By Chris Molicki
Next season could represent a turning point for “The Process.” It’ll be Year Four, and after three years of carrying the “League Laughingstock” title, the Philadelphia 76ers need to start showing signs of improvement. They’ve battled in the basement, tanked into terrible territory, and have left the fans wondering, “When, if ever, will this get better?”
The 2016 NBA Draft may be the start.
In the three years that Philadelphia has employed The Process, every notable acquisition they’ve made has brought moderate returns at best. Joel Embiid has yet to play a game. The same goes for Dario Saric, who is still overseas. While Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor have shown promise, they may have trouble fitting together long term. And the promising pieces they’ve found and held onto, such as Ish Smith and Robert Covington, aren’t quite enough to make this team respectable.
Meanwhile in Minnesota, a team that isn’t “actively tanking” like the Sixers has Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and an extremely bright future. Bad lottery luck and bad luck in general, among other factors, has made Philly’s future look as questionable as it was when The Process started.
So in Year Four, it’s time to make some noise. It’s time for the Sixers to reward their fans for “Trusting the Process.”
The Sixers could potentially have four first round picks in this year’s draft. The first is their own, which seems like it has a great chance to fall into the No. 1 spot, giving them the best lottery odds to land the first overall pick. The second is the Lakers pick, which would go to Philadelphia if Los Angeles falls outside of the top 3 in the lottery. The third pick is from Miami, which will happen as long as the Heat’s pick falls outside the top 10, (it seems like it will). The fourth pick is from Oklahoma City, and as long as the Thunder don’t finish in the top 15 (this is almost physically impossible) it goes to the Sixers.
So let’s paint a best case scenario for Philadelphia. Let’s say they finish with the worst overall record, win the lottery, and get the first overall pick. Let’s say the Nets (Celtics) and/or Suns jump the Lakers on lottery night and knock them out of the top 3, giving pick No. 4 to Philly. Let’s say the Heat collapse without Chris Bosh, miss the playoffs, and get the 12th overall pick, and send it over to the City of Brotherly Love. And finally, let’s say the Thunder encounter some malfunctions down the stretch, securing only the sixth best record in the NBA (behind Golden State, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Toronto), giving the Sixers their 25th overall pick.
In this dream scenario, Philadelphia gets picks No. 1, 4, 12, and 25. While this may not be the strongest draft in recent memory (it’s certainly not as good as last year’s), the front office will be loaded with chances to select players that will help get their franchise off its feet.
Let’s explore what this could look like on draft night.
No. 1: Don’t get too cute here, Sam Hinkie. People are barking about how Ben Simmons is too passive, can’t shoot, doesn’t have a killer instinct, and won’t make the NCAA tournament. But he’s a unique talent who is the clear-cut top pick in this draft. Compared to LeBron James by many, Simmons has excellent passing ability and court vision to go with his power forward size and strength. He can attack and find open teammates with ease, and his rebounding numbers are excellent. He’ll need to get better at shooting, but that will come in time. A big reason he’s been compared to LeBron is because he should be able to play any position at the NBA level. That’s a special skill for a player in today’s NBA. Some have been chirping for Brandon Ingram, but Simmons is the best and safest chance at a superstar.
No. 4: After Simmons, things get dicey, but there’s still some promising talent in the top 5. Someone like Jaylen Brown from Cal would be a solid pick, but the best option for the Sixers is probably Providence’s Kris Dunn. Ish has been a good contributor, but Philly needs their floor general of the future after constantly drafting big men high. Dunn has great size and athleticism for a point guard, as well as an elite ability to get to the basket and create for his teammates. Like Simmons, Dunn will need to work on his jumper, but he has hit some clutch shots this year, and I’m a strong believer that bad jump shooting is fixable if players put in the work. The Friar guard would make life a lot easier for Noel and Okafor (and maybe Embiid, one day) by getting them plenty of open looks. If Philadelphia decides to go a different route, maybe Buddy Hield is an option. The Sooner senior can really fill it up from deep and would bring experience to this young Sixer squad.
No. 12: There’s much more uncertainty at this point in the draft, but the opportunity is still there for the Sixers to find a gem. Marquette’s Henry Ellenson is a versatile big man who can run the floor well and provide something that the other Philly bigs don’t: outside shooting. Michigan’s Caris LeVert was considered a surefire top-10 pick before injuries brought down his stock. But he’s still a smooth wing player with great length and the ability to make positive contributions on both ends of the floor. If Philadelphia grows tired of some of their current bigs, maybe UNC’s Brice Johnson is brought in. Johnson is super efficient scoring down low, has great athleticism, runs the floor well, rebounds like a maniac, and he has a midrange game already. Or, following the big man theme, maybe Utah’s Jakob Poeltl drops, and the Sixers get a center with huge potential who can anchor their defense and run the floor like a gazelle.
No. 25: It’s even more of a crapshoot toward the end of the first round, but keep in mind, Jimmy Butler was picked at No. 30 and Draymond Green went early second round. Around this range, Philadelphia may want to go after a guy like Michigan St.’s Denzel Valentine and hope he follows the same career path as former Spartan Green. They could opt to go with a scoring point guard like Melo Trimble or Anthony “Cat” Barber, or a lockdown defender at the 1 in Gary Payton II. Maybe the versatility of Nigel Hayes or Jarrod Uthoff attracts them at this range. Regardless, it’ll be another opportunity to knock one out of the park for Sam Hinkie.
Let’s say the Sixers draft Simmons, Dunn, LeVert, and Valentine. This could give them a starting lineup of Kris Dunn, Caris LeVert, Denzel Valentine, Ben Simmons, and Jahlil Okafor. Nerlens Noel would be the sixth man, Ish Smith and Robert Covington would come off the bench if they are resigned, and Joel Embiid and Dario Saric are still lurking. That’s not even considering who the Sixers get in free agency. (I know, players have been reluctant to go to Philadelphia, but that may change this year.)
Even though that collection of players may be lacking some shooting, it’s still a very promising young core with a lot of potential. That may give Hinkie and the front office incentive to start to make pitches at talented free agents, help their young guns develop, and stop tanking and start winning. That’d be a very welcome scenario for Sixer fans.
The Process isn’t over. And it won’t be for a while. But if things break right in the next six months, the worst part may be over. And the fun part would begin: building to become a winning basketball team.