2016 NBA Draft Big Board: What Should the Sixers do with the #1 Pick?

Draft day is here. What should the Sixers do with the #1 overall pick? What should they do if they acquire a second top-10 selection?

LSU's Ben Simmons.

LSU’s Ben Simmons.

This is it. This is the moment Sixers fans have been waiting three years for, the day they get to unwrap their new franchise player.

As we head into the draft, the drama at the top is gone. Ben Simmons is almost guaranteed to be a Philadelphia 76er later tonight.

Yet there’s still a considerable amount of interest for Sixers fans beyond that point, not only because the Sixers have the 24th and 26th picks (for now) in the draft as well, but because Bryan Colangelo is actively looking to acquire another top-8 pick. Who could, and should, he be targeting with a second high draft pick? My rankings on that are below.

A quick note on these player rankings: it’s team specific. This is how I would rank these players if I were selecting for the Sixers. While you typically want to follow the best player available strategy almost to a T at the top of the draft, that impacts the ranking in two ways. First, how these players do or do not fit with Ben Simmons is absolutely taken into consideration. If you’re going to draft a transcendent player who is going to be the focal point of your offense, how everyone else can play off of him is a part of the equation. Second, it takes into account the Sixers’ big men depth, and specifically their “traditional center” depth.

That doesn’t mean I’m completely against taking another big man (as you’ll see below), but some of the traditional centers, like Jakob Poeltl (who would absolutely be in my top-10 for most teams) would struggle to find time with whatever combination of Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Nerlens Noel the Sixers do wind up keeping.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the rankings.

(Note: You can view the previous version of my big board here).

Tier 1

1. Ben Simmons, freshman, power forward, LSU

Last ranking: 1st

Stats: 34.9 minutes, 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.0 steals per game, 56% FG%, 33.3% 3PT%, 67% FT%.

When the calendar turned to 2016, Brandon Ingram made a push for the #1 pick by many analysts. But not for me. I’ve had Ben Simmons at the top of my big board all year, and that’s not changing now.

In fact, I have Ben Simmons in a tier by himself.

I think his defense will be better in the NBA than it was in college, as I think he has the lateral foot speed to switch in the NBA, a key for his position. He’s also added strength to his frame to handle the punishment down low. I also think the NBA will be beneficial to him offensively, as the further three-point line, wider lane, defensive violation rules, and hand checking rules should all help space the floor for Simmons to drive.

LSU was the wrong situation for him to be in, as they didn’t have the shooting to take advantage of his incredible passing and asked him to defend the 5 and be sharp in his weakside rotations, which isn’t his strength. He didn’t necessarily react well to that, but I think it exacerbated concerns to a degree which created a controversy for the #1 pick that otherwise wouldn’t be there.

He’s simply an elite athlete, with elite court vision and a feel for the game that you can’t teach. Can he shoot right now? No, not confidently, at least. But I’d rather develop that outside shot than pass on somebody who creates looks for his teammates so effortlessly. Simmons has the combination of unique physical gifts that is going to be a matchup nightmare for opponents to defend, with elite quickness and ball handling to take his man off the dribble and a strong post game which should prevent putting a shorter, quicker player on him to cut off his drives. He then adds in absurd court vision and a preternatural feel for the game that should make his teammates around him better.

He’s the best talent in this draft, and if he adds anything remotely resembling a consistent jump shot he has the chance to be a top-10 to top-15 player in the game.

Tier 2

2. Brandon Ingram, freshman, small forward, Duke

Last ranking: 2nd

Stats: 34.6 minutes, 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.4 blocks per game, 44.2% FG%, 41.0% 3PT%, 68.2% FT%

The fact that there is a clear-cut #1 pick in my eyes doesn’t diminish how good Brandon Ingram is as a prospect.

I have a ton of confidence in Brandon Ingram’s shot, which is basically unblockable due to his size and high release point. He might struggle a little bit extending that to NBA three-point range initially, as he attempted just 20 shots 25 feet or more from the basket this season, but I think he’ll extend his range rather easily with time. He shot 68 percent from the line, but he had success from the stripe in high school. The shot will be there.

