But First, We’re Still Processing
We are only three days away from the NBA Draft Lottery. Last year I was incredibly nervous at this time. The Sixers had secured the worst record, but we were still at the mercy of the ping pong balls. Would we be able to secure the ability to draft Ben Simmons, the potential transcendent combination of vision, size, and speed? Would we fall all the way to the 4th pick? Would the Lakers pick convey?
This year feels a bit different, at least to me. I’ll get into some of the reasons later, but as I think about it, I’m oddly at ease going into the Lottery. So instead of worrying, I started daydreaming about some of the potential scenarios that could happen to fall the Sixers way.
The Likely Scenario
So, when we look at all of the numbers going into the lottery, the single most likely pick the Sixers can have is #5. This would happen with one team behind them jumping into the top 3. Similarly, the single most likely pick for the Lakers to get is #4. Now, obviously the math behind the probability of both scenarios occurring isn’t as straightforward, but for our purposes, we’re going to play along. Let’s say that Orlando nabs the #2 pick, bumping the Lakers and Sixers out of the top 3. This would mean the Sixers would select back to back at 4 and 5. Last year, I wouldn’t have been happy to hear this. However, since this draft is (in my opinion) deep, I would be very excited for the Sixers to select two excellent prospects in Jonathan Isaac and De’Aaron Fox.
This would make me a very happy Sixers fan. I am a very strong believer in Brett Brown’s mantra of “pace, space, defense” as the attributes to look at in players to build around. Both of these picks would give you potential plusses at 2 of the 3. Both of them project to be excellent perimeter defenders, which would play well into the Ben Simmons at PG experiment the Sixers are keen to try (while Fox has not been an off ball player, he definitely thinks he can do it). Fox also is arguably the most athletic player in the draft, drawing comparisons to John Wall. Imagine having him, Simmons, and Embiid running the break. Isaac has improved his shooting throughout the season, and could project as a really good 3&D stretch 4 to play in the frontcourt with Robert Covington and Embiid.
The Nightmare Scenario
This is it. The worst case scenario. The thing that keeps us crossing our fingers, biting off our fingernails, and offering up ritual sacrifices to effigies of Hinkie. Anything we can do to escape the existential horror of…
Well, actually, it’s not really all that bad. As I mentioned above, everyone pegs this draft class as particularly deep. Not only that, but the Sixers are in a completely different place as a team going into this draft. We had no idea whether Embiid would ever play, there were question marks everywhere. This year, while there are still some questions about Embiid’s health, we’ve seen him play. We’ve seen him DOMINATE. And we’ve seen Simmons’ vision and ability to create for his teammates in the Summer League last year. The team is in a much better position in this draft, so it’s not as dire as last year’s quest for Ben.
That said, this scenario is also the hardest to mock, because it involves the most variables. Two teams outside of the top 3 have to jump into the mix, and one of them can’t be the Sixers. Additionally, the Lakers have to retain their top 3 pick. With that in mind, I’ve randomly run a draft simulator until the Sixers had just the 6th pick, and the order went:
- Orlando Magic — Markelle Fultz
- Los Angeles Lakers — Lonzo Ball
- Dallas Mavericks — De’Aaron Fox
- Boston Celtics — Josh Jackson
- Phoenix Suns — Jonathan Isaac
So with those players off the board, the Sixers are in the difficult scenario to choose between the 4th guard on the board, or the 3rd wing on the board. In my opinion, I’m not sure I can trust a wing (Jayson Tatum) who doesn’t have elite athletic ability to be able to transition into the NBA at a high level, so I would have the Sixers take Dennis Smith, Jr.
Smith draws comparisons to Damian Lillard and for the most part, I agree. He should be able to play on or off the ball, he’s explosive in getting to the rim. He’s going to need to get consistency with his jumper to really take his game to the next level, but on a team with multiple potential superstars, he should definitely have the pressure taken off of him to work on it. He’s a great fit next to Simmons in the backcourt offensively, and while he’s not particularly big (6'2), he plays with very active hands on defense, much like Eric Bledsoe, which should result in a lot of steals.
Now we get to my favorite. The pick numbers are obvious, we get the first overall selection, and no other team outside the top 3 jumps the Lakers and we get their selection at 4. However, there’s a way that it can play out that would make it even sweeter. That’s right, the SWAP. If you’re new to The Process, the short story is Hinkie swindled the Sacramento Kings to give us Nik Stauskas, pick swap rights AND an unprotected first rounder, all for cap relief. 2017 is the last of the swap years, and nothing would make me happier than to hear Adam Silver announce that the Kings won the first selection in the lottery and to have Joel Embiid walk over, give a Dikembe Mutombo finger wag, and take the envelope from Vlade Divac. Of course, with the first selection, there really isn’t a question as to the pick. The clear best prospect this year is Markelle Fultz
Fultz can really do it all. I mentioned “pace, space, defense” above, and he embodies all three characteristics. He can shoot, he can get out in transition, and while he’s not the lock down defender that Fox is, he’s quick and doesn’t let people by him. This is going to be key going forward for the Sixers, as whoever plays in the backcourt with Simmons will be asked to switch onto the opposing PG (I still don’t think Ben is going to play the 1 defensively). Just getting Fultz out of this draft would be a dream come true.
But while we’re on cloud nine, let’s go all in. We’re going to project that Boston shocks the world by taking Lonzo Ball at #2, maybe because they’ve realized that building around a 5'9 low efficiency PG is not sustainable. Then (remembering it’s dream world), we’ll mock De’Aaron Fox to the Suns. This is a bit less farfetched than the Celtics pick, in my view. While Phoenix has a loaded backcourt, the chance to draft the ‘John Wall’ to Devin Booker’s ‘Bradley Beal’ is just too enticing for them to pass up. This would allow the Sixers at 4 to draft the best wing in the draft, Josh Jackson.
Immediately Josh Jackson is going to come into the league and remind Sixers fans of Andre Iguodala. He’s very athletic, finishes well in the paint, has good length, and commands respect on the defensive end. Now Iggy never made as big a mark in Philly as he should have, because he was asked to be a superstar. Jackson won’t be asked that, on a team with Simmons and Embiid (and we’ll throw in Saric and Fultz for good measure). He’s going to run in transition, get to the rim, and play hard D. He’ll be under no pressure, which should hopefully give him the ability to focus on improving his jump shot. And if that comes into form, look out. Jackson could be in the same conversation as Kawhi Leonard if everything goes right (and of course it will, we ARE living the dream after all).
So, while each of these scenarios would constitute a different team, different look, going forward, as I think about them, I don’t think there’s a one that would upset me. I would be fine with any one of these players (Fultz, Fox, Isaac, Jackson, Smith). For the first time since The Process began, I think the Sixers are in a almost ‘no lose’ situation. That’s why I’m daydreaming.