Friday, June 27, 2014

The Sixer Draft: Re-Tank and Re-Load

Re-Tank? Re-Tank
"I'm living in fear of Joel Embiid at 3, Dario Saric at 10, Tank Year Two, and neither guy working out." - Me, June 25, 11:38pm, on a friend's Facebook feed

Well, um, so that happened.

Before we discuss tonight's Sixer selections, let me take you back into distant NBA history, which I remember because I am old and That Way.

Once upon a time, an NBA team had the first pick in the draft. There was a clear top pick available in terms of talent, but the player, a big man of unquestioned talent and character, was unable to start his career right away. The wise club stashed him, and won 31 games, up from 28 the year before, with no benefit from the pick. The next year, they kind of whiffed on their middling first rounder, and won just 21 games. Then, in the third year, they finally got the big man, tied him to the third overall pick in the draft, a quality SG, and presto, 56 wins and the second seed.

The big man was David Robinson, who had to serve two years in the Navy before embarking on his NBA career. The SG was Sean Elliot, who was a quality piece for them before illness and injury. And in 1996, when Robinson was only able to play six games due to injury, the team won just 20 games and got lucky in the lottery, getting Tim Duncan. And that's the cornerston for the Spurs being a championship contender for nearly the last 30 years.

Sixers GM Sam Hinkie had the ability to dramatically improve a 19 win team tonight. He could have chosen PF Julius Randle, the new Zach Randolph, that would have given them a low-post scoring presence and clearly NBA ready body, with the third pick. (Randle went 7th, to the Lakers.) With the 10th pick, he could have selected Doug McDermott, the small college scorer with the best shooting ability on the board at that point in the draft, and slotted him at SG. Hell, by taking Randle at 3, maybe the rest of the draft board shakes out where they get SG Nik Stauskas, who went to Sacramento at 8, and who was widely listed as being perfect for the team at 10 in most mock drafts. You never know.

This is not, of course, what Hinkie did. Instead, he took two assets -- Kansas center Joel Embiid and Croatian power forward Dario Saric, acquired after a masterful bit of draft subterfuge that netted the team another first round pick in a future draft -- that aren't likely to help the team win any additional games this year. Hell, Saric might not come over for years, as his rights are currently held by a team in Turkey, and if plays horribly there or gets hurt, we might never see him. You never know. In doing so, the club is likely to miss the playoffs and be very high in the lottery again next year, in a draft class of unknown quality. They might not even win the 19 games they won last year, if PG Michael Carter-Williams regresses, or C Nerlens Noel isn't good after his injury redshirt.

Defeatist Sixer Fan, of which there are many, are convinced that this is part of the ownership's distressed asset nature, and that if a winning team eventually happens after all of this tanking, well, that's just a happy accident. And clearly, with the Bucks and Clippers going for unexpected prices (because, well, the revenue streams are much more global than most US sports fans realize), that's a very real possibility. And I was dreading exactly what the Sixers, so I must be miserable, right?

Well, sure. Not getting Wiggins sucks, and even if all of these assets were in town and healthy, it's a disjointed team that's probably not aesthetically pleasing. But, well, in looking at the draft with 2am eyes, I'm not sure what else was to be done. It really doesn't look like the Cavs were ready to roll the dice on Embiid, which would be necessary to get them to take a 3/10/32 pick bonanza for the #1 pick, and there was no clear 3rd or 4th value in the draft. Most mocks had Aussie PG Dante Exum going at 4, and that didn't happen, and certainly was never, for a franchise still tied at the waist to Kyrie Irving. The Sixers needed two serious NBA starters from this draft to build a championship level team, and once Embiid got hurt, that just wasn't going to happen. Randle and McDermott might have long NBA careers, but it's going to be on offense, and that's an unlikely way to win playoff games.

In the second round, Hinkie grabbed SF KJ McDaniels from Clemson, and SF Jerami Grant from Syracuse. Both guys might be reasonable benchies. McDaniels is versatile and a bit small, and Grant can jump out of the building and play defense; if you were able to morph them into one complete player, you'd really have something that could start, but otherwise it's just two competent benchers. As the club didn't really have many guys that were NBA players on their bench last year, both could stick, and that's all you can hope for in the second.

Then Hinkie went into stash and swap mode, moving PG Russ Smith to New Orleans for old friend Pierre Jackson, who went over in last year's Jrue Holliday trade, but clearly did enough in the D-League to be on Hinkie's re-grab list. The last two picks were for two guys from the same team in Serbia, PG Vasilije Micic and SG Nemanja Dangubic, and it's always better to have guys like this wash out in Europe than here. If nothing else, it will give the Sixers plenty of off-hour basketball to watch, in between the Turkish club that will employ Saric, and the Serbian guys. Late word says that the club moved Dangubic to the Spurs for Jordan McRae and Cory Jefferson, AKA two guys that were drafter after him. McRae's a SG from Tennessee, while Jefferson is a PF from Baylor, and they are NBA-ready, if not NBA-level.

Unless Hinkie is somehow able to convince some reasonable free agents, this all means that last year's 19 win club is going to win, at most, 25 this year. (This assumes Embiid misses the whole year, and -- news flash! -- he's going to miss the whole year. The Sixers have a method here, people.) And the team is far from finished, because even if Noel / Embiid / Saric / Williams and SG to be drafter in 2015 is tenable, it's still two guys who both want to play C, with one having to play PF, and that probably means someone's getting dealt. SF Thaddeus Young is probably getting moved out of charity, Carter-Williams was actively thinking on camera that he was on his way out of town before the Saric trade, and we're still at least a year away from the club honestly starting the season with the hope of making the playoffs.

And if Embiid turns into Duncan to Noel's Robinson, with Saric sneaking in as a Chandler Parsons / Toni Kukoc kind of guy?

No one will remember the two seasons of borderline unwatchable ball that set them out to get all of this talent.

Or how very little Sixer Fan came out to watch before they were good on the court, as well as at the GM level...

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