76ers

The case for Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss as a Sixers' 2nd-round pick

The case for Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss as a Sixers' 2nd-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 ups/downs) followed by second-round possibilities. The 2017 NBA draft will take place on June 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Nigel Williams-Goss
Position
: PG
School: Gonzaga
Height: 6-4
Weight: 182
Wingspan: 6-7¼ 

Gonzaga University has had some great college players in recent years. Go back over the last decade or so, and guys like Adam Morrison, Kevin Pangos and Kyle Wiltjer all spent time in Spokane. But not until this season had future hall of fame coach Mark Few’s team made the Final Four. Much of that breakthrough has to be credited to the Zags’ point guard, Nigel Williams-Goss, who, if he had stayed healthy in the national championship game, might have been able to lead his team to one more win.

Williams-Goss spent the first two seasons of his collegiate career at the University of Washington but left after a sophomore campaign in which he was the team’s best player. He wasn’t happy with the way the program was going, which isn’t hard to believe considering this season the Huskies won just nine games even with Markelle Fultz on their roster this year. 

After sitting out the 2015-2016 season due to transfer rules, Williams-Goss was an immediate difference maker for the Zags. As the West Coast Conference’s player of the year and a second-team AP All-American, he averaged 16.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists. It’s hard to ask anyone to be that consistently productive in multiple facets. After getting his degree, Williams-Goss elected to forego his final year of NCAA eligibility and enter the draft. 

The case for Williams-Goss
His greatest advantage is his size. A 6-7 wingspan is desirable for a point guard, and he can use it to make up for his less than stellar athleticism on both ends of the floor. Often it helped him get to the rack when electing to keep the rock on the pick and roll, which was a big part of the Zags’ offense with the inside presence of Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins. And the extra inches allow him to guard multiple positions. 

Offensively, his game is well-rounded. His shooting numbers are solid, and 48 percent from the field makes up for his 36 percent from three. But the most encouraging stat lies in Williams-Goss’ turnovers, or rather lack thereof. Critics are skeptical of his composure when pressured at high speeds, but with just 2.4 turnovers per 40 attempts, he’s careful with the ball.

The case against Williams-Goss
It’s fair to argue that Williams-Goss’ numbers were puffed up a bit thanks to the circumstances he was in. At Washington, he was a go-to guy, so you’d sure hope he’d score in double-figures. At Gonzaga, he played in the West Coast Conference, which pretty much had no answer to the Zags’ level of play. He played bad teams and stuffed the stat sheet.

Plus, he lacks that one blatantly marketable skill. Out of his athleticism, shooting and defending, none are first-rate. His percentages do take a slight dip when shooting off the dribble, and that’s a tad alarming for a point guard.

Analysis
Williams-Goss isn’t even a lock to get picked. As of now, DraftExpress predicts he’ll go to the Knicks with the 58th selection. Regardless, he’ll get a chance with someone and try to prove himself this summer. Philadelphia is not the most likely destination. 

The point guard position is crowded here. The Sixers want to play Ben Simmons at the one. Jerryd Bayless and T.J. McConnell are under contract for the next two seasons. Another point presence, albeit a scoring one that will act as a combo guard, appears to be coming out of the first round in the form of Fultz. While there is some upside in taking Williams-Goss, it’s hard to see him finding a fit. Should the Sixers’ value his size and see room for improvement, maybe they take him late in the second round and give him some time in the summer league and D-League. 

Celtics' Al Horford will reportedly hit free agency after opting out of player option

Celtics' Al Horford will reportedly hit free agency after opting out of player option

The Celtics’ offseason isn’t off to a terrific start.

Unsurprisingly, it appears All-Star guard Kyrie Irving will leave in free agency. GM Danny Ainge also reportedly took a swing for All-Star big man Anthony Davis, but was outbid by the Lakers.