It’s impossible to watch Brandon Ingram and not be impressed with the progress he’s made over the last few years. He has so much more stuff off the dribble than he did a few years ago, even despite his slender frame, that his learning curve is important for somebody so young. His passing, and overall feel for the game, are very underrated, perhaps unfairly compared to Ben Simmons in those areas. And his size gives him interesting two-way potential, even if he isn’t yet consistently utilizing his athletic profile on the defensive side of the court.

So why not #1? Well, first, I think Simmons is a special talent. That’s a very big part of it. But, second, I’m just not sure he quite has the quickness or ability to turn the corner with the ball in his hands to truly develop into that #1 option. His first step is just average. He doesn’t change direction or speed at an elite level, like Ben Simmons or Kris Dunn do. He’ll get into the paint on occasion — he’s too good of a shooter and will have defenders aggressively close out on him too frequently for him not too — but I don’t think he’s a guy that’s going to consistently generate enough offense, for himself or others, to become that top-15-or-so scorer in this league.

Ingram has the kind of offensive game that can fit into virtually any collection of talent and work in any offensive system. That’s incredibly valuable, especially if his future is more as a high-level #2 option than #1 guy. But Ben Simmons has the talent to be worthy of building a team around.

Tier 3

3. Dragan Bender, 18 years old, power forward, Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israeli League)

Last ranking: 3rd

Stats: 12.2 minutes, 4.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.7 blocks per game, 42.6% FG%, 36.8% 3PT%, 71.9% FT%

I recently wrote about why Dragan Bender should be considered by the Sixers if they acquired the third pick in the draft, so I won’t go into too much depth about this. But a quick summary:

Bender’s mobility, defensive versatility, and basketball IQ are off the charts. At 7’1″ he can move his feet on the perimeter like a guard. His defensive awareness and recognition are on point, well beyond what’s typical, or even rare, for an 18-year-old. He’s a plus passer who is comfortable with the ball in his hands and can push the ball in transition by himself. He improved his three-point shooting to 39% in Israeli League play this past year.

What I don’t see Bender becoming is a #1 option offensively. I don’t see him developing his 1-on-1 game to the point where he’s going to drop 20 per game, or where you’re going to give him the ball and ask him to create every time down the court. But with the floor spacing he provides, with his defensive versatility, his high basketball IQ and his instincts as a passer, that’s okay.

In some respects, Bender is the big man version of Brandon Ingram in that he can fit in virtually any combination of existing front court players, in any defensive system, and for any coach and his skill set would mesh. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to step in on day 1 — his physical immaturity is going to be an issue and he’ll struggle, at least initially, to handle the rigors of NBA life down low — but his skill set is important when talking about his fit on the Sixers. Yeah, the Sixers have depth in the front court, but his combination of perimeter shooting, passing, and defensive versatility makes him a fit with any of Ben Simmons, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, or Jahlil Okafor. He’s also just 18, and isn’t going to command major minutes right away, allowing the Sixers time to figure out which of their existing front court players to move forward with. I do think he’s going to be one of the most valuable players out of this draft class down the line.

That combination ability to fit with anybody and long-term potential make me unwilling to pass on his talent just because the Sixers currently have a glut at his position. I’m thinking 3-to-4 years out, and his potential (and potential fit) is too strong to ignore.

Tier 4

4. Kris Dunn, junior, point guard, Providence

Last ranking: 4th

Stats: 33 minutes, 16.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.5 steals, 3.5 turnovers per game, 44.8% FG%, 37.2% 3PT%, 69.5% FT%

Again, I very recently (yesterday) wrote about Kris Dunn and his fit with the Sixers. I also relatively recently (late-April) wrote a detailed scouting report on Dunn for DraftExpress. So I’ll try to make this even shorter.

Like: elite athlete, creative passer, potential to be the best perimeter defender in this draft class, improving (kinda) outside shot, transition terror, can create off the dribble, strong pick and roll play.

Dislike: erratic outside shot that makes him a difficult to pair with Ben Simmons in the half court, high amount of turnovers, decision making that threatens to limit his overall impact.

