76ers

The case for Malik Monk as the Sixers' first-round pick

The case for Malik Monk as the Sixers' first-round pick

Over the weeks leading up to the 2017 NBA draft, we'll be making cases for the Sixers to draft several prospects. Our series will kick off with options at No. 3 (or trade downs) followed by second-round possibilities. The 2017 NBA draft will take place on June 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Malik Monk
Position:
SG
School: Kentucky
Height: 6-3
Weight: 197
Wingspan: 6-3½ 

The latest in a long line of Kentucky guards to make a one-year stop in Lexington, Malik Monk has one of the most impressive résumés out of John Calipari’s program in recent memory. John Wall, Devin Booker, and Jamal Murray all spent one year hooping for Big Blue Nation, but none of them managed as many points as Monk, whose 754 were good enough for the program’s freshman record. He connected on 104 three-pointers, just under 40 percent on the year from deep, and averaged 19.3 points per game. It’s simple what Monk brings to the table — he’s a pure shooter and can score in bunches.

As usual, Kentucky had a roster stuffed with NBA prospects (cough, De’Aaron Fox, cough), but the Wildcats had a hard time losing when Monk was the one locked in. His percentage beyond the arc sat at 41.3 in UK wins, but just 32.7 in losses. Often, 32 times in fact, Monk powered the Wildcats to a win, and if it weren’t for drawing eventual national champion North Carolina in the Elite Eight, he might have led the way to earning the trophy at the Final Four in Phoenix.

While it is the crux of his game, the jump shot isn’t all Monk brings to the table. His hops are explosive for someone of his height, something he exhibited on plenty of dunks last season. That same athleticism aids him on the other side of the ball, where, with some growth, Monk projects to be a fine defender.

The case for Monk
The Sixers believe they have some young pieces in place for a title-contending roster. Joel Embiid can dominate inside. Ben Simmons, playing the point or not, should be a high-caliber starter. Dario Saric is a valuable asset with his size and stroke. But Nik Stauskas is not the long term answer at shooting guard. Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot had some nice moments at the end of his rookie season, although he hasn’t sold anyone yet that he's a clear-cut starter. Free-agent additions, whether that’s Kyle Lowry, J.J. Redick or someone else, will help, but the need for a knock-down, assassin-type shooter is apparent. Monk could fill that void.

Monk hit at least three threes in a game 18 games during his lone college season. And while the range is key for any effective shooting guard at the next level, it doesn’t do much good if the shooter can’t get himself open. According to DraftExpress’ scouting report on Monk, half of his attempts came off the dribble. His ability to create his own shot and use his athleticism to elevate for good looks is where he really makes himself a “scoring machine” — as Dickie V labels him in the clip below:

Things didn’t change when it mattered most, either. Monk would join a Sixers team that could use a go-to guard for end-of-game situations, and his 47-point effort against UNC at a neutral site in December deems him qualified. He went 18 for 28 from the field and 8 of 12 from deep, including a go-ahead three from the wing in the final seconds. There was also the time when he drained a triple while falling out of bounds to send the game to OT and save Kentucky from losing at home to an inferior Georgia team:

Monk’s offensive skills don’t stop with his jumper. His ball-handling skills need polishing, especially against the enhanced defenders he’ll see in the league, but he’s athletic enough that he’ll be able to create chances around the rim. Kind of like this:

The case against Monk
He is slightly undersized. At 6-foot-3 and just under 200 pounds, he’ll be going against bigger defenders. Plus, size only helps at the other end of the court. Despite Monk’s explosiveness, the Sixers could elect to go with someone like Josh Jackson, whose size and athleticism are guaranteed and whose shooting ability will hopefully come with time. You can teach shooting. You can’t teach size.

Additionally, Monk will need to expand his game. A killer jumper is nice, but it’s obviously easier to defend if there’s no other option. With the small sample size of just one college season, the risk is that Monk won’t become the complete player the Sixers need. And with such a stacked draft class, other prospects might have more of a well-rounded package of skills to offer.

Analysis
A lot of things will happen before the Sixers are on the clock with the No. 3 pick. Monk and the rest of his peers will work out for plenty of teams. Front offices will begin to form a more concrete opinion of which direction they want to go in. The Celtics and Lakers will make their selections. Heck, a trade could even lead the entire process down a path no one saw coming. 

But there are some constants, one being that the Sixers need better shooting. If they decide that is the need they want to fill with their first-round pick, Monk is the man they should want. If that means taking him with the third overall selection, then do it. If they are confident he will slide to them a few spots back, then, by all means, take the additional benefits of that trade and move back.

This is a shooter’s league. Guys like Steph Curry and James Harden can win games solely because of their seemingly unending range. That’s not to say Monk is the next Curry, but he can contribute to an area where the Sixers’ roster currently lacks. Hindsight will always be 20/20 when looking at this draft class down the line, but the choice is clear now if the Sixers' vision includes adding a shooter.

Draft Malik Monk.

Wizards 120, Sixers 115: Studs, duds, turning point and more

Wizards 120, Sixers 115: Studs, duds, turning point and more

The Sixers put on quite a show in the season opener before ultimately falling to the Wizards, 120-115, Wednesday night (see observations).

The biggest story, of course, was Joel Embiid playing 27 minutes after head coach Brett Brown said the 23-year-old big man would play "in the teens." Both Embiid and Ben Simmons shined but it wasn't enough.

After struggling in the first half, All-Star point guard John Wall took over in the second in leading Washington to the win. Wall finished with 28 points, but it took 28 shots to get there.

Despite the loss, there was plenty to like about the Sixers' performance. They'll start the season 0-1 but have plenty to build off of going into Friday night's home opener.

