If anybody is still watching what will be one of the worst drafts in the last 20 years when NBA commissioner David Stern marches to the podium Thursday night to announce the Sixers’ pick, they will likely be underwhelmed by the choice. That has nothing to do with new GM Sam Hinkie’s ability to identify talent, but with the options that will be available to him.
Simply put, it ain’t a lot. And it wouldn’t be too much better were the Sixers selecting sixth or seventh. In a draft that includes few — if any — future long-term starters, much less standouts, a spot anywhere in the lottery is no sure thing.
Case in point: presumed number-one choice Nerlens Noel. Noel, who suffered a torn ACL in February, is being told by NBA teams that the injury — which could keep him out of action until Christmas — is not a factor. What will be an issue is that his offensive game is rudimentary and not likely ever to develop into something that makes him a feared pivotman. He can block shots and rebound, but the top overall pick is supposed to be more than just a defensive specialist.
If that’s the top of the heap, imagine what is below. Kansas guard Ben McLemore is supposed to be a big-time shooter and a fine wing prospect, but questions have arisen about his work ethic. Otto Porter of Georgetown would be a fine pick at number three, but his game is solid. That’s all, just solid. Center Alex Len of Maryland is rising up the ranks, but there are questions about why he scored so few points last year (11.9 ppg) and whether he’ll ever be a consistent NBA scorer. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse? Can’t shoot at all. Indiana wing Victor Oladipo? Ditto. And so on.
So, what is likely to be left at number 11? There will be several options, but anybody expecting a full-fledged starter capable of helping the Sixers lift themselves out of the sludge of Eastern Conference mediocrity would be better advised to bet on Cole Hamels reaching 20 wins this season.
But the Sixers do have to select someone (unless, of course, Hinkie is able to find a sucker, er, trade partner willing to offer a viable piece in exchange for the pick), so here is the lowdown on some of the potential choices.
Cody Zeller, 7-0, PF/C, Indiana: The Sixers have been a popular destination for the Hoosier product among the mock drafters, but there is just one problem: He might not be there. Zeller is a fine athlete and quite mobile, and he showed the ability to make outside shots during pre-draft workouts. If the Sixers take him, he would immediately upgrade the athletic profile of their frontcourt and give them a piece that wouldn’t be out of place on a playoff squad. Odds of ending up with the Sixers: 10-1.
Kelly Olynyk, 7-0, C, Gonzaga: Olynyk is an interesting case. He was a nondescript player for the Zags for three seasons before redshirting in 2011–12 and emerging as a big-time offensive threat last season. He can score inside, hit the long ball and pass well. One NBA general manager said, “If he were from Zagreb, Croatia, he would be a top-10 pick.” The problem with Olynyk is that he plays below the rim. In Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, the Sixers already have two players like that. Do they want a third? But if Hinkie is adding an athletic big man, Olynyk makes sense. Odds: 15-1.
Steven Adams, 7-0, C, Pittsburgh: As athletic as Zeller is, Adams is even livelier. He has dazzled GMs during workouts with his movement, speed, leaping ability and skill. If this were a decathlon, he might be the gold medalist. The problem, as the GM puts it, is “he doesn’t know how to play.” Adams is from New Zealand, and going one-on-one against a sheep is different than tuning up Dwight Howard. When he hits the court, things move too fast for him. It’s going to take a couple years for him to develop into a productive NBA player, and Hinkie may not have that much time to wait. Still, if the new Sixers’ boss is as bound to analytics as everyone says, Adams is his guy. It will be interesting to see if he goes for a more finished product. Odds: 8-1.
C.J. McCollum, 6-3, SG/PG, Lehigh: The big question with McCollum is whether he can play the point. He’s not an elite shooter, although he did display the ability to score freely with the Mountain Hawks. If he has a good enough handle to run a team part of the time, he could be a strong third guard, à la Lou Williams, whom the Sixers let leave town before last season. That wouldn’t be so bad. Again, remember that this pick isn’t going to yield a starter, so adding a versatile rotation member — provided McCollum can handle work at both guard spots — isn’t so bad. Odds: 12-1.
The Field: Included in this group are UCLA guard Shabazz Muhammad, Georgia gunner Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Duke big man Mason Plumlee. Since Evan Turner is not an NBA two guard, thanks to his inability to shoot the basketball, the mercurial Muhammad or the productive Caldwell-Pope could be an option. Plumlee, who is known for his fine basketball IQ, would be a reach at number 11. Odds: 25-1.
The Pick: If Zeller is there, he’s the guy. But Portland probably won’t let him get past it at 10. So, it comes down to Olynyk or Adams. Since this team needs a lot of help, it makes sense to get the player who could do the most down the road. That’s Adams. Hinkie grabs him at number 11.
• If you want to catch the ’27 Yankees, er, Nationals in the standings, losing two out of three at home to the fetid Mets is no way to do it. Mediocrity is the Phillies’ calling card, and as long as surmounting the Mets remains a challenge, winning a division title is practically impossible. This could be an ugly road trip coming up.
• Is it possible for people to wait for LeBron James to finish his career before discussing whether he’s the best player ever? I know that it’s good for the 24/7 news monster to speculate annually (weekly?) about whether he’s better than Michael Jordan, but let’s see what happens over the next 10 years before we make a ruling. His performances in the last part of game six and the seventh game against the Spurs were memorable and stamp him as this generation’s best. But considering him as the best of all time is premature. Don’t fall into the trap. Enjoy him now. Decide on his status when he hangs ‘em up.
• From the Shameless Plug Department: Be sure to listen to me talk NBA Draft from 7 to 11 p.m. Thursday night on 97.5 The Fanatic. It’s going to be dynamite, huge. You’ll see.