But what transpired Tuesday may hurt them more than anything. Earlier in the day, it was reported that Al Horford would not opt in to his $30.1 million player option, but there was optimism the sides could strike a multi-year deal. Now it’s being reported that “the gulf is too great” between Boston and Horford’s camp and the veteran big will hit the market looking for a three- or four-year deal.

Uh oh.

Horford’s stats won’t blow you away — 13.5 points, seven rebounds per game as a Celtic — but he’s arguably their most indispensable player. While Irving’s departure almost seemed inevitable during Boston’s playoff run, Horford possibly jumping ship is pretty jarring. 

When the Sixers play Boston, Horford is tasked with guarding Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons. How many players in the league are capable of guarding both, let alone doing it at a high level? The answer is likely zero. 

Ainge was right to hold on to Jayson Tatum in negotiations for Davis, but it’s going to be tough to build a championship-caliber roster with the pieces the Celtics have and what cap room they have left. They could make a deal for a veteran point guard like Memphis’ Mike Conley. Ainge still has an excellent trade piece in the Grizzlies’ protected 2020 first-round pick. 

With all the uncertainty surrounding the Celtics, Raptors and Bucks, it would seem to make even more sense for Elton Brand to #RunItBack with Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. The Eastern Conference — and perhaps even the entire NBA — may be wide open.

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6 takeaways from Sixers GM Elton Brand ahead of the 2019 NBA draft

6 takeaways from Sixers GM Elton Brand ahead of the 2019 NBA draft

Sixers GM Elton Brand spoke to reporters Tuesday ahead of the NBA draft Thursday night. Here are six takeaways including how close Brand thinks they are, "optionality" with five picks and more.

The agony of defeat

Any time you're not the last team standing at the end of the NBA season, it's not going to sit well. For Brand and the Sixers, watching the Toronto Raptors hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy stings a little more after taking them to seven games.

But Brand is looking ahead, and giving the reigning NBA champions their stiffest fight is only fueling him to make his team better.

"Hats off to the champs, but it just shows me that we were close," Brand said. "We are so close. So my goal this summer is to get better through the draft, through free agency, whatever we have to do and be able to compete again at that level. It definitely hurts. From the players to the coaches to my staff – we want to grow and we want to get better."

Embiid and Ben Simmons didn't take the loss well. Especially Embiid, who appeared to take all of the questions about his health and ability to play against Marc Gasol to heart.

Brand is confident his young All-Stars are prepared to use it all as motivation.

"A lot of promises, vows – it's raw. It hurts," Brand said. "You're passionate. 'I can't believe we lost like that.' They've been in the gym, they've been rehabbing, they've been working hard, so the goal is to just keep the momentum. How do we take that into the summer? But they've been executing their plans. They're still hungry. They still feel that pain to lose how they lost. As tough as it was losing like that, we're going to get better from it."

Character evaluations

Pre-draft workouts are a good opportunity for Brand and his staff to learn a little more about prospects. It gives them a chance to talk to the player 1-on-1 and see what they're all about. But it doesn't end there.

I don't want to give too much intel, but we talked to people that pick up their laundry," Brand said. "It's a whole range of people. From their coaches, their mom, their family, but we get specific intel, then we meet with them. It's different. It's like an interview. You're on your best behavior. So we try to just get to know them the best we can, know their personalities, talk to middle school coaches, high school coaches, just to be clear on what kind of person they are.

What kind of character are the Sixers are looking for?

"Tough, hard-nosed, respectful, wants to get better. Treat your teammates with respect. Younger players, we like a high IQ. A guy that knows how to play defense, make the right pass, take the shot when warranted and competitive. We want tough competitors that can think the game."

Feels like the first time

It's easy to forget that Brand wasn't named GM until after the draft last season. While he was part of the process, Brett Brown held the interim general manager title.

This year, Brand is running the show and will have final say.