Turning point
With the Sixers battling back and down just two after a Simmons layup, Bradley Beal missed a three from the corner. If the Sixers could've corralled the rebound, they would've been looking at an opportunity to tie the game. Instead, Kelly Oubre Jr. timed it perfectly for a put-back slam to make it 106-102 with 5:50 left.

After getting a stop, the Wizards came right back down in transition and Beal threw a pretty alley-oop to Wall. It pushed the lead to six and got the crowd on its feet. 

The Sixers had three different opportunities to tie the game with less than a minute left, but two killer turnovers and a missed three from JJ Redick ended the comeback attempt.

Key stat
We all knew the Sixers' three-point shooting would be improved this season with the addition of Redick (4 of 8) and a healthy Jerryd Bayless (3 of 7), but my goodness. The Sixers shot 15 of 35 as a team. And that's after starting the game 2 for 9.

Offensive stud
Speaking of threes, Robert Covington was lethal from beyond. After getting off to a horrendous shooting start last season, Covington was on fire Wednesday. He led all scorers with 29 points on 9 of 15 shooting, including 7 of 11 from three.  

Embiid and Simmons also get an honorable mention here. Embiid dominated early and late, going for 18 points, 13 boards and dishing out three assists (see highlights). Simmons looked in control as the team's point guard, finishing with 18 points (7 of 15), 10 rebounds and five assists in his NBA debut. Most importantly, Simmons had just one turnover.

Offensive dud
For the most part, the team performed really well offensively. Amir Johnson had a forgettable stretch offensively with a couple of ill-advised post-ups in the third quarter. The Sixers' newest big man finished 2 of 7 and fouled out in the third quarter.

Defensive stud
T.J. McConnell did an excellent job leading the second unit on both ends of the floor. Including pestering Wall. Before Wall got into a rhythm in the second half, McConnell held him to just 3 for 13 in the first. When McConnell was in the game, nothing was easy for Wall.

Defensive dud
Redick and Bayless certainly struggled with the combination of All-Star guard Wall and Beal. Then again, there are many across the NBA that have had the same struggles. And in reality, Redick and Bayless aren't here for their defense. They're here to make shots, which they did plenty of.

Injuries
Exhale, Sixers fans. The team got out of this game healthy.

Up next
The Sixers play their home opener against Kyrie Irving and the Gordon Hayward-less Celtics on Friday night at 7 p.m. on NBCSP.

Sixers-Wizards observations: Plenty of fight but no victory in season opener

Sixers-Wizards observations: Plenty of fight but no victory in season opener

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON — The Sixers opened the season with a 120-115 loss to the Wizards on Wednesday night at the Capital One Arena. They were within two points with 20.5 seconds to play, but the Wizards played feisty down the stretch and JJ Redick missed a key three.

With 1:18 remaining, Robert Covington drilled his seventh three-pointer to cut the deficit to two. The Sixers had chances to tie or go ahead but committed two of their 17 turnovers on consecutive possessions. After Bradley Beal tacked on a free throw, the Sixers had one final shot. However, Redick couldn’t connect on a contested three with 15 seconds remaining.

In spite of the final score, the revamped Sixers strongly competed against the well-familiarized Wizards (see studs, duds, more). This game exemplified two obstacles they will face early on: overcoming the newness of their roster and juggling Joel Embiid’s playing time. Which leads to … 

• Embiid played 26:57 minutes, exceeding his (frustrated) expectation of 16. Brett Brown hadn’t set a hard number on Embiid’s playing time at shootaround Wednesday morning. He planned to be more flexible within Embiid’s restriction than last season. 

Embiid posted a double-double in his first 21:38 minutes through three quarters and seemed uncertain to return at that point. He re-entered the game, though, with 5:19 to play as the Sixers chased a win. Embiid recorded an 18-point, 13-rebound double-double with three assists.

• Ben Simmons attempted all of his shots in the paint and scored the majority at the basket. He also reached a double-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. He logged nearly 35 minutes in his debut (see highlights).

• The Markelle Fultz shoulder saga continued. Fultz took a pair of free throws with an awkward form that prompted a social media frenzy. His shot didn’t look comfortable nor natural as he deals with right shoulder soreness. Fultz made up for it with a monster block on Kelly Oubre Jr. and aggressive drives to the basket. He scored 10 points off 5 for 9 shooting from the field in 18 minutes (see highlights).

• Amir Johnson got the majority of the minutes at backup center. Brown went small with Dario Saric in the fourth. (See his train of thought here.)
 
Jahlil Okafor did not play. Okafor’s minutes may come when Embiid sits out an entire game, hypothetically, in a back-to-back. The Sixers will have to address that situation on Saturday.

• A night of firsts: Embiid’s first two points were free throws less than 45 seconds into the game. (He’s making a point of that.)
 
Simmons then scored his first NBA bucket with a driving reverse layup on a fastbreak. Fultz came in off the bench to score his first points on a fastbreak layup. Redick’s first basket as a member of the Sixers was (appropriately) a three-pointer in the second quarter. 

• Covington got into a three-point shooting rhythm. He hit 7 of 11 treys for a game-high 29 points.

• The Sixers had 17 turnovers in the game compared to the Wizards' nine.

• Fultz and Simmons made their NBA debuts, but they weren’t the only players getting into game rhythm. Take a look at how long it has been since these starters played in a regular-season contest: Bayless: Nov. 25, 2016 (wrist); Embiid: Jan. 27, 2017 (knee), Covington: Mar. 28, 2017 (knee). 

• Sixers fans chanted “Trust the Process” a minute into the game. The visiting team often is well-represented in Washington, D.C.

• The Sixers will be back in action on Friday night when they host the Boston Celtics in their home opener (7 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app).