Tier 5

Note: this is the part of the draft where, yeah, I have guys listed high, but that doesn’t mean I love them, or even have that much confidence in them. I’ve frequently complained that the 5-through-14 part of this draft is a landmine, which is why it was so important for the Sixers to get a little bit of lottery luck. Having guys this high on the mock draft indicates the following: 1) I’m not as high on the Jaylen Brown, Jamal Murray, Buddy Hield grouping as most people, 2) drafting natural centers like Jakob Poeltl and Deyonta Davis, considering the Sixers situation, is almost impossible, 3) I have to put somebody here.

With virtually anybody we talk about here, you’re almost completely banking on them improving more than expected. These are the guys I’m most interested in acquiring if they do, in fact, improve more than expected, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I expect that to happen.

5. Marquese Chriss, 18 years old, power forward, Washington

Last ranking: Outside of top-10

Stats: 24.9 minutes, 13.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game, 53% FG%, 35% 3PT%, 68.5% FT%

I didn’t have Chriss on my big board last time, and I’ve been a pretty outspoken critic of his as a top draft pick. So why the change?

First, I did go back and re-watch some of his games, not only at Washington but prior to arriving in college. For a guy like Chriss who is so young and just started playing the game relatively recently, that progression is key. That being said, I wouldn’t exactly say that progression fills me with a world of confidence. On the one hand, there’s been obvious progression in his overall skill level and refinement. There’s simply no way he shoots 35 percent from three-point range two years ago. But refinement in his understanding of the game? That I’m not quite as sold on.

Second, I’ve become a slave to finding that guy with rare two-way potential. In some sense, the way I’ve been giving Timothe Luwawu (below) the benefit of the doubt with “yeah, he might not be an impact player now, but if he improves in his recognition of the game, he has the chance to be a nice two-way role player”, I wasn’t doing with Chriss. Chriss doesn’t really need to develop his skill level an absurd amount to become a productive two-way role player, he just needs to become smarter and more instinctive on the basketball court.

Finally, I’ve talked to enough people around the league who are more confident that Chriss could eventually improve his understanding of the game to the point where he can become that role player enough that I’m willing to (slightly) overlook it.

But that ‘just needs to become smarter’ is no small feat. Right now, Chriss, despite his obvious physicals gifts, is somebody I would classify as a no-way player. He just doesn’t consistently make a positive impact.

His lack of defensive rebounding is an obvious area of concern, as his 11.6 percent defensive rebounding rate is downright comical, and virtually unplayable, for a player who you’re going to be tempted to play at the 4 and 5 because of his shot blocking potential. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anybody improve on the defensive glass in the NBA as much as he’s going to have to improve to actually become an impact player.

But his (lack of) impact defensively goes beyond that. His fouls, at 6.5 per 40 minutes, are indicative of his low basketball IQ and poor awareness. He’s constantly out of position, his rotations are late, and his decision making is poor. He’s a negative on defense despite physical tools that others would die for.

So why, in the world, is he so high? His shooting is a legitimate skill, with feathery touch on his jump shot that could become a real weapon with years of development. Next to Embiid and/or Noel, that’s a big deal. Second, his natural physical gifts are so impressive that if I’m wrong about his ability to improve substantially in terms of his understanding of the game, he could make those that pass on him look foolish. In a draft that’s bereft of real two-way talent, some risks need to be taken. But this is a very nervous endorsement of Chriss.

As I said about, these guys that fall in this portion of my big board are here because somebody has to be. I think there’s a relatively high chance that Chriss is a bust. It’s certainly a ranking I can see myself regretting in a few years time. Heck, I’m not confident in the ranking right now. But when I think the safe route isn’t all that good (or safe), it increases my willingness to take a risk, even if I don’t have very much confidence in that risk panning out.

6. Timothe Luwawu, 21 years old, shooting guard, Mega Leks (Adriatic League)

Last ranking: 5th

Stats: 30.9 minutes, 14.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.7 steals per game, 39.9% FG%, 37.5% 3PT%, 68.9% FT%

Timothe Luwawu is similar to Chriss in that if he figures things out, he has the chance to be a really solid two-way role player. Standing 6’7″, with very good athleticism and an improving outside shot, that potential is there.

