The Sixers surely didn’t win the NBA Draft lottery Tuesday, but by landing the No. 3 pick in a swap with Sacramento, they didn’t lose.
For the third time in the The Process era — yes, even with Sam Hinkie gone and Bryan Colangelo calling the shots, this is and forever will be known by that name — the Sixers have the opportunity to pick third, should they not trade the pick. And no, the Celtics are not interested in swapping the top pick for No. 3 and Jahlil Okafor to let the Sixers draft Markelle Fultz. Stop asking that.
In 2014, the Sixers moved back one spot from their pre-lottery slot and took Joel Embiid. A year later, the Sixers landed the third pick again and took Jahlil Okafor. Last season, the Sixers won the lottery and grabbed Ben Simmons.
Now, with only the third pick this season after the Lakers held onto their 2017 pick by finishing second in the lottery — the Sixers officially own the Lakers’ 2018 first rounder now — Colangelo has the opportunity to add another young player to a remarkable level of nascent talent on the Sixers roster.
The Sixers core of Embiid (23), Simmons (20), Dario Saric (23), and for what it’s worth Okafor (21), are incredibly young by NBA standards. Add in Timothy Luwawu-Cabarrot (22), who was a pleasant surprise late in his rookie campaign, and Richaun Holmes (23), who has proven so serviceable as a back-up big man that Nerlens Noel and Okafor have both become expendable, and the Sixers’ current core is just 22 years old.
Robert Covington (26) is the only Sixers player who still might be here in two seasons — sorry, Gerald Henderson — over the age of 25 right now. T.J. McConnell (25), Nik Stauskas (23) and Justin Anderson (23) are all valuable pieces of the team right now, but as the overall talent level rises, it’s hard to imagine everyone on the 2016-17 team still being here. And yet, Sergio Rodriguez was on a one-year deal and Jerryd Bayless, who signed a multi-year deal before injuring his wrist and only playing in three games, can be easily moved if healthy. So there’s room on the roster for more young talent.
The question for June’s draft becomes who the Sixers can add to this young core, and what free agents will be available to bolster a roster that — say it with me — if healthy, can be really, really good in the next few years.
The 2017-18 Sixers lineup
The Sixers have an interesting choice in this year’s draft. The position of need for Philly is point guard, but head coach Brett Brown has been saying for months that Ben Simmons can-and-will be the team’s primary ball handler. So who is going to guard the other team’s guards? And who is going to be able to shoot the basketball when Simmons drives the lane and dishes?
Assume this lineup: Embiid, Saric, Covington, Simmons, Luwawu-Cabarrot, with _________, Henderson, Okafor, McConnell, Stauskas, and Anderson off the bench. That team can win, but if you add a top-3 talent in the right position, that team can suddenly compete, too.
Now assume this: Embiid, Saric, Covington, Simmons, ________ with TLC off the bench alongside Okafor, McConnell, Stauskas and Anderson. Henderson is under contract for one more season, but the Sixers have a $1 million buyout clause before June 30. After that, his $9 million salary is guaranteed. The draft is June 22.
Again, the Sixers need a guard. So how about drafting a forward?
Try this: Embiid, Saric, ________, Simmons, McConnell starting with Covington sixth man, TLC behind him, with Okafor, Stauskas and Anderson. That opens the door for an eventual replacement of Covington should he prove too expensive in his next deal, and gives the Sixers the ability to replace McConnell with Cov on the floor to go big. Honestly who the heck is going to score on that team?
So…who to add?
Markelle Fultz, the 6-4 point guard out of Washington, is the odds-on favorite to be the top pick, but low and behold, the best player on the Celtics is Isaiah Thomas, point guard. Could Thomas and Fultz play together? For sure, and for a guy as talented as Fultz it’s probably worth the pick. But the Celtics could look for trade partners, and the Sixers do have a ton to offer.
