76ers draft Mikal Bridges, then trade him for Zhaire Smith

| The Sixers were determined to extract value from the lottery; a place they aren’t likely to return to soon |

For almost an hour on Thursday evening in Brooklyn, Mikal Bridges thought he had been drafted by his home-town team. The 76ers snagged the forward from Villanova with the 10th overall pick, a match seemingly made in heaven. Bridges left the stage and answered questions about playing for the same team that his own mother works for.

And then, a trade. Hardly uncommon in the NBA, but one that still took everyone by surprise (especially to Bridges himself, apparently one of the last people to hear about the deal). The Sixers shipped Bridges to Phoenix in exchange for Zhaire Smith, and a 2021 first round pick belonging to the Miami Heat. It’s also worth noting; 2021 could potentially be the first season without the NBA’s “one and done” rule in place. It’s hard to project exactly who will go highly in that draft, but the talent pool could possibly be larger

Bridges seemed like a perfect fit on Philly’s roster;  a hard working defender who showed good catch-and-shoot ability. He’d have been another 3-and-D wing who drained threes from Ben Simmons and a cog in one of the best defensive units in the league. Bridges was a polished, safe pick for a team that might be a lot closer than everyone expected.

Instead, the Sixers will get Smith, who is a crazy athlete and will probably contribute a fair share of dunks next season. But his offensive game, especially the jumpshot, is a major question mark. He projects to be a very good defender, and the Sixers definitely place an emphasis on that.He certainly carries more risk than Bridges, but Smith’s athleticism might give him a higher ceiling. It was trade that Brett Brown described as hard to turn down.

“Phoenix came in and offered a 2021 unprotected plus our 1B in Zhaire [Smith], who we value very highly, and you’re in a position that you’re on the clock and you really have a decision to make,” Brown said after the draft.

This will likely be the Sixers last lottery pick for at least a few seasons. The pick they received from Miami might have some nice value, but it’s three years away. LeBron James could come and leave Philadelphia in that span of time. Using that pick as a trade chip sooner than later might be in the team’s best interest.

Philadelphia certainly had trades on their mind yesterday. Earlier in the day, they shipped their 39th overall pick to Los Angeles for a 2019 2nd rounder and cash. Trading 2nd rounders was not surprising as the Sixers owned five when the night began.

But they never used those 2nds to move up in the draft. They were also agonizingly close to drafting Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr. The once highly regarded prospect fell all the way to Denver’s 14th overall pick, presumably because of injury concerns. It makes sense why the Sixers stayed away, but a player of Porter’s upside would have been good value from the 10th pick onward.

The Sixers wouldn’t pick again until the 26th pick, where they took Wichita State’s Landry Shamet. He’s a crafty guard whose shooting and ball handling, particularly in the pick and roll, will be welcome additions. Shamet is not very athletic though, and he will have to get stronger to handle the NBA. That also limits his defensive upside. This pick doesn’t really solve the issues that the Sixers had in the playoffs against Boston; their guards (read as: Marco Belinelli) were simply abused on defense.

The Sixers needed to come out of this draft with a guard; Markelle Fultz, potential notwithstanding, had a disastrous rookie season. TJ McConnell is good, but is a potential cap space causality if LeBron James comes to town. Belinelli might come back, but he becomes unplayable in the postseason. Timothe Luwawu Cabbarot hasn’t progressed enough to warrant big minutes. Shamet seems like he has enough offensive skill to get by, and the team believes that the defensive potential is there.

Finally, the team made one final trade to mvoe up in the 2nd round. They sent their 56th and 60th overall picks to the Dallas Mavericks for the 54th pick. From there Philadelphia selected SMU’s Shake Milton, a catch and shoot wing with physical tools to develop into a strong defender. It was another area of need that the Sixers needed to replenish.

Ultimately, this wasn’t a draft that landed the Sixers a hugely impactful player. Instead the team focused on adding cheap young players with reasonable upside. In trading for Miami’s 2012 first round pick, they also gave themsleve smore ammunition for a trade. Should they make a play for Kawhi Leonard or another star via trade, they will have the draft capital to pull it off and some young replacements for players that might be included in any such trade.

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