I do think the style of play that Mega Leks ran — run, run, run, and then try to run some more — masked some of Luwawu’s deficiencies in the half court. The shooting is there, even if still a bit streaky, and he can make some passes when the defense rotates, but he really struggles to finish at the rim when contested and his decision making still leaves something to be desired.

Like Chriss, Luwawu’s potential on the defensive side of the court is still mostly potential, as his understanding of the game, and focus, are not yet at a high enough level to consistently be a plus defender, despite his tools.

If big men were a more serious consideration for the Sixers Luwawu wouldn’t be this high, and he’s likely to end up going towards the end of the lottery in the actual draft, and he may fall even farther than that. I’m higher on him than most, but his ranking here has as much to do with me being low on Hield, Murray, and Brown, combined with the Sixers being out of the market for big men, than it is a huge endorsement of Luwawu as a prospect, who I do think carries with him quite a bit of risk.

Still, in a sea of one-way players Luwawu has the chance to develop into a contributor on both ends of the court. At this point, considering the other options, I’ll overdraft Luwawu and see if it works out.

(on a related note: if the Sixers were to get a second pick that falls in the 5-through-10 range, I’d seriously consider trading down).

7. Wade Baldwin, sophomore, point guard, Vanderbilt

Last ranking: 7th

Stats: 30.4 minutes, 14.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.8 turnovers per game, 42.7% FG%, 40.6% 3PT%, 79.9% FT%

I wrote a detailed scouting report of Wade Baldwin for DraftExpress. You can read that at DraftExpress.com.

Wade Baldwin being this high is similar to Luwawu’s ranking in that it’s influenced by the Sixers almost having to ignore traditional centers, combined with my dislike for Brown/Hield/Murray, but it’s also influenced by Baldwin’s potential fit with Ben Simmons.

Baldwin has his deficiencies as a natural point guard, as his decision making and feel for running a team haven’t yet caught up with his natural talent. But the Sixers are going to run a very large (most?) of their offense through Ben Simmons, which will limit this deficiency of Baldwin’s quite a bit, while allowing his strengths to shine.

And Baldwin’s strengths are fairly pronounced. With a wingspan approaching 7′, Baldwin has an enormous amount of defensive potential, perhaps more than even Kris Dunn (Dunn has currently realized his more, but Baldwin’s ceiling might be similar). We talk about how much of a benefit it is for players to be able to switch defensively, and that’s absolutely a strength of Baldwin’s. He has the ability to move his feet laterally, fight through screens, or switch many matchups, and that would give Brett Brown a ton of flexibility in how he wants to defend the perimeter scorers that this league is based round.

Baldwin’s also a good catch and shoot player, connecting on 42 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts, most of which were from three-point range. That combination of shut down defensive potential, ability to defend multiple positions, and catch-and-shoot skill is a great combination to pair next to Ben Simmons, and puts him significantly higher on my Sixers-focused big board than he otherwise would be.

Tier 6

8. Jamal Murray, freshman, shooting guard, Kentucky

Last ranking: 8th

Stats: 35.2 minutes, 20.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.3 turnovers per game, 45.4% FG%, 40.8% 3PT%, 78.3% FT%

Earlier this week I wrote about Jamal Murray‘s fit with the Sixers, so I’m just going to summarize my thoughts.

Love his off-the-ball shooting and his ability to shoot off of screens and on the move. Like his passing, even if I think his inability to turn the corner and get by that first level of defense could limit how much practical use it has. Think he’s crafty with the ball, with hesitation and misdirection moves, and a strong step-back jumper. Really concerned about his defensive struggles, and think his inability to consistently create space off the dribble and get by that first level of defense gives his jump shot very little margin for error.

Honestly, even though I’m already lower on Murray than most, I thought about dropping him even more. I mostly left him here just on the chance (which I don’t think is very high) that he’s able to find a way to create separation in the NBA. But I have a ton of concern over whether he’s actually going to be an impact player and a high-level scorer in the NBA.

