If the NBA draft is a single high-stakes hand of poker, the Philadelphia 76ers are about to belly up with a briefcase full of chips.
With point guard Michael Carter-Williams and center Nerlens Noel expected to be the franchise focal points for years to come, Philly’s two most important positions are by all accounts covered.
Still, for a team that won just 19 games in a historically horrible Eastern Conference, the Sixers have plenty of holes to fill.
Philly’s haul could unfold in one of a million different ways. Today, however, we’ll look at perhaps the best-case scenario for how the Sixers can put their stamp on draft night.
Step 1: Playing It Safe
Most everyone agrees the 2014 draft is brim-loaded with depth and upside. What’s less clear is how much of the crop’s cream will ultimately rise.
In Carter-Williams and Noel, Philly has invested itself heavily in the high-risk, high-reward market. And while Carter-Williams’ Rookie of the Year award hopefully portends a potent future for the rangy young point guard, Noel was and very much remains a high-maintenance basketball project.
The Sixers will have plenty of chances to swing for the fences later in the night. Which is why Jabari Parker should be the target with the No. 3 pick.
Most mock drafts have Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid going in the top three. In which order, well, that’s the meatiest mystery.
In all likelihood, though, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks—both of which are behooved to make big splashes, albeit for different reasons—will likely go with the one or the other of Kansas’ high-upside duo.
In Parker, the Sixers would be getting a hyper-versatile offensive forward with an already-honed, NBA-ready game. And while Parker’s defense remains a work in progress, to put it politely, his ability to score from virtually anywhere on the floor will be a day-one boon to Brett Brown’s still burgeoning offensive attack.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Bleacher Report’s Tim Keeney with an excellent—and much more thorough—synopsis for why Philly need not view Parker as a mere consolation prize:
Off the bounce, off the catch, either hand, from any of the three levels (post, mid-range, beyond the arc). It doesn’t matter. Parker’s skill level and basketball intelligence are both off the charts, and he will take whatever the defense gives him.
The only type of basket missing from the above compilation is of the transition variety, but, rest assured, he has no trouble grabbing a rebound, putting the ball on the floor like a point guard and taking on five defenders like a damn freight train, either.
He may not boast Wiggins’ overall ceiling, but if Parker can keep nose to grindstone and gradually improve in all facets, Philly will stand to profit sooner than later.
Step 2: Seizing on the Weak
Part 1: Trading Down to Move Up
Outside of the top 10, there’s a significant lack of consensus on how the rest of the first round shapes out. Philly should look to leverage this as best it can, specifically by using its No. 10 pick as bait for a desperate team.
A team like the Chicago Bulls. With Derrick Rose recovering from a second knee injury in as many years, Chicago’s championship window—if one ever existed—is closing fast. The Bulls need not just an injection of talent, but an injection of youth and upside as well.
If I’m Philly, I’m looking to offer Thaddeus Young and a pair of picks (Nos. 10 and 39, perhaps) for Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy and the No. 16 pick.
Why? With only $26 million in committed salaries for next season, via HoopsHype, the Sixers have more than enough room to absorb Boozer’s onerous $16.8 million deal. Dunleavy, while limited, would at least be able to provide some potent scoring and would make for a serviceable temporary starter.
The Bulls, meanwhile, would be getting a younger, more versatile forward capable of playing both the 3 and the 4 while moving slightly up the draft board.
With the No. 10 pick, the Bulls could take someone like Michigan State’s Gary Harris, a two-way dynamo shooting guard with oodles of upside. He also hails from Gary, Indiana, just a stone’s throw from Chi-Town.
The Sixers could then use the No. 16 pick on—for example—Harris’ former fellow Spartan, Adreian Payne. In Payne, Philly would be getting an NBA-ready big whose paint-roaming prowess and versatile offensive game would make him the perfect complement to Noel.
Assuming Noel’s development goes a bit slower than expected, Payne could be used as a stretch 5 alongside Boozer. Best case, Boozer can be brought off the bench to provide a much-needed boost to Philly’s second unit.
