Sixers Mailbag #17: Should The Sixers Target a Point Guard in the Draft?
This week we continue our 76ers mailbag series, where we discuss some of the pressing topics around the team.
In the 17th edition of our Sixers mailbag we discuss start focusing in on the 2016 NBA draft: who should the Sixers target with the Oklahoma City and Miami picks? How would Ben Simmons fit with Dario Saric? Should the Sixers go with a point guard at the top of the draft?
Note: any opinions expressed here are my own opinions, and not reports or expectations based off of inside information, unless I explicitly state that a statement is based off of inside information.
“Who is your top PG in the 2016 NBA draft and would Jamal Murray be a good option for the 76ers if the team lands the Lakers pick at 4 or 5?”
That’s a tough question, because there’s some decent depth in this point guard class, from Kris Dunn (Providence), to Demetrius Jackson (Notre Dame), to the fast-rising Wade Baldwin (Vanderbilt), and to combo-guards like Jamal Murray (Kentucky) and Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), there’s probably a prospect out there regardless of what type of point guard you prefer initiating your offense.
I’m not particularly in love with any of them myself. Of those, I would rank Dunn at the top, but I wouldn’t tie myself to him. The comparison you’ll frequently hear with Dunn is Dwyane Wade, but I think that’s a far-too-optimistic assessment of both his athletic profile and overall skill level. Still, Dunn will probably fall somewhere in the 5-through-7 range of my big board, so he’s a name that’s going to be in play, I just wouldn’t lock myself into drafting point guard because of team need.
As for Murray, he’s been incredible of late, averaging 25.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game over his last 10 games, while shooting 50.6 percent from the field, and 50 percent, on 88 three-point attempts, from deep. But I think his future projects more as a shooting guard who can occasionally initiate an offense than as a full time point. His season, and Kentucky’s as a team, really took off when he was moved off the ball and asked to initiate less of Kentucky’s half court offense. He’s a really good shooter off the catch and when coming off of a screen, and while he shows some comfort level navigating a pick and roll I don’t think I see the elite passing, or the ability to turn the corner as a scorer, to be effective at the position full time.
The biggest concern with Murray, though, even despite his recent run of incredible shooting and off-the-ball play, is his defense: I’m just not sure I see an ability to defend either guard position, and that’s a huge concern, and something which limits his overall upside in my mind.
“I know he’s struggled this year but Skal Labissiere looked like an ideal pick and pop player against LSU. What are your thoughts on him? Any chance he falls to the 76ers with the Miami or OKC picks?”
Few prospects have been as disappointing in recent years as Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere, who has averaged just 6.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game despite being projected by many (myself included) as a potential top-3 pick before the season.
He has shown some of that promise of late — 11 points and 8 rebounds against Florida, followed by 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 blocked shots in a high-profile matchup with LSU — but I’m not sure that’s enough to erase what has been nearly a full season of disappointing play.
Skal still checks a lot of boxes for a modern NBA big man, from his pick and pop ability, to his shot blocking, to his potential as a face-up big when defenders close out on him, but he’s going to need to show that ability more consistently. You do wonder how Skal’s season might have unfolded if he played in a system, and for a coach, that was more willing to focus on his strengths, rather than try to force him into a post-up offensive game that just didn’t fit his strengths, but that still doesn’t excuse away some of his other very-legitimate weaknesses, rebounding (a very low 13.6 percent defensive rebounding rate on a poor defensive rebounding team) chief among them. He just gets pushed around a lot, and whether he has the frame, and mindset, to improve substantially is a very big, and very legitimate concern.
All of this could change with strong play in the conference and NCAA tournament, of course, but I would expect that if Skal really were going to fall so low that he might be available with the Miami or OKC pick that he’d pull his name out of the draft and try to regain some of the standing that he’s lost over the last five months, even if the 2017 draft class looks to be a deeper one.
“Lower tier guard prospects to watch for the Miami and OKC picks?”
Part of the reason that I’m not hyper-focused on acquiring a point guard with the Lakers pick (if it conveys), other than just the sheer depth already in the NBA, is because I think there are a number of good perimeter prospects later in the draft.