"The first thing I learned is making a recommendation vs. making a call, there's a big difference," Brand said. "Under Bryan [Colangelo], it was, 'Oh yeah, that sounds good.' But now I'm making the call – that's a big difference. A lot of posturing going on. You talk to a team about future picks and it's like, 'Oh no, we don't want to give up futures.' But now as the draft comes along, getting calls like, 'Hey, would you consider it?' Similar to the trade deadline. Very similar to the trade deadline with everyone trying to get an angle and trying to get an advantage for their organization and their team."

With the team being so close and looking for guys that can contribute right away, Brand definitely understands the responsibility of being the one that pulls the trigger.

"It's definitely much more pressure than making a recommendation. Last year, I was just like, 'Yeah, this guy can shoot, I saw him in L.A. His change of motion, he can get to the rim. He has a short neck like me, but he's really taller.' Just whatever it is. But now I'm making that call, so there's more pressure to get it right, especially for the trajectory of our team, because we need young talent. Even if we do get to the championship level we aspire to, I don't want to fall off a cliff either. I want to have talent in the kiddies so they can grow and get better."

Optionality 

"Optionality" was a word former general manager Sam Hinkie used often and fondly during the days of "The Process," and it's one Brand returned to several times Tuesday when describing the Sixers' outlook heading into the draft. With five picks, it sounds like just about everything is a possibility.

Having the five picks, that gives us that optionality. If there's a player that we're targeting that looks like they could be available, we could move up. We could move back. We could move out. We could sell a pick. That's what's great about having those options. Regarding selling the picks, [it's a] possibility. There's some later picks that teams would pay for, and if we don't have anybody on our draft board that we want to grow with the Blue Coats or come to the G League, that's a possibility.

Because the Sixers have only four players guaranteed to be under contract next season and will need to commit a substantial amount of money should they wish to sign free agents Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, using four or even all five of the selections the team currently holds could be an appealing idea. That said, it's just one of many options on the table for what promises to be an eventful Thursday evening.

Looking for immediate contributors 

Unlike in previous years, when the Sixers were building for the future and willing to select developmental players, this draft is about snagging players who can help as rookies.

"We definitely are looking for players that can compete for a spot to be in our top-eight right now," Brand said.

That mindset has been reflected in the players the Sixers have brought in for pre-draft workouts – plenty of prospects in the 21 to 23-year-old range, with seasoned games and little projection required about their ability to play in the NBA. 

Senior director of scouting Vince Rozman has said the team is targeting "mature" players, which doesn't necessarily exclude one-and-done prospects. But, if there was any doubt, Brand made it clear Tuesday the Sixers are not going to place a high value on players with potential who lack an NBA-ready skill. 

"You're looking for a guy that can contribute right now," Brand said, "which starts with a specific skill where Brett [Brown] can look down that bench and say, 'All right, I need defense. … Oh, I need some shotmaking. The defense might not be there or something else might not be there, but I know I can get this from this rookie.' Just something that they can contribute right away and they might not be elite at it, but they'll be good at it."

Willing to wait

Brand and the Sixers have been consistent over the last five weeks in describing the type of players they'll be targeting in the draft.

However, Brand clarified Tuesday that the team won't automatically eliminate players who can't contribute immediately, whether that's because they need more time to develop overseas or because they're currently injured. 

"With the five picks, it depends on where – later in the second round, one of those picks, if the value proposition is there and you're like, 'OK, he has to rehab and get better,' you think of that because in two years, we're going to need talent. But the appetite to wait, it's all going to be determined on the clock and who the player is."

Nineteen-year-old Croatian forward Luka Samanic is one player who the Sixers might consider worth the wait if he's available late in the second round, though Samanic said at his pre-draft workout with the Sixers that he believes he's capable of playing in the NBA next season.

Auburn's Chuma Okeke, who tore his ACL during the NCAA Tournament, is one player who could slip in the draft because of his injury. His "3 and D" skills would seem to fit well on the Sixers. 

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