76ers

Sixers don't win NBA draft lottery but these 5 players could help at pick 24

Sixers don't win NBA draft lottery but these 5 players could help at pick 24

No, the Sixers didn’t win the draft lottery Tuesday night, but they still have work to do ahead of June 20.

At his end-of-season press conference, GM Elton Brand actually got pretty specific in describing the kind of player he’d like to add at pick No. 24 and beyond.

“Where we are in our trajectory, we need players that can play, players that can add to our team now,” Brand said. “We’re looking for maybe older players. For sure, defensive-minded players and we always place a premium on shooting. But defensive-oriented players that can contribute now, we may look at, I don’t want to tip my hand too much, but that may be something we’re looking at.”

Here are five players that fit that description to an extent and could be there in the first round. 

Matisse Thybulle, G, Washington

Out of all the players that could be available, Thybulle may be the most attractive. He’s 22, he’s athletic and long, he’s defensive-oriented and he’s flashed the ability to shoot. In his four years at Washington, he put up crazy steal (2.4) and block (1.3) block numbers and shot 36 percent from three.

The Huskies’ zone does muddle the evaluation some. Will Thybulle be able to guard 1-on-1? He has the athleticism and quick feet to do so. His three-point shooting also dipped to 31 percent last season. Teams interested will hope that shooting season was an outlier.

Cameron Johnson, F, North Carolina

The biggest knock on Johnson is that he’s 23 years old. No worries for Brand. Johnson has intriguing skills as a 3-and-D combo forward. The Pitt transfer shot 46 percent from three last season. He’s also strong shooting off the dribble and in the mid-range because of his 6-foot-9 frame and ability to shoot over the defense.

Other than age, Johnson does have an injury history. He’ll have to put on muscle to be able to hang with bigger and stronger NBA fours. He’s not the most athletic, but he has potential to be a versatile defender because of his length. 

Carsen Edwards, G, Purdue

You want a shooter? If you followed the NCAA Tournament, you know Edwards is one. He had a pair of 42-point performances, including one against Virginia. He shot 36 percent from three, which doesn’t seem that impressive, but he took 10.6(!) treys a game. He can shoot off the dribble, excels moving off the ball, has a lightning quick release and understands spacing.

He’s 6-foot-1. If he was 6-4, he’d likely be a lottery pick. He struggled with turnovers and isn’t a great playmaker, but that might not matter for the Sixers. He can be a microwave scorer off the bench and would be an excellent complement to Ben Simmons on a second unit.

Daniel Gafford, C, Arkansas

Gafford is a little on the younger side at 20, but he’s a crazy athlete and as active as any player in college basketball. He’s a rim-to-rim big. He’s a decent shot blocker and excels rolling to the basket and finishing off lobs with authority.

His offensive game is incredibly raw. He doesn’t have much in the way of post moves and while he’s worked on his jumper, he still has a long ways to go. For the Sixers, the athleticism and activity is something they sorely lacked out of their backup fives — outside of Jonah Bolden, who is more of a combo big. Gafford is 233 pounds, but has strength and room to add a little more weight to his frame.

KZ Okpala, F, Stanford

Okpala doesn’t really fit Brand’s criteria, but man, he has tools. He’s 6-foot-9 and has a 7-2 wingspan, but displays guard-like skills at times. He’s a great athlete who took a big a step in his sophomore season. He showed an improved handle and his three-point shooting went up by 14 percent.

Tools are great, but he is raw and skinny. Do the Sixers think he could immediately fill a role as a versatile defender capable of hitting the occasional trey? He is crazy intriguing to me, but Brand is likely looking for a more developed player.

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons out for Hawks game with back injury, will have additional evaluation Monday

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons out for Hawks game with back injury, will have additional evaluation Monday

Ben Simmons went through an initial evaluation on his back Sunday in Philadelphia, will have an additional evaluation Monday and is out for the Sixers’ game tomorrow night vs. the Atlanta Hawks, a team source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the news.

Simmons missed Thursday’s game vs. the Nets with lower back soreness and irritated the injury in the first quarter Saturday night against the Bucks. 

Head coach Brett Brown said Thursday that Simmons was injured at the team’s practice Wednesday.

