Wednesday, June 22, 2016

NBA Draft Eve: Watchable Sixers Hoop Starts Now, Please

Ben, Meet Joel
Tomorrow night, my Sixers are going to draft first and take Ben Simmons from LSU, and I'm all for it. Simmons comes with some questions because of course that happens when my laundry gets the first pick, but a legit 6'-10" guy who can handle it in transition and has elite level passing will have to suffice... and sure, jump shots get better in time, and bad franchises always luck out with high draft picks showing heart and staying healthy. (Oh, Lord, we're doomed.) Anyway, he's the guy in the draft that might be dominant later, and while Dookie Brandon Ingram is clearly better now and has a higher floor, fah. We didn't just spend three years and an ungodly number of losses to go with the safe floor guy.

With Simmons set to play 3/4 (and maybe 5 if the team wants to try small ball for same idiot reason), this is where the world thinks that the Sixers have to make a trade, because their five best assets are all big men. Plus, having an actual tolerable guard on the roster seems like something that should happen more than once a decade. But here's the thing about the Sixer bigs; no one really has any idea what any of these guys are going to do, including the big one... Stay The Hell Healthy.

But if that actually happens, Actual Fun Might Happen. C Joel Embiid would be the first pick in this draft if he were coming out and healthy, and still could be the best player on this team. Put him next to Simmons, and the club might have the most intriguing power duo in the league. I'll happily slot Nerlens Noel in between them for defense, or Jahlil Okafor for offense, and if and when someone doesn't work out, maybe Dario Saric comes over and gives them something else of serious utility. Especially if he's got the usual Euro skills of being able to hit some threes. But with all of these guys, we really have no idea what they are yet. Noel seems like an energy and defense guy, but he's still crazy young and could develop another offensive skill beyond dunking. Okafor looks too small afoot to defend, but maybe he gets quicker with actual pro nutrition and becoming of legal drinking age. No one really knows what to make of Saric, let alone Embiid and Simmons. Realistically, one or more might wash out or get hurt, and trading before you are absolutely certain which should stay to the next era of relevant hoop seems more sensible to me than racing to deal for mediocrities.

Besides, three slots for 48 minutes divided five ways gives them all a little under 30 minutes a game -- plenty of time, especially since none of them are ready for major NBA minutes -- , and that assumes they are all healthy, which experience tells us they won't be. The point is that there is no immediate need to make a trade, especially since it's not as if the fan base is demanding a .500 record and a playoff seed.

Which seems a little nuts. It's the lEast, after all, and winning half of your games doesn't seem like the biggest upset in the history of sports. Besides, this team has destroyed eyeballs for years with terrible guard and bench play, and the guards on the current roster scream Bench At Best; you also don't want to hurt the development of the bigs with terrible guard play. There's also the sense that Robert Covington and Jerami Grant could give you some minutes at forward as well, but honestly, little from last year's roster, outside of Noel and Okafor, absolutely has to see more time in the NBA.

As for the guards that are here, roll call.. TJ McConnell, Ish Smith, Nik Stauskas, Hollis Thompson and Isaiah Canaan. Um, well, they all have some small measure of use, but the emphasis is on small, and if they were all out of the NBA in two years, no one would lose any sleep over that.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure there's an obvious trading partner upgrade that makes sense. Rumors have floated for months on how Jeff Teague or Dennis Schroeder could come here for Noel, but with Teague going to Indy today, that's over. Boston seemingly won't pull the trigger on Okafor for the #3 pick, which would allow the team to go for Kris Dunn, the Providence PG that's probably not the third best player in this draft, but at least would be a guard with promise. I'd love to see a veteran or three with professionalism and a winning tradition (JJ Barea? Pay through the nose for Mike Conley? Import a retread with some use, like Mario Chalmers or Ramon Sessions or Darren Collison?), but here's the thing about that thinking...

If the bigs are good and healthy, you can be pretty flexible with the guards, at least for now. This isn't the West, where Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and James Harden destroy you on a nightly basis; it's the lEast, where a guy like Kyle Lowry makes an All-Star team. (No offense to Lowry, but honestly, he's just a guy.) You might not be in crying need for a true point if Simmons is what he's supposed to be. Getting the best available shooting guard (Nicolas Batum would be great, Aaron Aflalo maybe tolerable, and guys like Monta Ellis and Courtney Lee always seems to be available) might be almost as useful, and if everyone is collapsing on dominant bigs, and Covington, Canaan and Thompson spend 2016 doing nothing but shooting wide-open threes, I think they might actually, you know, Be A Basketball Team. (This is also where I wonder why the hell the team couldn't make room for Jordan McRae. Also, if McRae will get a championship ring and full share from the Cavs, what with his four postseason minutes and nine points. Seriously, Ty Lue, the man couldn't get more burn with 9 points in 4 minutes? You do realize that Mo Williams is garbage, right? Well, whatever, you won. Moving on.)

There's also the very real possibility that the club will get useful guard possibilities with their two late first round picks at 20 and 24, with possibilities like local St Joe's swingman DeAndre Bembry, Notre Dame PG Demetrius Jackson, or trading down for intriguing second rounders like Gary Payton II from Oregon State, or waterbug Tyler Ulis from Kentucky. Honestly, so long as the team doesn't draft foreign bigs to stash, or injury-prone bigs, I'm good.

Bring on the draft! Hope springs eternal! Because the only other option is booze!

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