9. Malik Beasley, freshman, shooting guard, Florida State

Last ranking: Outside of top-10

Stats: 29.8 minutes, 15.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.9 steals per game, 47.1% FG%, 38.7% 3PT%, 81.3% FT%

I would have Malik Beasley relatively high (late lottery, early teens) on my team-independent big board, as I like his role player potential. He gets a bump because of how well he fits the Sixers, and because the Sixers aren’t in a position to draft natural centers.

There’s some concern over Beasley’s height, as he measured just under 6’5″ in shoes at the combine and with a 6’7″ wingspan that isn’t enough to entirely make up for it. As such, some have questioned his defense. And while I do question his defensive versatility (he’s going to struggle to switch out onto small forwards), I think his defense is now pretty underrated.

Beasley’s very quick laterally, and slides his feet very well on the perimeter. He’s also a smart defender, with a consistently high effort level, good focus, and quick rotations. I think he’s going to be a plus defender when limited to defending shooting guards and occasionally switching on to points.

The second skill that makes him a great fit with the Sixers is his shooting, as he shot 38.7 percent on his 4.2 three-point attempts per game as a freshman, with excellent mechanics and a repeatable motion. He could end up being one of the better shooters in this draft, and has real three-and-d potential because of that. He’s also a strong decision maker on this end of the court as well, with good shot selection and quick ball movement. Beasley knows his role, and that’s a strength of his.

Beasley may never create, either for himself or for others, at a high level, and he might fall in the draft because of that. But there’s a lot of players in this draft with the skill set to be a focal point of the offense, but not the overall talent level to succeed in that role. Those players scare me. Beasley has a very high chance of being a productive, useful, NBA player, and at this stage of the draft I value that immensely. It’s just a shame he shot up draft boards of late and now seems to have little chance of falling to the Sixers at 24.

Tier 7

10. Jaylen Brown, freshman, small forward, California

Last ranking: Outside of top-10

Stats: 27.6 minutes, 14.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals per game, 43.1% FG%, 29.4% 3PT%, 65.4% FT%

Jaylen Brown is another player who I have battled back and forth with. On the one hand, his athletic gifts are undeniable. On the other hand, his perimeter skill level and recognition are nowhere near ready. Am I willing to gamble on him?

My willingness has wavered throughout the year, and it’s another player I wouldn’t say I’m all that confident in. But a couple of things have made me slightly more willing to take a gamble on him than I was before, even if I am still lower on him than consensus.

First, he’s a smart kid. Not basketball smart, yet, but you hope his basketball IQ will catch up with his off-the-court IQ in time, even if that’s not always a guarantee. Second, I’ve talked to a number of people who are extremely high on his work ethic and coachability. Again, when we’re talking about players who need to improve, substantially, that’s important. Finally, he did shoot the ball well from the perimeter at various high school events, which I went back and re-watched some of. While that doesn’t mean his abysmal shooting in college can be dismissed, it does at least give a little bit of hope that he could develop into more than a non-shooter down the line.

And if he does develop that jump shot, there’s some potential there because of Brown’s defensive potential. Again, this is a very lukewarm endorsement, but really anything after #4 in this draft falls into that category for me.

Notable omissions:

  • Buddy Hield: As I discussed with Kevin Pelton of ESPN over the weekend, late bloomers in college tend to struggle to translate that success to the NBA. With Hield’s below-average defense and inability to create for his teammates, he has very little margin for error. If that jump shot isn’t elite, I don’t see him being an impact player.
  • Jakob Poeltl: Love his fundamental game, doesn’t fit with Noel, Okafor, or Embiid. Passing on him is almost entirely situational.
  • Deyonta Davis: See Poeltl, Jakob (but with more interior defense, less fundamentals).
  • Domantas Sabonis: See Poeltl, Jakob and Davis, Deyonta. Also, struggles to defend in space and isn’t a shot blocker.
  • Denzel Valentine: Love his game. Worried about reports over a degenerative knee condition.
  • Skal Labissiere: I’m still a Skal fan, even if I do recognize the considerable risk he carries with him. But with the Sixers’ depth in the front court, it makes less sense for them to take that risk over the other options available.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.