My initial hope, especially when Miami started struggling during their road-heavy portion of the schedule earlier this year, was that they’d collapse down the stretch and put themselves high enough that Timothe Luwawu was in play. Luwawu, who spent last year in relative obscurity in France’s Pro B, or second division, league, made a huge jump this year for Mega Leks in the uptempo Adriatic Leauge. Luwawu is averaging 14.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game in Adriatic play, while shooting 36.5 percent from three-point range.
That jump in three-point percentage, from 28.7 percent the previous year, sticks out as much as anything on his stat sheet, but Luwawu has truly improved across the board. While I’m not sure he has the natural scoring ability to be much more than a role player in the NBA (although he’s still improving at a fairly rapid pace), he has the physical tools and diverse skill set to be a two-way wing player in a league that has a serious deficit of those types of guys. That being said, I think there’s almost no chance he falls to the Miami pick, so you’d have to trade up.
Even beyond Luwawu, there’s a bunch of guys, from Denzel Valentine (Michigan State), Furkan Korkmaz (Anadolu Efes), Melo Trimble (Maryland), and even Caris LeVert (Michigan), all of whom I have some level of interest in. Any and all of them could go before the Miami pick, but somebody always falls on draft night.
Valentine’s the type of guy who is difficult to project, as sometimes the step up in the length and athleticism found in the NBA just eats up a guy like him who is so limited athletically, but he’s such a smart player, makes such great decisions, has such a great feel for the game, and has so much diversity in his jump shot — off the catch, off the dribble, off of screens — that I’d be more than happy to take a flyer on him and see if he’s the edge case that can become a consistent contributor in the league despite a below-average athletic profile.
“Is the development of Ben Simmons‘ jump shot essential to him becoming the franchise centerpiece the Sixers are looking for?”
I think Ben Simmons can become a good player with a below-average jump shot, something which Marc Whittington recently did a good job of explaining. But a star? A top-10 player in the league? I think he would probably need one.
Right now Simmons is so incredible in transition, and is such a matchup problem in the post, that he’s mostly able to succeed despite nobody really respecting his outside shot. And while some of that will certainly hold true at the NBA level, especially that transition threat, I think his future is as a power forward, and he’ll be at his best taking his man off the dribble and forcing a defense to rotate, something which he’s so incredibly skilled at picking apart. While the rule changes and improved spacing found in the NBA will certainly help Simmons succeed there, it would be much, much easier if a big man had any real reason to defend him 20’+ from the hoop.
So can he be effective without *really* being a factor shooting from the perimeter? Probably. His skill set is that unique. But to get peak-Simmons, I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say that a jump shot, at least the threat of one, makes running your half court offense through Simmons, which is that you would draft him to do, that much easier. And I do have some hope in that jumper of his: His free-throw shooting is good enough that I think if you run him through two years of NBA shooting drills, something which he’s likely never focused on in his basketball career, he’ll improve to “good enough” from the perimeter.
“How would Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram fit next to Dario Saric?”
In theory, you could play Simmons next to Saric, as having two players who can rebound the ball, push it in transition, and make good passes from the forward positions isn’t a bad thing. A common concern is that having too many ball handlers won’t work, but the NBA is going towards position-less basketball, and having everybody on the floor being able to create and make good decisions with the basketball is never a bad thing. The question is whether they’re good enough at other facets of the game where limiting their ball handling and creation responsibilities doesn’t force their weaknesses to the forefront.
And that’s where the concern comes in. While Saric’s shooting makes the pairing more appealing on the offensive side of the court, having the two of them on the court together, for heavy minutes, would be difficult defensively. I think Saric is most capable as a defender at the power forward position, but doing so takes Simmons away from one of his great strengths, which is defensive rebounding, not to mention takes away Simmons’ length and athleticism at the power forward spot, which could give you the ability to run a switch-heavy defensive scheme if you can maximize Simmons’ physical tools and get him to fully buy-in as a defender.
So, in theory, Brandon Ingram might “fit” better next to Saric. But let’s be honest: you’re not deciding between Simmons or Ingram based on how they might conceptually fit with Dario Saric.
Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.