Each day leading up to Sept. 21, the official start of Sixers training camp, we'll dissect the biggest storylines facing the team ahead of the 2018-19 season.
In today’s Give and Go, Matt Haughton and Eric Mullin give their predictions on which Sixers rookie will have the best season.
While I’m not necessarily counting on any member of this Sixers rookie class making a major impact, each player possesses what the team desires in first-year players: potential and versatility.
That’s particularly the case for 2018 first-rounder Zhaire Smith and 2017 second-round selection Jonah Bolden given their defensive prowess. Both players should be able to earn time in the rotation thanks to their strong play on D even as they seek to find their offensive games.
But with Smith coming off a fractured foot and plenty of available minutes in the frontcourt, Bolden is the guy.
The Australian product proved his defense is already one of his best assets over the past two summers with the Sixers. During the MGM Resorts Summer League in Las Vegas in July, Bolden averaged 1.5 steals and 1.0 block over six games. More important than the numbers, he looked the part of NBA defender, even helping put the clamps on No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton.
Bolden also has the advantage of being more mature at 22 years old and previously competing against grown men overseas in Serbia and Israel.
If his offense — mainly his three-point shot — ever reaches a consistent level, Bolden could be a serious dual threat for the Sixers. But for now, the team will settle for a reserve big man that can hold his own defensively and chip in the occasional bucket.
If Smith hadn’t fractured his foot, I think he’d be the easy answer here. But since it's usually not that simple with Sixers rookies and their health, let’s run through the three other choices.
The team’s other first-round pick, Landry Shamet, should have value as a floor spacer and shooter, but there are questions as to whether he can affect the game at all off the dribble or hold his own defensively.
Shake Milton has good size on the wing at 6-6 and shot over 42 percent from deep on a high volume of attempts at SMU. Though it’s tough to expect much from a late second-round pick who signed a two-way deal and will likely spend most of his time in Delaware this season.
Then there’s draft-and-stash Bolden, who had a summer league to forget before signing with the Sixers. Bolden has some intriguing tools and the optimistic projection for him is to be a rangy, three-and-D big, but he has to improve his consistency for that potential to be actualized.
The big question here is if any of these players will be able to crack Brett Brown’s regular rotation. Just going down the roster, there’s at least 10 players that will almost certainly get minutes to start the season (last season’s starting five, Markelle Fultz, Wilson Chandler, T.J. McConnell, Amir Johnson, Mike Muscala). And Furkan Korkmaz is lurking right behind. So unless a rookie(s) really pops early, it’s going to be tough to get consistent minutes.
Since Smith hasn’t been ruled out for the season (if he was it’d be a toss-up between Shamet and Bolden), I’m actually going to go with him and here’s why: He’s the best bet of the rookies to actually play in the playoffs, mainly because of his defensive ability and versatility. This Sixers team has high aspirations. Their most important games of the season are going to be deep in the playoffs. If Smith doesn’t make it back until around the All-Star break, but is the only first-year player to play himself into the playoff rotation, that would still be the best freshman campaign.