Part II: Fringe Benefits
The Sixers have five—that’s right, five—second-round picks: Nos. 32, 39, 47, 52 and 54.
While Philly could certainly use them to round out their ragamuffin roster, they could also ship a few of them out to a team desperate to get into the draft.
The New York Knicks come immediately to mind. It’s been reported that the Knicks—who gave up their 2014 first-rounder to the Denver Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony trade—are looking to sneak into the dance.
The New York Post’s Marc Berman recently reported the Knicks could look to target the Oklahoma City Thunder’s No. 21 pick in exchange for guard Iman Shumpert.
Might the Knicks be willing to entertain a combination of Philly’s picks—perhaps Nos. 32 and 39 or Nos. 39, 47 and 52—for Shump’s services? Would Eric Maynor’s $2.1 million expiring be enough to get the Knicks to bite, especially considering their woeful lack of depth at the position?
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Knicks accept Maynor and picks No. 32 and 39 for Shumpert. That leaves Philly with three picks.
In what could prove a historically deep draft, that’s not worth nothing.
Step 3: Moneyball
Let’s be blunt: The chances of Philly finding a useful future rotation player in the second round—any second round—are pretty slim.
That said, this draft boasts more than a few potential diamonds in the rough.
Players like C.J. Fair (Carter-Williams’ one-time teammate at Syracuse), Jabari Brown and James McAdoo, while all potential flame-outs, boast enough in the way of positional upside to make it worth Philly’s while.
As things stand, the Sixers are looking at a maximum of 10 players at next fall’s training camp—and that includes a pair of player and team options, respectively.
It stands to reason, then, that at least one of Philly’s late-round nabs—and possibly all three—will stick around long enough to enjoy Year 2 of the great Sixers rebuild.
Step 4: Profit
Let’s assume Jason Richardson and Byron Mullens exercise their player options ($6.6 million and $1.3 million), and that the Sixers opt to keep Jarvis Varnado ($915,000) and Elliot Williams ($981,000) around for next season.
With Parker and Payne’s rookie contracts, along with Boozer’s and Shumpert’s deals, Philly’s salary commitments will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 to $45 million.
That leaves quite a bit of Monopoly money to play with—money the Sixers can use to round out their young, up-and-coming core. At the very least, they’ll have Boozer’s $16.8 million off the books after next season, while also controlling Shumpert’s Bird rights.
Might it be enough to lure the likes of Luol Deng, Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Marcin Gortat or any one of the bevy of solid free agents set to hit the open market? It’s hard to say. What’s crystal clear, however, is that the Sixers would be positioning themselves even more perfectly to load up in what promises to be a landscape-altering free-agent class in 2015.
In the meantime, you could certainly do a lot worse than a roster skeleton of Carter-Williams, Shumpert, Parker, Boozer, Noel, Payne, Dunleavy and rookies X, Y and Z.
What’s more, the presence of Payne and Noel, combined with Shumpert’s perimeter prowess, would go a long way in addressing some of the issues Brown identified in an interview with Grantland’s Zach Lowe back in January:
You’re seeing it exactly right. This is the plan. We came into this thing saying that if we’re gonna hang our hat on anything, we’re gonna go pace and paint. We’re gonna run as fast as we can, and then on the other end, we’re gonna guard the paint. We don’t have a shot-blocking front line, so let’s try as a group to guard the paint. And then Portland tees off from 3-point range, and the Warriors tee off. It has been a real challenge. It drives me crazy at night, when at times we don’t guard. I don’t sleep so well.
Is that core good enough to sprout a playoff team? Probably not. Then again, in an Eastern Conference as weak as this one, a fast track to contention is by no means an impossibility.
Going all-in on rookies and second-year studs might sound fun on its face, but it can also backfire spectacularly, setting the franchise back years.
More important for Philly will be striking a delicate balance of youth and upside on the one hand, and veteran moxie and long-term financial flexibility on the other.