Now what? After the Sixers secured the first pick in the upcoming draft, Joshua Harris rightly (and hilariously) noted that the team is “going to get a player.” Hard to argue. But which one, and how might he fit?
The lottery wasn’t even cold yet when the first report materialized that the Sixers are “leaning heavily” toward taking Ben Simmons. Brett Brown kinda/sorta denied that and said the Sixers are still gathering information. None of that is surprising. You’re going to hear and read all sorts of reports over the next month about what the Sixers might do. For their part, Bryan Colangelo said the Sixers won’t publicly reveal who they’ll select until the commissioner actually speaks someone’s name into the microphone to start the draft.
In the absence of any real feel for which player they might take, we’re left with what figures to be a month-long debate about Simmons or Brandon Ingram. They’re two decidedly different players with different skill sets. If Sam Hinkie still ran the team, you could imagine him taking the guy he liked best regardless of fit. He did that last year when Jahlil Okafor fell to the Sixers at three despite the fact that he seemed ill-suited to mesh with Nerlens Noel (and, eventually, Joel Embiid) on the court. But Hinkie is not in charge. It will be fascinating to see whether Colangelo deviates from that approach and makes his decision, at least in part, with team building and roster construction in mind. To that end, let’s look at both guys and how they might fit with the Sixers.
Simmons, who will turn 20 in July, already has an NBA-ready build: 6-10, 240 pounds. The Australian had tremendous counting stats in his only season at LSU, averaging 19.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals. He’s the first college player to average better than 19 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists since Ron Harper did it back in the mid-‘80s.
The general consensus on Simmons is that he’s a good rebounder and an excellent passer and ball-handler. He also gets top marks defensively, and with time he should be able to guard multiple positions in the NBA. The big questions with him are about shooting. According to Draft Express, he made 55 percent of his attempts in the paint when in half-court sets. That’s OK. His free-throw shooting (67 percent) is not-as-OK. And his three-point shooting is super-not-OK in that it has been alternately non-existent and awful. In 74 games from the 2012 FIBA U-17 Championships through LSU, he took 50 threes and made 12 (24 percent), according to Draft Express.
“A ball handling four who actually would be in a position to initiate the offense,” Colangelo recently told the media. “Very versatile. Plays multiple positions. He could actually play some three, play some four and even some small five in some situations the way the league is playing right now. But, again, the notion that he’s a ball-handling four puts him in a unique position with our team, to be a distributor.”
That last part is particularly attractive for the Sixers. With apologies to Ish Smith and the ever-rotating cast of castoffs poor Brett Brown has been forced to roll out (shouts to Alexy Shved and Tony Wroten), the team has been awfully light on quality distributors over the last few years. Simmons' ability to create and share the ball would be a big plus.
If the Sixers go with Simmons, it probably means shaking up the roster. That was going to happen eventually anyway — no roster is ever static, least of all a team coming off a woeful 10-win season — but it’s hard to imagine the Sixers' taking Simmons and then deploying him with the current crew. Spacing would be awfully tricky with Simmons and some combination of Noel/Okafor/Embiid on the floor. If Dario Saric comes over, he’d likely be the best shooter among that group, but the Sixers would still be really light on the perimeter and too clogged in the paint.
It’s just not a good fit with the team as currently constructed. In the Simmons scenario, one of the bigs would probably have to go — maybe Okafor to Boston or some such.
No. 1 on the Draft Express Top 100, Ingram won’t turn 19 until September. He’s different than Simmons in both build and game. Ingram, who is 6-9, 196 pounds, has a massive 7-3 wingspan. The kid is long. He is also lean. Definitely needs to put on weight and muscle. But the same thing was said about Noel when he came out of college, and while he could still add some pounds, he’s gradually filled out over the last couple of seasons.
Ingram’s appeal is rooted in his skill set and how nicely it would dovetail with what the Sixers currently need. He averaged 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steal in 34.6 minutes with Duke as a freshman. The important part: He shot 41 percent from three on 5.4 attempts per game. He hit 42 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts, according to Draft Express. But his offensive game isn’t just about distance jumpers. He has an array of moves that confounded defenders in college. As he grows into his body, he should be a terror to guard – too long for smaller threes, too quick for bigger defenders.
“As you look at a Brandon Ingram, (he’s) more of a shooter, a silky smooth small forward type,” Colangelo said. “Probably can play multiple positions as well. I think you’ve got to look at his versatility. But the one thing that stands out is his ability to shoot the basketball, above all else.”
That is precisely what the Sixers require. Again, the Sixers' roster is going to evolve. But taking Ingram would probably require less radical or immediate change. You could plug him in at small forward and play him with any combination of Noel/Okafor/Embiid. He would help space the floor, and he’d be a threat to hit shots from the outside or probe the defense and get into the paint (though he needs to polish his offensive game off the dribble).
From a team-building standpoint, Ingram is probably the better fit right now — though some smart people think fit shouldn’t be a concern yet. The Sixers haven’t been about right now for a while. They’re about tomorrow and the next day and all the days after that, and even with Colangelo in charge, that’s unlikely to change for a while. It will be really interesting to see which guy he selects and then how he tinkers with the roster as a result. Lots of potential ripple effects.