves.
It’s a shame the Sixers didn’t have better pieces around him, as Young could have been a really nice complimentary player that was good value at that spot in the draft.
Clarence Weatherspoon – 9th pick; 1992 NBA Draft
Taken ninth overall in the draft led by Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning, Clarence Weatherspoon was a productive if undersized big man for the Sixers for most of six seasons. It didn’t help that he looked just like Charles Barkley, but lofty expectations were backed up with a 15-and-8 tenure in Philly; not great numbers but solid, albeit on some really bad teams.
Andre Iguodala – 9th pick; 2004 NBA Draft
Andre Iguodala was the second best player taken in the 2004 draft, and maybe the best depending on how you feel about Dwight Howard’s career. The problem for Iggy in Philly was that he never could go from being the ultimate role player to a bona fide star. His shot wasn’t good enough and he was on a team that asked him to do way too much offensively. But as everyone in the NBA has seen the last two seasons in Golden State, if a team needs a lock-down defender who can handle the ball, distribute and get to the bucket, he’s one of the best in the game.
He was never a star, even though the Sixers had to pay him as one, but on the right team, he was a key championship piece, and an NBA Finals MVP. It’s a shame it never happened here.
Allen Iverson – 1st pick; 1996 NBA Draft
The Answer. Then, now and forever.