Will the Sixers trade up to get Fultz? Probably not. Should they? Not if they have to give up a first rounder next year, no. But if Colangelo can find some spare Hinkie dust in his desk drawer to get a favorable deal out of Boston, he needs to DO IT.
Lonzo Ball? Nope. The dude said this week he might only work out for the Lakers. This is a nightmare scenario for Magic Johnson, who almost has to take Ball, and I, for one, look forward to watching the Lakers implode this season in hopes the Sixers get another top-3 pick next year.
Josh Jackson is the guy. JOSH JACKSON IS THE MAN.
If Sixers fans want to fall in love with anyone in this draft, it’s Jackson. He’s a two-way player, ranked as the second-best prospect by CBS Sports, and at 6-8, 207 he is already NBA ready. He can defend, and he can score, averaging 16.3 points per game in his only season at Kansas. He shot 37.8 percent from three and 51.3 percent overall in 35 games, adding 7.4 rebounds per game. Fultz shot 41.3 percent from three and Ball 41.2, for comparison. Jackson’s free throw shooting was atrocious at 56.6 percent, so that has to improve.
For a guy like Jackson to fall to No. 3 might be a blessing for the Sixers. He’s not the top prospect, no, but he could be damn good in Philly for a team in need of more talent.
Duke small forward Jayson Tatum is another option for the Sixers, should they go with a non-guard. Tatum is a full year younger than Jackson and at 6-8, has a longer wingspan than the Kansas product. Tatum is rated as the fourth-best prospect by many outlets, including Draft Express, though Jay Bilas said on the NBA Lottery show Tuesday night he has Tatum ranked ahead of Jackson. Bilas Duke bias? Probably.
Tatum played in 29 games for Duke last year, averaging 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds, while shooting 45.2 percent from the floor and 34.2 percent from beyond the arc.
The wildcard in this draft might be a Wildcat, as De’Aaron Fox could be worth taking at No. 3 by the Sixers, or he could drop, per CBS Sports, to as low as No. 8.
Fox can score in bunches, as evidenced by the 39-point game he dropped on UCLA in the NCAA tourney, but his outside shooting was all but non-existent last season, hitting on just 17-of-69 college-level three pointers, a 24.6 percent clip. He did average 16.7 points and 4.6 assists per game and had 10 games of 20 or more points, but at 6-3, 187, he’s going to need to shoot the basketball better from the outside in the NBA.
Fox’s teammate Malik Monk might be a stretch at No. 3, but he might be a better option for the Sixers. He averaged 19.8 points per game, shooting 39.7 percent from three, 45 percent overall. When asked at the NBA lottery what he can provide to a team he said his best attribute is the pick-and-roll. SWOON.
Dennis Smith Jr. from NC State is perhaps the fourth-best point guard in the draft, but a fringe option for the Sixers if they’re looking for a more traditional point guard after Fultz and Ball get taken. Smith averaged 18.1 points per game for the Wolfpack in his only season, adding 6.2 assists. At 6-3, 195, he’s an inch shorter than the two Kentucky players, but a bit heavier than Fox. Smith shot 45.5 percent from the floor and 35.9 percent from three, adding 4.6 rebounds per game as well.
And that’s it. That’s the list. One of those players is going to be on the Sixers in a month, and how the next rookie fits into the rotation will say a lot about who might be longterm fits on the roster, and where the team actually plans to play Simmons.
The Sixers also have three second-round picks — Hinkie, you sly dog — so they could take Jackson at No. 3, grab Kansas teammate Frank Mason with their first pick in the second round and take two draft-and-stash prospects in Europe like they did last year in the first round with Furkan Korkmaz, who reportedly wants to come over next year to play for the Sixers.
Will that change who the Sixers take in the draft? It might. Could the Sixers make some kind of wacky trade like the No. 3 pick and Saric for an established veteran somewhere? They could. A lot can happen between now and the draft. It’s an exciting time to Trust the Process.