76ers Musings: Draft Best Player Available
With so much going on in the world of the Sixers, I’ve decided to start a weekly column focusing on quick-hitting thoughts on a handful of topics relevant to the team.
We’ll call it Monday Morning Sixers Musings, volume 1.
Draft the best player available
The moment the lottery cards revealed the Sixers would have their pick of the 2016 NBA draft, debates over whether to draft Ben Simmons out of LSU or Brandon Ingram from Duke began.
One word that has frequently come up in these discussions is “fit”. Specifically, Brandon Ingram’s shooting would be a better fit with what the Sixers need, especially with the Sixers’ lack of perimeter scoring over the past few seasons.
Fit will become an extremely important topic of conversation over the next few weeks/months/years. We, as a media collective and fan base, have mostly tabled the fit conversation over the last few years as the team searched for its transformative star. That’s not the way it’s always going to be, however, as in time how pieces fit together will have a profound impact on success, both individual player success and team success as a whole.
Drafting at #1 overall is not the time to start worrying about fit. And you certainly don’t draft a perimeter player because you don’t currently have much perimeter talent. History has shown that teams overhaul their rosters when they find a player to build around. The players you’re currently scheming to complement, those holes you’re looking to fill, aren’t likely to be relevant in three years, and they shouldn’t be relevant to the current decision.
The Sixers, as of now, do not have that player you can build around with confidence. Whether it’s Jahlil Okafor‘s defensive deficiencies, which right now create a canyon of separation between his skill level and his impact, Nerlens Noel‘s offensive limitations, or Joel Embiid‘s pesky right foot, the Sixers don’t have that player you can construct your roster around with confidence.
So don’t pass up on a player who *can* be that player to build around in order to fit with imperfect, and unreliable, preexisting pieces.
The Sixers currently have one player who really has the talent to be that dominant, top-15-in-the-game type of player worth augmenting, and that’s Joel Embiid. The good news is either Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons can fit, and fit extremely well, if Embiid’s foot ever does cooperate enough for him to see the court and develop into what we all think he can be.
I also think Ben Simmons’ fit with Nerlens Noel is underrated. Sure, ideally you’d want Noel to be more of a perimeter shooter, but shooting isn’t the only way to create space offensively. With Noel such a threat cutting off the ball and a target for lobs around the rim, especially with Simmons’ elite court vision, if you station Noel on the baseline and position him for a cut, his defender will think twice before rotating over to cut off a driving Simmons. It certainly opens up the court more than Okafor, who has spent his entire basketball life running to the high-post to command the ball.
None of that necessarily even means Ben Simmons is the best prospect available. I think he is, and I’ve had him #1 in every mock draft I’ve released at USA Today, but that’s a conversation for a different day, and its own column. My main point is that if you draft Brandon Ingram, do so because you think he’s the best long-term prospect available. Doing so for any other reason would be a huge miscalculation.
Don’t overthink the #1 pick in the draft. You’ll have time to balance the roster and find pieces to fit once you get the guy to build around.
Don’t fetishize shooting
Three-point shooting is perhaps the most important development in the game of professional basketball over the past decade. Ever since the day somebody realized three points are better than two points the game has changed, and it’s not going back any time soon. Connecting on three’s, and connecting on three’s at a high volume, is going to be a staple of the NBA game for the foreseeable future.
But don’t fetishize three-point shooting.
Those sound like contradictory statements, but they’re really not. Three-point shooting is a team concept, and individual three-point shooting isn’t the only factor involved.
For as important as shooting — and spacing, its byproduct — are on the NBA, shot creation is important as well. Shooters need space, and the easiest way to get that space is by having a player capable of forcing a defense to rotate. That’s Ben Simmons.
A perfect example of this is Robert Covington. Over the past two seasons, Covington shot 38.8 percent on 214 three-point attempts within the first six seconds of the shot clock, shots that presumably came off of either offensive rebounds or quick transition strikes. He shot just 35.5 percent on his other three-point attempts, likely because offensive rebounds and transition opportunities were his best chances to get space on a team void of real high-level shot creators.
With Ben Simmons’ elite passing, his ability to force defenses to collapse when he drives to the paint, and his uncanny ability to grab a rebound and push the ball 94 feet in transition, Simmons could have a greater impact on improving the team’s three-point shooting than Ingram’s sweet shot can, despite the fact that Simmons currently can’t, and won’t, even attempt from long range.
Brandon Ingram’s three-point shooting is a great weapon, but so is Ben Simmons’ ability to command a double team and pass out of it.
Don’t worry about trading within the division
The Sixers have a glut in the front court, a glut that existed even before the potential additions of Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Ben Simmons to the regular lineup next season.
The Celtics have been rumored to have serious interest Okafor in the past. With their desire to add an impact player, their rumored interest in Okafor in the past, and falling to third in what is widely seen as a two player draft, the Celtics having interest in Jahlil Okafor was perhaps the most logical conclusion to come to in the history of trade speculation.
That has led some Sixers fans to adamantly oppose trading Okafor to a division rival.
Starting this year divisions no longer have any impact on seeding, or playoff qualifications, at all. The Sixers play all (well, mostly all) teams in the Eastern Conference four times each. You will not face Okafor more often by trading him to Boston than you would by trading him to, say, Charlotte. And, since trading Okafor to Boston is effectively the same as trading him to 50 percent of the league, don’t remove 50 percent of the league from consideration as potential trading partners. That’s not how you get value.
Divisions in the NBA are mostly nostalgia at this point, a relic from a time when travel considerations were of far greater concern. If the Sixers do have to move one of their players, and they most likely will, get the best value you can. Please.
Familiarity doesn’t guarantee selection
One of the common conversations surrounding the Sixers is how Brett Brown‘s familiarity with the Simmons family guarantees the Sixers will take the Australian forward.
What Brown’s familiarity with the Simmons family should guarantee is that the Sixers can get more information on Ben Simmons the person than other teams could. Whether or not that information is positive or negative will determine whether it’s more or less likely the Sixers select him #1 overall.
To be clear, every time Brett Brown has spoken about Ben Simmons, both on and off the record, it’s been positive. I’m not saying Brown will steer the Sixers away from Simmons. Not at all. Just don’t conflate “more information” with “more positive information”. It’s not always the same.
Extensive workouts are just due diligence. Probably
A report came down from Marc Spears that the Sixers were looking to work out Kris Dunn, Jamal Murray, Jaylen Brown, and Dragan Bender, in addition to the expected workouts of Simmons and Ingram.
This led to two common reactions. The first was that the Sixers could be considering taking somebody other than Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram #1 overall. Nonsense.It’s not happening.
The second reaction was that the workouts indicate a trade to get a second top-5 pick is imminent. While this is more likely to be in the realm of possibility, it also could, and probably does, just mean the Sixers are doing their due diligence in the chance they do get a second high draft pick. It’s the imminent part I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions about.
Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.