It feels like at least half of the posts I’ve written since Jeff and I started the Philadelphia Sports Table have been draft-related. While it’s mostly a result of this time of year (we started right before the NFL Draft and the other 3 major sports hold their drafts in June), I do tend to look forward to the future of Philadelphia sports. Maybe that’s because the present isn’t looking so hot right now. At any rate, this post will focus on what the Sixers could do in the NBA Draft, which will be held on Thursday, June 27. My next post will likely be a recap of what the Sixers and Flyers did in their respective drafts (the NHL Draft will be held on June 30). After that, I’ll likely shift my focus to the “here and now” in Philly sports.
The Sixers hold the 11th pick in what is commonly being referred to as one of the worst draft classes in recent memory. I seriously doubt that they will find the superstar they desperately need in this draft, but it’s possible that they could find a good rotational piece that could be helpful one day if they can build a quality team. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The lack of excitement about this class reminds me of the 2010 draft, which is looked at as another very weak class. Many of the players in that class have not seen their careers take off, but the best player in that draft, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, was taken 10th overall. So while it’s unlikely to happen, the Sixers could find a young star to build around.
Before I talk about a few possibilities, I do want to comment on the fact that the Sixers are going into this draft without a head coach in place. I’m really not thrilled about it, to be honest. In a perfect world, you’d want to have all of the major pieces in place so you can cement an organizational philosophy, and then select a player that fits into that philosophy. New Sixers GM Sam Hinkie has been moving at a snail’s pace making this hire, and nobody seems to know what direction he’s leaning. That being said, I’m giving Hinkie a pass just as I’m giving new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly a pass. We don’t know enough about how these guys operate to give a fair criticism just yet. Let’s actually give them some rope to hang themselves with before we form an opinion.
Now let’s take a look at some players the Sixers could take at #11:
Cody Zeller (PF/C, Indiana) – Almost every mock draft I’ve looked at recently has the Sixers taking Zeller. Before the 2012-2013 college basketball season started, you’d think the Sixers would have needed a top 3 pick to land him. However, Zeller had what was considered a sub-par season by many, and his stock has taken a hit. A lot of people assume Zeller will be the pick because the Sixers need a big man, but don’t they kind of need everything? I see a team with exactly two players (Jrue Holiday & Thaddeus Young) that could be considered contributors for a contending team.
As far as Zeller goes, I wouldn’t hate it if they drafted him, but I’m a little underwhelmed by him. I keep going back to Indiana’s NCAA Tournament game against a Temple team with Khalif Wyatt and no inside presence to speak of, and in that game he struggled a lot. He seems to have a good deal of athleticism, a solid basketball IQ and good character. Still, he seems like he can get overwhelmed by better athletes and he lacks any kind of killer instinct.
Steven Adams (C, Pittsburgh) – I have to say, Adams might intrigue me the most out of the big men the Sixers will have a shot at in this draft. He is a genuine physical post presence at 7 feet tall and 255 pounds. He has a solid frame and runs the floor well. Defensively, he is probably ready to play in the NBA now. So in a league lacking solid big men, why might he last so long?
Well, the New Zealand native has only been playing organized basketball for about 6 or 7 years. His offensive game is years away from where it needs to be. Even by the low standards set for centers, he is a horrendous free-throw shooter (44% last year). Adams would probably benefit greatly from staying in school, but the opportunity is there now and he apparently feels he needs to provide for his family back home. The tools are tantalizing, but whoever drafts him is taking on a project.
Kelly Olynyk (C/PF, Gonzaga) – It’s probably not a stretch to call Olynyk the most offensively advanced big man in this draft. He has a good set of low-post moves and range out to the 3-point line. He’s a hard worker and a smart player. The problem is that he’s not a great athlete and is a finesse player. Olynyk is one of those big men that likes to be an outside shooter, which I’m really not a fan of. He’s not a great defender, either. Basically, he’s Spencer Hawes 2.0. Given how frustrated I get with the original Spencer Hawes, I’m going to pass here.
Lucas Nogueira (C/PF, Brazil) – I’ve seen comparisons on Nogueira to Joakim Noah and Samuel Dalembert. If he’s more like Noah, I’m all in. If he happens to be more like Dalembert…not so much. He’s an elite athlete with quality offensive ability, but he’s been described as being very soft and lacking strength. Despite having the physical tools to be a good defender, he seems to be a total liability on that end of the floor. I have also read that he’s not always coachable. I don’t think I’m willing to bet on him reaching his potential.
Shabazz Muhammad (SF, UCLA) – I’m going on record, if he’s there, this is the guy I want to see the Sixers take. Like I said in my section on Zeller, the Sixers need help everywhere. Like Zeller, Muhammad is a guy whose stock tumbled after being considered a top pick coming into the season. This is a total boom-or-bust pick, but in a year where everybody seems uninspired by what’s on the board, why not take a gamble on somebody with the potential to be the superstar the Sixers lack?
He has his share of knocks against him. He is too reliant on his left hand for his dribble. He is a gunner; you usually won’t get the ball back if you pass it to him. His body language is less than stellar. Despite these problems, he represents a genuine chance for the Sixers to obtain the star they are missing. Unlike Zeller, Muhammad does possess a killer instinct and he plays with a chip on his shoulder. When the game is on the line, he wants the ball. He has solid athleticism and a good wingspan, so he has the potential to be a good defender. He has a strong work ethic and genuinely wants to be great. Maybe I just want to root for a guy named Shabazz, but that’s the kind of guy I want on my team.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG, Georgia) – Speaking of guys with great first names…Kentavious! Caldwell-Pope was basically a one-man show for a bad Georgia team. He seems like he’s going to be a solid rotational guy in the NBA, providing outside shooting, good defense and rebounding, and quickness. He’s not much of a passer or ball-handler, and he seems to prefer chucking it up from the outside to driving the lane, but given the right role on the right team (my guess would be instant offense off the bench), he could be productive.
C.J. McCollum (PG/SG, Lehigh) – McCollum burst into the national conscience when he led Lehigh to a massive upset of Duke in the first-round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. He missed most of the 2012-2013 with a broken bone in his foot, but that seems like a freak thing that will not raise any medical red flags. McCollum is a great scorer with some ability to run the point. At only 6’3”, he’s going to have to play the point if he’s going to succeed in the NBA. It seems like his future role will be as an instant offense combo guard, preferably off the bench. There is some question about the level of competition he played against in college, but the success of Portland guard (and Weber State alum) Damian Lillard last year may help McCollum.
Other possibilities – Michael Carter-Williams (PG, Syracuse), Mason Plumlee (PF, Duke), Sergey Karasev (SG/SF, Russia)
The Sixers also hold two picks in the second round, drafting at #35 and #42. Here are a few names I’d like to see them take: Mike Muscala (PF, Bucknell), James Ennis (SG/SF, Long Beach State), James Southerland (SF, Syracuse), Jeff Withey (C, Kansas).