“It was a play where he went up for a rebound and I looked over and he left the court, and went and got treatment,” Brown said. “And it has played out as it has played out. We don’t believe it’s anything too significant.”

After drawing a foul on Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez with 7:21 left in the first on a running hook shot, Simmons put his hands on his knees and appeared in discomfort. He stayed in to make 1 of 2 free throws, and the Sixers then had Matisse Thybulle commit a foul to stop the game and allow Simmons to return to the locker room.

Before Saturday, Simmons had been averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists this season in a team-high 36.3 minutes per game. The two-time All-Star has an NBA-best 115 steals. 

Simmons had entered the All-Star break strong, with a 26-point triple-double in the Sixers’ Feb. 11 win over the Clippers. 

He’d posted 20.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game in the final 18 contests before the All-Star Game, shooting 68.9 percent from the foul line during that stretch. When Joel Embiid was out with a torn ligament in his left ring finger, Simmons had carried the Sixers to a 6-3 record. 

With 25 regular-season games remaining, the Sixers are 35-22 and fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. They have a 26-2 home record, best in the NBA, and a 9-20 away mark that’s the worst of any team currently in a playoff position. The team’s remaining schedule is the easiest in the league.

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If Ben Simmons is sidelined for an extended period, how will Sixers adapt?

If Ben Simmons is sidelined for an extended period, how will Sixers adapt?

We don’t need to spend much time explaining how and why Ben Simmons is very valuable for the Sixers. 

The two-time All-Star leads the NBA in steals and, before irritating a lower back injury Saturday night in Milwaukee, was averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 assists and 7.9 rebounds.

Of course, the Sixers will hope the injury doesn’t keep Simmons out for long. The question of how the Sixers will manage if Simmons’ injury does sideline him for an extended period of time, however, deserves attention.

Who’d be in the starting lineup? 

Though Raul Neto started in Simmons’ place Thursday against the Nets, he didn’t play against the Bucks until the game was well out of hand.

Shake Milton handled much of the point guard duties after Simmons left and was solid, making 5 of 7 three-point shots and scoring 17 points.

Josh Richardson and Alec Burks are other ball handling options, with Brett Brown seeming to prefer Burks’ “scoring punch” off the bench.

In his second NBA season, Milton has posted 6.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, shooting 36.9 percent from three. The 23-year-old was on a two-way contract with the Sixers as a rookie and starred with the Delaware Blue Coats, scoring 24.9 points per game in the G League.

Who else would be impacted? 

Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 9, Milton started eight straight games for the Sixers because of Richardson’s hamstring injury. Brown didn’t play him as much as a typical starter during that stretch, giving him 25.4 minutes per game. He only exceeded 30 minutes once, when he scored a career-high 27 points on Jan. 30 in Atlanta.

Milton again would not likely be assuming full-on starters minutes. Perhaps Richardson and Burks would combine for a greater sum of backup point guard minutes than usual. If Richardson were to handle backup point guard duties, that would presumably mean Glenn Robinson III, Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle would have more minutes to take on the wing. 

Simmons was averaging a team-high 36.3 minutes entering Saturday’s game, so there is simply a lot of playing time that would need to be allocated among multiple players. 

Where would the Sixers suffer the most? 

The defense would take a big hit. The on-off stats mysteriously indicate that the Sixers have been a better defensive team with Simmons not on the floor, but they’d clearly be losing one of the best defenders in the game. 

Along with being first in steals, Simmons has the most total deflections and the most defensive loose balls recovered. He can defend opposing stars and, in general, most point guards, wings and power forwards. The Sixers would not be able to replace that defensive versatility or overall quality.

They’d obviously gain something in terms of outside shooting but would lose a lot in other offensive areas. Simmons has assisted on more threes than any player this season.

How much would it hurt overall? 

Because Simmons has played in 214 of a possible 221 regular-season games over the last three seasons, we don’t have any meaningful track record of how the Sixers tend to fare without him.

Joel Embiid would be the focus of a Simmons-less team, and it would make sense for the offense to involve more Embiid post-ups than ever.

The most basic formula for success without Simmons would be an elite Embiid on both ends of the floor, Milton and other guards succeeding in expanded roles, and Tobias Harris and Al Horford being better across the board, especially as three-point shooters. It’s not impossible that all those pieces would come together, but it would be a lot to ask. 

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