Now that the draft order is set, the Sixers have a decision to make. A foundational super star in the mold of Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid doesn’t appear to be in the cards this year. But that’s okay; the team wants to build around those players. The questions comes when you ask how they’re going to do so. As I see it, they have 3 legitimate options.
Draft the Best Player Available
Despite being the easiest outcome, this is far from an easy decision. Markell Fultz and Lonzo Ball appear to be the consensus top 2 picks. I don’t expect the Celtics to overthink this; Fultz is the best prospect in this draft. Since they’re already a good team, they can bring him along slowly. Or, if Fultz makes an immediate impact, they’ll have added a stud to an already deep roster. This draft, like many, doesn’t get hazy until the second pick.
The Lakers surprised some by selecting D’Angelo Russell at #2 in 2015. Will they go off the board again this year? The argument could be made. Perhaps they see Josh Jackson as the impact wing defender that they lack. Russell, Joran Clarkson, and Brandon Ingram can all score, but none project as highly on defense as Jackson does.
Then again, I don’t think it’s likely. Lonzo Ball has made it very clear that he wants to play in L.A., and the Lakers could use a natural passer on their team. They were a bottom five team in assists per game this year. Beyond basketball, Ball seems like the marketable star that the Lakers always want. L.A. shouldn’t overthink this one either.
But with the small chance that they do, the Sixers will have to consider both Ball and Jackson. Both are good fits; Jackson for his defense and athleticism, Ball for his prowess in transition and off ball action that would complement Ben Simmons. Neither is on the level of Fultz, but adding a prospect of Jackson or Ball’s pedigree can only be a good thing for the team moving forward.
It’s also worth noting that they’ll have two first round picks in each of the next two drafts. The Lakers pick next year and the Kings pick in 2019. There will be plenty of chances to draft for fit when they have a better idea of who Simmons and Embiid are as players. With less draft capital this year, reaching could be a mistake.
This seems like the least likely outcome, but not entirely impossible. Consider this. If the Sixers aren’t enamored with Ball or Jackson, they could trade down as a means of avoiding reaching for a player that they’re confident in while adding more assets to their arsenal.
A possible target? You don’t have to stray far from a team that Philadelphia has dealt with in the past; the Sacramento Kings. Had the pick swap not occurred, the Kings would be selecting third overall instead of fifth. Two spots might not seem like much, but if Lonzo Ball falls to 3 and the Kings are enamored with him, is it unreasonable to think that Sacramento would offer #5 and future draft picks (or a player like Ben McLemore or Skal Labissiere)? Historically, the Kings aren’t the savviest of trade partners, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable.
It’s also worth noting that this avenue could be a means of trading away Jahlil Okafor, whose trade value has plummeted over the past year. Finding a trade partner could be tough, however. Looking at the rest of the top 10 affirms this; Orlando has Nik Vucevic, clearly a much better player. Minnesota has Karl Anthony Towns, one of the best under 22 players in the whole league. And Dallas just traded for Nerlens Noel.
That leaves the Suns, Knicks, and Kings as potential suitors if the Sixers want to rid themselves of Big Jah. Phoenix strikes me as an interesting choice. Alex Len might have higher upside than Okafor, but he’s been in the league four seasons now and never matched Okafor’s scoring ability. The Knicks and Kings both have crowded front courts, but neither team is a stranger to making bad trades. If either team is enamored with Ball or Jackson, then they might just give the Sixers a call.
At 5, 8, or 10 the Sixers might feel better about drafting a player like Malik Monk, Dennis Smith Jr., or Johnathan Isaac. Ultimately I think that trading down is a move that Sam Hinkie would make, not Bryan Colangelo.
Draft for Roster Fit
Philadelphia has given some indication that this is the direction they are likely to take. If that’s the case, who would they target? Malik Monk seems like the best choice. He’s a good shooter and not ball dominant so he wouldn’t take away from Simmons’ role as the primary creator on offense.
If the team opts for a natural point guard, other options could be Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina. Smith is an athletic freak who would excel in transition. He may be somewhat undersized, but that hasn’t stopped TJ McConnell at the NBA level. Ntilikina would maintain length and defensive ability that the Sixers look for with good upside. He would be more of a project but Philly is no stranger to bringing players along slowly.
It’s also worth noting that a forward is entirely possible too. Simmons and Embiid take up two front court spots, and although Robert Covington plays mostly as the small forward, he’s a strong enough defender to play the 2 spot. If that’s the case, Johnathan Isaac could be a legitimate option. He has the length to the play the 3 and plenty of upside as an off-ball scorer. Jayson Tatum seems like a long shot to me; his ISO driven scoring doesn’t mesh with the Sixers’ pass heavy half court sets.
The Sixers have played it safe in the past three drafts. Best player available is always an easy route to take, but they have to start thinking about on-the-court results. They looked like a playoff team when Embiid played last year. If Ben Simmons has that sort of impact, the foundation of the team could very well be in place. The temptation is there to find players who compliment the skill set of those two players.