Sixers Mailbag #20: What To Do With the Miami And OKC Picks?
This week we continue our 76ers mailbag series, where we discuss some of the pressing topics around the team.
In the 20th edition of our Sixers mailbag we discuss what to do in June’s NBA draft, and specifically what to do with the Miami pick (24th) and the Oklahoma City pick (26th). We also get into the Kings trade, Sam Hinkie‘s legacy, Brett Brown‘s job security, and more.
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.
“Favorite player in NBA draft not named Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons?”
— Philly Phour (@PhillyPhour_)
It’s a boring answer, but it’s Dragan Bender. He has such a unique combination of skills — 7’1″ size, ability to shoot from three, ability to move his feet laterally, switch screens, defend multiple positions, and alter shots at the rim — that I’m willing to take that risk.
And I do think there is some risk there. Risk that his body doesn’t physically mature enough. Risk that he doesn’t continue to develop his skill level. Risk that his offensive recognition doesn’t catch up. But everybody outside of the top 2 in this draft has similar risk, and few have that same potential upside, and even fewer have that scarcity of skills that just so happens to fit in perfectly next to any of the three front court players the Sixers have invested so much in.
But that’s kind of obvious. While some are questioning whether Bender will go at #3, he’s been up towards the top most of the year. So I’ll throw out two more names, both also international guys. First is Timothe Luwawu, a french wing playing in the Adriatic League. I do think there are some who currently overrate his game, both his current skill level and future production. He has two main areas to improve upon before his actual value catches up to his perceived value, and that’s finishing at the rim, where he shot a disturbing 48 percent on half court shots around the basket, and defensively, where he can really get burned by misdirection moves, and is far too frequently in a poor defensive stance and not really fully engaged. He just doesn’t use his tools all that effectively right now. Now, defensively, I think that’s primarily age, recognition, and technique. I think it’s a pretty safe bet he’ll improve there with experience, and if he does, his athleticism, three-point shot, passing instincts, and improved defense would make him a tremendously valuable player. His finishing at the rim, however, I have less faith will improve substantially. I think that holds him back from becoming that first or second option I think most people would expect from a top-7 pick.
Second on my list is Isaia Cordinier. What Cordinier has to improve upon is readily obvious: he weighed just 177 pounds at the 2016 Nike Hoop Summit, and hasn’t played against high-level competition much at all. Forget competing physically in the NBA — that will take years — I just worry about him walking outside in a gusty Noreaster and coming back in one piece. When you combine that with the fact that he’s never played above second division France and there’s going to have to be a considerable amount of patience with whoever drafts him. But man, the kid is an elite athlete, has a lot of stuff going to the basket, and has improved his three-point shot considerably over the years. I’d take a chance on that kind of talent late in the first round. He’s not my favorite in the “I think he’s a top-5 prospect” style, but favorite in the “I think he could be a steal considering where he’s picked” category.
“What player should the Sixers target with the Heat or OKC pick?”
— Jeremy (@ThaHomieJ)
I kind of answered this a little bit above, and I think Cordinier is definitely somebody I would target with one of those two picks.
Beyond that, I would certainly have interest in DeAndre Bembry, who has the mindset and diverse set of skills to really be a solid contributor, and is one of those few top options at the collegiate level who could slide back into that jack of all trades role with ease. I think his passing and defensive versatility has him pretty soundly underrated, and if he makes any progress at all on his jump shot could be a steal. Caris LeVert, who has had just a devil of a time staying healthy, has been very productive when he’s been on the court, and somebody I would be willing to take a gamble on with the OKC pick. The last two I’d throw out there are Malik Beasley and Patrick McCaw, freshman and sophomore shooting guards from Florida State and UNLV, respectively.
McCaw, in particular, has the chance to be a steal. He hit a late growth spurt, and now stands 6’7″ with incredible athleticism, but retaining some of the passing instincts he had when he was playing the role of a primary facilitator early on in his career. His handle needs to improve a little bit, but he has all the makings of a well-rounded off guard.
The good news for Sixers fans is I actually like some of the depth in the 20’s in this draft, and it seems especially deep on the wings, which the Sixers absolutely need.
“Would consider trading Lakers pick of it conveys to bad team for their 2017 pick?”
