In sports, we often talk about building through the draft.
Sure, a shrewd trade or free agent signing can help put a team over the top, but generally a decent core has to be in place. Good draft selections helped usher in some of the best eras of Sixers basketball.
With that in mind, we take a look at the 10 best draft picks in Sixers history.
10. Andrew Toney, 1980, first round (8th overall)
Toney was a two-time All-Star and big part of the Sixers’ last title in 1983. Drafted out of Louisiana-Lafayette, “The Boston Strangler” averaged 15.9 points a game in his eight-year career. There are many who believe Toney was on a Hall of Fame path before a foot injury forced him into retirement at the age of 30. If only Toney’s career wasn’t cut short, he’d likely be much higher on this list.
9. Doug Collins, 1973, first round (1st overall)
While our freshest memories of Collins are as the Sixers’ head coach, he had a productive NBA career after coming out of Illinois State. Collins averaged 17.9 points a game and helped usher in arguably the greatest era of Sixers basketball. Unfortunately, Collins also succumbed to foot and knee injuries. He retired in 1981, just before the 1983 championship, at the age of 29.
In a draft that didn’t boast much talent, the Sixers did well in 1973. After taking Collins, they selected George McGinnis — who spent four years in the ABA before two All-Star seasons with the Sixers — and Caldwell Jones in the second round.
8. Ben Simmons, 2016, first round (1st overall)
Sure, this is a little bit of a projection, but it’s hard to argue with the returns on Simmons so far. In his third NBA season, he made his second All-Star appearance and appears well on his way to All-Defensive Team honors. Though it’s early in Simmons’ career, he is the franchise leader in assists per game and assist percentage. The team also won 50 games in both of his first two seasons and was on track to be at or near that mark again before this season was suspended.
7. Joel Embiid, 2014, first round (3rd overall)
Much like Simmons, there’s a bit of projection, but Embiid’s first four NBA seasons have been dominant. His 24.1 points a game trail only Wilt Chamberlain and Allen Iverson. He also has the highest usage rate and rebounding percentage in team history. He’s a three-time All-Star and has been named Second Team All-Defense and All-NBA in each of the last two seasons.
While Embiid was supremely talented coming out of Kansas, it took some guts to take him given his injury history. Injuries have haunted him in his young NBA career, but he is on an extremely special trajectory. After seeing what’s become of the careers of Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, this pick looks even better.
6. Allen Iverson, 1996, first round (1st overall)
While there may be better players and better value draft picks on this list, there is nobody more beloved than A.I. Iverson is all over the Sixers’ record books. He’s the franchise leader in threes made and steals per game. He’s second in points — both total and per game — minutes, steals and usage rate. He also led an improbable and memorable run to the Finals in 2001. Though it may have been a no-brainer to take the 6-foot guard from Georgetown, Iverson’s Hall of Fame career gets him on this list.
5. Charles Barkley, 1984, first round (5th overall)
“The Round Mound of Rebound” struggled to get on the floor his rookie year coming out of Auburn because he was “fat and lazy.” But once Barkley’s career took off, he became a perennial All-Star and bona fide superstar. Sir Charles was a six-time All-Star and is third in franchise history in rebounds and fifth in points. Unfortunately, the Sixers failed to surround Barkley with enough talent and he was traded to Phoenix in 1992 before finishing his Hall of Fame career in Houston.
4. Maurice Cheeks, 1978, second round (36th overall)
If you’re going off sheer value, you could make an argument for Cheeks in the top spot. Easily the greatest NBA player to ever come out of West Texas A&M, Cheeks was a five-time All-Defensive team pick, a four-time All-Star and a world champion in 1983. Cheeks has the most steals and assists in franchise history. Getting a Hall of Famer at 36th overall? Not too shabby.
3. Chet Walker, 1962, second round (12th overall)
Selected by the Syracuse Nationals — who became the Sixers the following season — Walker had an excellent career. Only John Havlicek scored more points in the 1962 draft class. The Bradley product was a three-time All-Star with the Sixers and helped the team win its first title in 1967. Unfortunately, Walker was traded to the Bulls during his prime and went on to make four more All-Star teams in his Hall of Fame career.
2. Billy Cunningham, 1965, first round (5th overall)
Cunningham is the only person on this list to be involved in both Sixers championships. After a stellar career at UNC, “The Kangaroo Kid” joined Walker, Hal Greer and Wilt Chamberlain and helped form one of the best starting fives in NBA history that won it all in 1967. Cunningham is in the top 10 in just about every stat in team history and was a four-time All-Star in Philadelphia during his Hall of Fame playing career.
It’s fair to note that if the Sixers never draft Cunningham, they don’t get the best coach in their history. Cunningham coached and won the most games in team history. His .698 winning percentage and 66 playoff wins are also franchise-best marks. He took the team to the Finals three times, winning it in 1983.
1. Hal Greer, 1958, second round (13th overall)
Greer’s resume speaks for itself. The Marshall product, who was also selected by the Nationals, went on to become the franchise leader in points, field goals made, games and minutes. He was a key cog on that 1967 championship team. He made 10 All-Star teams during his 15-year career, all spent with the Sixers/Nats.
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