— Lyle Walker (@Walk_With_Lyle)
I’d absolutely consider it, yeah. I’d probably wait until draft night and make it contingent on who falls, and on who is willing to offer their 2017 pick (and with what protections), but the 2017 draft is much stronger, and has quite a few players I have a lot of interest in.
“If the worst case scenario happens in the lottery and Joel Embiid doesn’t play, how will that affect the Hinkie and TTP legacy?”
— Jim Piliero (@JimPiliero)
If you’re asking how luck will impact people who *legitimately* trusted the process, it shouldn’t at all. If the results of lottery balls determine the legacy of a process, you didn’t believe in, or trust, the process to begin with.
For people who were on the fence about what the Sixers were doing, or talked about “trusting the process”, but were really focused on the results, it would obviously have a big impact. The justification for being horrible was the chance at a big reward. If that reward never comes, the process will obviously lose the support of many.
“What do you think will end up being the most valuable acquisition from the Kings trade?”
— Matthew (@MathAgin)
Oh, that future pick the Kings owe, no doubt.
Nik Stauskas has received a lot of attention because he’s the only (long-term) return the Sixers have, to this point, received from that trade. He’s front and center, and your attention naturally turns to him. But he’s, at best, the “asset” with the third highest value in that trade, in my opinion. The potential for an unprotected pick from a dysfunctional organization like the Kings, the year after DeMarcus Cousins could walk in free agency, is an incredibly underrated acquisition. Just as the Sixers are (hopefully) beginning their ascent into something truly relevant, they could get the chance to add another top selection in the draft. It’s a position few find themselves in.
The asset with the second highest value, in my opinion, is that 2017 pick swap. Again, the Kings have the chance to implode, and to do so quickly, with rumors that they could be looking to deal the temperamental Cousins. The chance that the Sixers could improve drastically, but still end up with a top-5 pick, is an incredible position to be in, and adding those Kings lottery balls keeps the chances of a home run being available to the Sixers every time the lottery rolls around.
It was a tremendous trade.
“How long of a rope do you think Brett Brown will have next season? Any sort of start like this year and he’ll be gone?”
— Hip Bro (@CraigOliver212)
It’s a great question.
Bryan Colangelo recently gave Brown a really strong vote of confidence. To go back on that now, this summer, would look incredibly bad. And, if he were to go back on that this summer, waiting until so many coaches have already been hired makes no sense.
Unless, of course, the plan is to elevate Mike D’Antoni. But the elevation of D’Antoni, something which is always going to lurk in the background for the Sixers, isn’t something that really has to happen now, which is what makes the question so interesting. I do think there’s a very high chance that Brett Brown starts the season as the head coach. But if Colangelo is desirous to show that progress is being made, and he’s frequently talked about how wins are a sign of progress, then what happens if the team doesn’t start winning?
The easiest way to defend the moves that Colangelo has made, moves which he expected would improve the competitiveness of the team, is to “hold the coach accountable.” There are absolutely scenarios that I could see playing out where Colangelo is disappointed in the progress and makes a change at the head coaching, and that could be as early as next year. For Brown’s sake, I hope everybody is realistic on what the next steps are, but, especially as perception becomes more and more important to this organization, “accountability” has the chance to cost people jobs.
“Does the Luke Walton hire make it more or less important to get the Lakers pick this year?”
— Matt (@21stHentury
I wouldn’t say it makes it more or less important to get the pick this year, as I still think it would be preferable to have the pick convey in 2017, even with Walton on board. Like Rich Hofmann said on the latest edition of our podcast, I think the best outcome for the Sixers is for the Sixers to end up at #1 and the Lakers to end up at #3 in May 17th’s lottery.
That being said, did it lose a little bit of value when the Lakers hired Luke Walton? It probably did. We may not know a whole lot about Walton as a coach — he gets credit for Golden State not losing a step to begin the season, no doubt, but keeping one of the best rosters in modern NBA history afloat is different than navigating the icy waters that is the Los Angeles Lakers mess — but the real concern with the Lakers getting better, in the short term, is the fact that he’s not Byron Scott.
But, barring something completely unexpected happening in free agency, I think that more means the Lakers might finish with the 7th or 8th worst record, not in the 3rd-to-5th range, and I still think the 7th or 8th pick in 2017’s draft might be more valuable than the 4th or 5th pick this year.
“What’s the canary in the coal mine in the draft/free agency that’d show us Bryan Colangelo didn’t learn anything in Toronto?”
I think there’s two types of moves you would normally point to: something similar to the Jermaine O’Neal trade (T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, and the pick that became Roy Hibbert), or something similar to the drafting, and subsequent re-signing, of Andrea Bargnani.
The O’Neal trade kind of speaks for itself. Giving up those kind of assets, when your team is 21-35, to acquire a 30-year-old O’Neal who already looked like a shell of his former self is scary. That being said, there were obviously outside influences there — to improve the team enough to convince Chris Bosh to say — that made Colangelo desperate, and he shouldn’t be wheeling and dealing from such a vulnerable position with the Sixers, at least not yet. That’s the kind of move I worry about in a couple of years.
The drafting of Bargnani is troublesome because it was a scouting miss on perhaps the most important, but hardest to quantify, aspect of player development: work ethic and coachability. It’s also the kind of mistake that would have the most drastic consequences in this current situation the Sixers find themselves in as, despite a lot of talk about fleshing out the roster in free agency, the draft (followed by trades) is still where the cornerstones of this franchise are likely to come from. But, while the miss on Bargnani was troubling, it’s also somewhat understandable, as the information on the mental approach some of these players have is very limited, and the sources all biased in some way or another.
The bigger concern, to me, is re-signing Bargnani to that 5 year, $50 million contract after his rookie deal expired. That, to me, is the bigger miss. They had Bargnani in their organization for four years up to that point, had the chance to know, more than anybody, what made him tick. For Colangelo to come out now and basically admit that Bargnani wasted his talent then implies that they missed on knowing that Bargnani would waste his talent. Trading a guy who had just put up 17 points and 6 rebounds as a 24-year-old is certainly tough, but it’s the kind of sell-high move, on a piece you don’t have confidence in, that I could see Hinkie making.
And Colangelo kind of doubled down on this sort of miss when they cleared cap space to sign Hedo Turkoglu, in a sign-and-trade, in the summer of 2009. Another big signing — this one 5 years, $53 million — and another move to try to placate Bosh. Another failure, this one Colangelo would have to try to get out of just 12 months later.
Turkoglu showed up at Toronto out of shape, and his effort, and dedication, were questioned by virtually everybody around the team from day 1.
It’s kind of the crazy part of this whole management change, in that part of the reasoning for Hinkie’s “reduced role” was how he ignored the human element of sports, when many of Colangelo’s biggest misses, it could be argued, stemmed from a missed evaluation on the human aspect of sports. It’s also the type of move that would be hard for fans to really have an accurate read on when it happens, so it’s unlikely we’d have enough information to know it’s a miss from the moment it happens.
I guess one final type of move to bring up is the one that didn’t happen: his attempt to lure Steve Nash to Toronto in the summer of 2012.
For the roster Toronto had at the time — 22 year-old DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas a year away from coming over, 22-year-old Ed Davis — the risk/reward equation for signing a 37-year-old Steve Nash just didn’t seem right, even without the knowledge we’ve gained through the benefit of hindsight on how injuries would derail the final two years of his career. I suppose the argument would be made that Nash’s expertise and creativity would help accelerate the development of the young core. I can kind of buy that, but with that comes a severe cost. Not just the cost to sign Nash, limiting the future moves that Toronto could make, but also in the moves for a point guard Toronto would then not pursue. The fact that the signing of Nash would have almost certainly prevented the trade for Kyle Lowry that happened just a few weeks later is a perfect example. To me, the much more likely rationale behind the move was the amount of excitement Steve Nash would bring in returning to his native Canada, and how that excitement, along with the short-term boost in performance Nash could provide, might be enough to buy Colangelo a couple of more years at the helm.
All that being said, I don’t really hold general managers accountable for short-term moves, at least not for the moves themselves. What I do hold them accountable for are the foolish moves they made three years earlier to put themselves in position to require a lifeline. Hopefully, there’s no pressure for Colangelo to make shortsighted moves this early in his tenure, and these can be avoided. But they’re the moves I worry about.
Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.